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You don't have to be a fan of Hilary Mantel's fiction to enjoy 'Giving Up the Ghost'. Although it's clearly stated 'a memoir', this is one of the most solid and least self-pitying memoirs I have ever read, so much so that I want to recommend it to everyone. However, don't worry that I'll say too much - I hate 'spoilers' so I shan't give anything away, just say what I think about the book overall!
Coupled with her elegant prose, Hilary Mantel's pragmatic reminiscence of major aspects of her life: family, love, health and career unfold gently but purposefully, leading the reader through what are effectively some very startling admissions of fact. Aspects of these which occurred when Mantel was young are written in a way which captures the innocent childhood acceptance without succumbing to the cynicism that grows when the benefit of hindsight creeps in (at the time of the author's writing she was clearly much older). To write this way takes talent indeed, not only in maintaining that childhood reflection on the action, but also in drawing the readers' empathy and understanding of the experience at the time and its later effects.
Although the book is not written in a sickly sentimental style, its pragmatic 'voice' is in itself so accepting of some very harsh realities as to be moving and the writer's wry commentary on some aspects are highly entertaining in a way that you wouldn't necessarily expect, given some of the subject matter (trying to word this without spoiling it for you)! It's a 'me-time' read for sure, particularly for females, because the aspects of 'yourself' that you bring to the book (as the reader) truly square the corners of the picture that Mantel paints of her life and make this a very powerful memoir indeed.
Although I'm highly recommending this book as a 'me-time' read, it's also a great book club choice because I for one just could not resist reading sections aloud to my husband: some of Hilary Mantel's turn of phrase is so well thought-out and emotive, it's just too good to keep to yourself and there is plenty to digest, keep going back to and to discuss in a group. For example, from a literary perspective, Mantel makes an observation on her own childhood reading habits which include an observation about the character of Jane Eyre that could keep a book club debating for hours!
This is a highly readable and highly recommended book - add to your 2012 reading list soon!
* I am also publishing this review on Ciao under my user-name PlaysNicelyWithOthers :-)