Book Review: ‘A Memoir of My Former Self: A Life in Writing’ by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel's Lasting Legacy, A Patchwork of Insights and Wit

Book Title: A Memoir of My Former Self: A Life in Writing
Author: Hilary Mantel
Publisher: John Murray
Number of Pages: 400
ISBN: 978-1399813891
Date Published: Oct. 19, 2023
Price: INR 499

A Memoir of My Former Self A Life in Writing by Hillary Mantel Book Cover

Book Review

In “A Memoir of My Former Self: A Life in Writing,” edited by Nicholas Pearson, Hilary Mantel’s profound self-portrait emerges through diverse nonfiction pieces. This posthumous collection spans film reviews, Reith lectures on historical fiction, and reflections on Princess Diana’s legacy, showcasing Mantel’s keen insights and wit. From her experiences in Saudi Arabia to childhood memories and battles with illness, the compilation provides a multifaceted glimpse into her life. While the audiobook, featuring eight narrators, offers varied perspectives, a streamlined approach might have improved the overall flow. Nevertheless, the collection stands as a captivating testament to Mantel’s intellectual prowess and compassionate spirit, leaving readers mourning the absence of her distinctive voice.

The memoir showcases the diverse facets of Mantel’s literary pursuits, amalgamating her writings from journals, newspapers, and public lectures. From film reviews to book critiques, the collection encompasses the expansive scope of Mantel’s output. Of particular significance are her 1997 Reith lectures, delving into history, art, and literature. The memoir not only celebrates Mantel’s intellectual depth but also unveils the enduring impact of her endometriosis, which shaped her feminism as a response to medical misdiagnoses.

A Memoir of My Former Self” positions Mantel at the core of her nonfiction narrative, drawing parallels with the literary presence of Jane Austen. Through an essay on Austen, Mantel explores the complexities of Austen’s life and the regrettable loss of a humorous adaptation she was crafting. The collection paints a portrait of a writer’s promiscuous existence, where myriad lives beckon, time is limited, and the imagination knows no bounds.

Mantel’s historical novels, exemplified by her Booker-winning Wolf Hall trilogy, are discussed in the context of her meticulous attention to period details. The sparse yet evocative historical settings stand in contrast to the maximalism of 19th-century realism. As the last collection from the acclaimed historical fiction writer, who passed away at 70, the memoir stands alongside her earlier works, revealing Mantel’s perceptive and deeply human observations.

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The collection provides a glimpse into Mantel’s mind, showcasing her remarkable range and the exceptional talent she lost with her passing. Her keen observations, whether on cricket, the writing process, or the scent of Kate Moss’s perfume, demonstrate her ability to delve into diverse subjects. Mantel’s unique style and recurring themes, such as ghosts, illnesses, and the interplay of past and present, permeate the essays, solidifying her legacy as an unparalleled commentator on literary, historical, and personal matters.

Despite occasional challenges in sustaining interest, particularly for those unfamiliar with the authors and films discussed, the memoir remains a testament to Mantel’s versatility. While it may not match the personal touch of “Mantel Pieces,” it reaffirms her unparalleled ability to dissect and reimagine, leaving readers to lament the loss of such a singular talent.

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