The loss of Hilary Mantel feels like a theft of a kind. All those books we still needed from her. That lavish imagination, that beady understanding of power. From the final book in the trilogy: “This is what life does for you in the end; it arranges a fight you can’t win.”
— Parul Sehgal (@parul_sehgal) September 23, 2022
Historian Simon Schama called her “one of the very greatest of our writers; poetic and profound prose with an incomparable feel for the texture of history.”
Shattered to learn of death of Hilary Mantel – one of the very greatest of our writers; poetic and profound prose with an incomparable feel for the texture of history.
— Simon Schama (@simon_schama) September 23, 2022
Novelist and editor Gabriel Roth called “Wolf Hall” “one of the greatest novels,” and put a dizzying spin on its construction:
Wolf Hall is a novel that renders novelistic the story of the construction of the modern state that is the condition for the existence of the novel as a form, and as an aside it turns that story into a metaphor for the writing of a novel; it’s one of the greatest novels
— Gabriel Roth (@gabrielroth) September 23, 2022
The word “genius” appeared often on Twitter, but “generous” wasn’t far behind. It was clear that Mantel left a lasting impression on not just readers but on journalists who interviewed her and authors who received her support. Hillary Kelly, for example, recalled the experience of losing an entire interview with Mantel to a “faulty recorder,” only to have Mantel volunteer to have the whole conversation again.
I’m so sad that Hilary Mantel has died. I’m one of many journalists she’s been utterly lovely to. When I interviewed her at home a few years ago the main things that stood out were how frighteningly clever she was (I was scared to look at my sheet of questions)…
— leafarbuthnot (@leafarbuthnot) September 23, 2022
As a writer and a person, unparalleled.
I once lost an entire interview with Hilary Mantel — at the height of Cromwell mania — to a faulty recorder. She said, “Oh no trouble! It will be so fun to do again,” and asked me to call her back after her supper.
What a huge loss. https://t.co/dYRme8MeO3
— Hillary Kelly (@HillaryKelly) September 23, 2022
The novelist Stephen May was one of several writers who recalled Mantel getting in touch to offer encouragement about their work.
Short thread: Heartbroken. I have had a handful of great days in writing. One of the very best was getting an email out of the blue from Hilary Mantel saying she loved my last book which she’d read in proof form. Honestly, I nearly fainted over my lap top
— Stephen May (@Stephen_May1) September 23, 2022
“She leaves a powerful legacy in her writing,” May wrote, “but also she led an emblematic writer’s life. Do the work, focus on that and help others when you can.”
Lucy Caldwell called it “one of the greatest joys of my own writing life” when Mantel unexpectedly got in touch to praise Caldwell’s novel “These Days.” “Even better was the excuse to write back to her and to tell her how much her work meant to me — how long and deeply I’d loved it.”
Mantel became a household literary name after the publication of “Wolf Hall” (2009), a novel that imagined the life of Thomas Cromwell, who became the closest adviser to Henry VIII. That book and its sequel, “Bring Up the Bodies,” both won the prestigious Booker Prize, making Mantel the first woman to win the award twice. The last book in the Cromwell trilogy, “The Mirror & the Light,” was a finalist for the Booker.
“The contradictions and the awkwardness — that’s what gives historical fiction its value,” Mantel told the Paris Review in 2015. “Finding a shape, rather than imposing a shape. And allowing the reader to live with the ambiguities. Thomas Cromwell is the character with whom that’s most essential. He’s almost a case study in ambiguity.”
Those books sold millions of copies, but Mantel had established a reputation among critics and writers well before then, including for other works of historical fiction. “A Place of Greater Safety,” a novel about the French Revolution that runs to more than 700 pages, was the first book Mantel wrote, but it wasn’t published until later in her career. When she wasn’t inspired by history, Mantel often wrote about the supernatural. “Beyond Black,” a realistically toned novel, was set in a world of psychics and clairvoyants. Reviewing it for the Guardian in 2005, Fay Weldon wrote of Mantel: “She’s witty, ironic, intelligent and, I suspect, haunted. This is a book out of the unconscious, where the best novels come from.”
Mantel memorably described her initial haunting in her memoir, “Giving Up the Ghost,” which the New York Times named one of the 10 best memoirs of the past 50 years. She recalled encountering one morning, when she was a young girl, a spirit of some sort in her yard. “It is as high as a child of two,” she wrote. “It has no edges, no mass, no dimension, no shape except the formless; it moves. I beg it, stay away, stay away. Within the space of a thought it is inside me, and has set up a sick resonance within my bones and in all the cavities of my body.”
The writer Sam Knight was another who warmly recounted Mantel’s generosity, and he ended by suggesting that Mantel’s experience with the supernatural might not be over. “What a wonderful ghost she will be,” he wrote.
Hilary Mantel was the only person who ever sent me an email that left me in tears, when she liked my book. She was my favorite writer: the one I was most afraid of reading, because what was point, given her sentences, her soul and her mind. What a wonderful ghost she will be.
— Sam Knight (@samknightwrites) September 23, 2022
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