Hilary Mantel, an excellent writer, is the subject of a review by Joyce Carol Oates (not an excellent writer) in the Oct. 23 NYRB; from it I pluck two excerpts from Mantel’s memoir Giving Up the Ghost to show why I like her so much. In the first she is responding to Orwell’s “good prose is like a windowpane”:
Persiflage is my nom de guerre…. I stray away from the beaten path of plain words into the meadow of extravagant simile: angels, ogres, doughnut-shaped holes. And as for transparency—windowpanes undressed are a sign of poverty, aren’t they? How about some nice net curtains, so I can look out but you can’t see in?… Besides, windowpane prose is no guarantee of truthfulness. Some deceptive sights are seen through glass, and the best liars tell lies in plain words.
The second needs no annotation:
Writing about your past is like blundering through your house with the lights fused, a hand flailing for points of reference. You locate the stolid wardrobe, and its door swings open at your touch, opening on the cavern of darkness within. Your hand touches glass, you think it is a mirror, but it is the window. There are obstacles to bump and trip you, but what is more disconcerting is a sudden empty space, where you can’t find a handhold and you know that you are stranded in the dark.
The first section of the book, about her early childhood, is online here. Enjoy.