Memories of British author Hilary Mantel, on Twitter and beyond

Memories of British author Hilary Mantel, on Twitter and beyond

The loss of Hilary Mantel, the brilliant and much-loved British author who died aged 70 on Thursday, has prompted many eloquent reactions of grief from her admirers.

Critics and other writers took the opportunity to once again marvel at Mantel’s gifts. New York literary critic Parul Sehgal wrote that the author’s death was “like a robbery in a way”.

Historian Simon Schama called her “one of our greatest writers; a poetic and profound prose with an incomparable sense of the texture of the story.

Novelist and publisher Gabriel Roth called “Wolf Hall” “one of the greatest novels” and put a dizzying twist on its construction:

The word “genius” appeared often on Twitter, but “generous” was not far behind. It was clear that Mantel left a lasting impression not only on readers, but also on the journalists who interviewed her and the authors who received her support. Hillary Kelly, for example, recalled the experience of losing an entire interview with Mantel to a “faulty recorder”, only for Mantel to volunteer to have the whole conversation again.

Novelist Stephen May was one of many writers who recalled Mantel reaching out to offer encouragement about their work.

“She leaves a powerful legacy in her writing,” May wrote, “but she also led the life of an iconic writer. Do the work, focus on it, and help others when you can.

Lucy Caldwell called it “one of the greatest joys of my own writing life” when Mantel reached out unexpectedly to praise Caldwell’s novel “These Days”. “Even better, it was the excuse to respond to him and tell him how much his work meant to me – how long and deeply I had loved him.”

Mantel became a household literary name after the publication of “Wolf Hall” (2009), a novel that imagined the life of Thomas Cromwell, who became Henry VIII’s closest adviser. That book and its sequel, “Bring Up the Bodies,” both won the prestigious Booker Prize, making Mantel the first woman to win the prize twice. The final book in the Cromwell trilogy, “The Mirror & the Light”, was a finalist for the Booker.

“Contradictions and awkwardness – that’s what gives historical fiction its value,” Mantel told the Paris Review in 2015. “Finding form, rather than imposing form. And allowing the reader to live with the ambiguities. Thomas Cromwell is the character with whom it is most essential. It’s almost a case study in ambiguity.

These books sold millions of copies, but Mantel had established a reputation among critics and writers long before that, including for other works of historical fiction. A Place of Greater Safety, a novel about the French Revolution running to over 700 pages, was Mantel’s first book, but it was not published until later in his career. When not inspired by history, Mantel often wrote about the supernatural. “Beyond Black”, a novel with realistic tones, is set in a world of psychics and clairvoyants. Reviewing her for the Guardian in 2005, Fay Weldon wrote of Mantel: “She’s witty, wry, clever and, I suppose, haunted. It’s a book taken from the unconscious, where the best novels come from.

Mantel memorably described his initial haunting in his memoir, “Giving Up the Ghost,” which The New York Times named one of the top 10 memoirs of the past 50 years. She remembered meeting one morning, when she was a young girl, some spirit in her yard. “That’s as high as a two-year-old,” she wrote. “It has no edges, no mass, no dimension, no form except formlessness; it moves. Please stay away, stay away. In the space of a thought, it is inside me and has created an unhealthy resonance in my bones and in all the cavities of my body.

Writer Sam Knight was another who warmly recounted Mantel’s generosity, and he concluded by suggesting that Mantel’s experience with the supernatural might not be over. “What a wonderful ghost she will be,” he wrote.

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