The adored author of the Beyond Black trilogy and Wolf Hall has passed away. Leading contemporary artists pay homage here.
Wolf Hall author Hilary Mantel passes away at the age of 70.
We hold the pen in our hands. We can create a joyful conclusion, as Hilary Mantel said in her own words.
Authors and politicians pay homage to Hilary Mantel, saying “We’ve lost a genius.”
‘She was one of those really extraordinary writers who start off great and just get even better’ … Hilary Mantel. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA
Margaret Atwood. Photograph: Derek Shapton/The Guardian
“She had a grasp of the dark and spidery corners of human nature,” said Margaret Atwood.
Two-time Booker Prize winner and Canadian author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin
Upon learning of Hilary Mantel’s passing, I was both astonished and grieved. It was always enjoyable to read the work of a writer who had such a mastery of the murky, intricate, and profound facets of human nature. It was also enjoyable for me to evaluate her work, which I did both early and late in the day. The French Revolution was brought to light in A Place of Greater Safety, and the Cromwell trilogy is a well-known stunner. She never shied away from dealing with challenging people and offered a little bit of salvation to even the most extreme circumstances. What may have been her next sentence? I’m not sure, but I won’t miss it.
Anne Enright. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA
“She bristled with intelligence,” said Anne Enright.
Irish author best known for The Gathering, which won the Booker Prize
Hilary Mantel recently visited west Cork, where she had purchased a home. She intended to use the Irish passport she was entitled to in order to restore her European citizenship. Her Irish background had sometimes been less significant in her life, but with the Brexit vote, it had reclaimed its prior prominence.
Mantel was raised among a group of Irish immigrants who lived in Hadfield, a rocky village in Derbyshire’s High Peak. Her grandma didn’t remember her own date of birth, and her mother worked as a mill girl. She spoke of a poor and windy upbringing, saying it took her until she was 11 years old before she ever saw a rose. In a place where tensions between Catholic and Protestant were prevalent, her family was a member of the diminishing Irish population. History became significant to Mantel because of this feeling of dislocation. Throughout her youth, the deceased characters tormented her, especially the soldiers who did not return from the First World War with her cherished grandpa. Mantel was uncomfortable in her own flesh and sensed presences at a young age. She had a vision of “a body inside my body… budding and malign” when she was eight years old, partly as a result of realizing that she would not turn into a male as she grew older. She had frequent fevers after her parents’ divorce, lost her thick hair, and changed into the kid the neighborhood doctor dubbed “little miss Neverwell.”
Mantel examined everything and observed everything with wisdom. She characterized herself as a young girl who was a little bit pedantic. Few folks were intentionally cruel to me; they simply didn’t think I was cut out to be a kid. Mantel created meticulous and frightening works on history, the body, and the unknown with the uncomfortable fire of her early years. She could now see why the past was so odd.
Her most recent interviews brought up the fact that she was born to immigrants once again. Mantel had little interest in any such renaissance, despite the fact that her writings on Henry VIII’s court may have put her at the center of it. Her talent was ultimately dependent on the keen gaze of an outsider writer who is never quite at home.
Colm Tóibín. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian
“Her range was extraordinary,” said Colm Tóibn
Irish author of The Story of the Night and The Heather Blazing
Hilary Mantel’s creative method has a certain limitlessness. She had a keen understanding of how historical forces operated, but she was also able to craft the personal moment, the little scene, or the unexpected change of power in a relationship with great talent and flare. From early semi-autobiographical pieces to the late magisterial novels, her breadth was astounding. Her ability to conjure up scenes almost by magic was more amazing than just the depth of her historical studies. Her touch had a lightness about it. Of all of her books, “The Giant O’Brien” was my favorite because of its witty banter, slyly provocative phrases, and comments on life’s struggles. She was thrilled about the idea of going to Ireland when we chatted on Zoom for the 92nd Street Y at the end of June. She also spoke about the home she had purchased in Kinsale. That this will no longer happen is quite sad.
