Following the Man Booker Prize-winning ‘Wolf Hall‘ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies‘, the final part of Mantel’s acclaimed trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, ‘The Mirror and the Light’ isn’t due to be published until the end of next year at the very earliest. Presumably brought out to keep Mantel’s fans satisfied in the meantime, ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ is a collection of ten short stories, her second collection after ‘Learning to Talk’ was published in 2003. Having read three of Mantel’s novels and her memoir, I was keen to see how her shorter works of fiction compared.
Apart from the title story, all have previously been published separately in various magazines, collections and newspapers in recent years. However, the only one I have come across before is ‘The Long QT’ which was featured in The Guardian in 2012. Mantel’s dark and distinctive sense of humour as seen in her non-historical fiction such as ‘Beyond Black’ is very much evident in the majority of this collection. However, for the most part, the stories also deal with themes based around pain, claustrophobia and isolation. Indeed, reading Mantel’s prose is often like holding up a magnifying glass to the most uncomfortable of human experiences.
Having read Mantel’s excellent memoir ‘Giving Up the Ghost‘ last year, I believe her real strength lies in her more autobiographical fiction. Some of the stories like ‘Offences Against the Person’ missed the mark for me but one of my favourites in this collection is the opening story, ‘Sorry to Disturb’, which is based on Mantel’s experiences living in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s. Another story, ‘Terminus’, about a train passenger who thinks she sees her dead father on the other side of the tracks outside Clapham Junction station, was also very affecting.
‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ is a varied and contemporary collection of short stories which won’t necessarily appeal to fans of her historical fiction. In many ways, the stories in ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ reminded me of Ian McEwan’s macabre short stories in ‘First Love, Last Rites‘. As with McEwan, I prefer Mantel’s novels overall but these stories are undoubtedly carefully crafted and very dark throughout.