Kamila Shamsie. Photograph: Teri Pengilley/The Guardian
“She was incredibly gracious and generous,” says Kamila Shamsie
Burnt Shadows and Home Fire author who is British and Pakistani
How many of us believed at the beginning of the first lockdown that it wouldn’t last long and that, in the meantime, we would at least have Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light (released on 5 March 2020) at our sides to help us get through the difficult times? Being one of those people, I immediately started reading the third book of her Cromwell trilogy, certain that she was a writer who could draw me into her universe no matter how distracting the news from the outside world may be. I had planned to read and take notes since I was going to interview Hilary about her new book at the Manchester Literature Festival in April of that year. However, I rapidly abandoned any note-taking intentions in favor of the sheer enjoyment of the book. Why did I need notes, in any case? I already had a ton of questions I wanted to ask one of the world’s finest authors. But even Mantel was unable to provide me with an answer to the one issue I truly needed to know: How precisely is your brain wired?
Mantel was one of those few authors whose works make you wonder how your brain works and how it can generate the kind of writing it produces. The fact that I won’t ever hear the phrase “new novel by Hilary Mantel” again makes me feel really sad, and the only solace is the library of works she has left us.
I really regret not getting the opportunity to talk to her about The Mirror and the Light, both for the little period of private dialogue that would have come before and maybe after the public discussion. Mantel was really kind and kind throughout our few interactions. I always left with the thought that one day we will sit down for a genuine conversation and have a great laugh.
William Boyd. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer
“Her fierce intelligence, sense of humor, and stoicism seemed enshrined in her novels,” wrote William Boyd
Scottish author of Any Human Heart and A Good Man in Africa
Although I didn’t know Hilary Mantel well, we sometimes crossed paths over the years. We met for the first time at a literary festival hosted by Cosmopolitan magazine around 20 years ago. We last spoke in June of this year, oddly enough at Clarence House. She exuded vitality and was in excellent health. Since I was aware of the major health challenges that dominated her life, I have a great deal of respect for her as a person as well as a great deal of appreciation for the body of work she has produced. The timeless books she authored and her writer’s life appeared to be inextricably linked by her fiery brilliance, sense of humor, and great, clear-eyed stoicism.
Maggie O’Farrell. Photograph: Pako Mera/Alamy
“She leaves behind a huge, unfillable vacuum,” says Maggie O’Farrell
Author from Northern Ireland whose book Hamnet was awarded the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction
Another king has died this week. Like Elizabeth II, Mantel was king of literature for a long, eventful, and unchallenged reign. She leaves behind an enormous, unstoppable void, a profound feeling of loss for the reading public, and a massive corpus of work.
Mantel was a fiery, wonderful, and brave writer. In her writings, she took chances, stretched the limits of narrative, and grasped hold of novelistic norms and snapped them to compliance. Every piece of writing she produced, whether it was a memoir, a piece of journalism, a contemporary book, or a complex historical trilogy, revealed the labor that went into it as well as her passion for the task. There isn’t an ounce of fat on the bones of her writing, even in the works that span 900+ pages, therefore I dare anybody to discover a word or even a comma out of place. Her writing makes it very evident that she had a deep dedication to her profession and spent many hours refining it via editing and rewriting. Within a paragraph, it is straightforward to determine whether or not she wrote anything since her voice is so clear on the page. Her logophilic audacity was shown in her perspicuity, beautiful subclauses, accuracy, psychological sharpness, and clarity.
She was always a giving person, taking the time to promote and encourage the writing of other people. It’s not usually the case with someone of Mantel’s size, but she always held the ladder for others going up behind her. She cherished both her own and other people’s creativity, and she yearned to spread both over the globe.
What a blessing it was to have her. How much worse off our shelves would be if she hadn’t continued to create books. She recently said in an interview that she thought there was an afterlife, and many of her writings dealt with the thin line between life and death. We can only hope that she is now in her ideal afterlife setting, maybe a well-stocked library. Peace be with you, Queen Hilary. We shall miss you.
Ian McEwan. Photograph: Lydia Goldblatt/The Guardian
“She helped us know ourselves as a nation,” said Ian McEwan
British author well known for his books Enduring Love and Atonement
Mantel, to use a term from John Updike, “gave history its beautiful due.” She did this by using astounding literary talent and contributing to our understanding of ourselves as a country. The Wolf Hall trilogy will serve as her memorial, but her body of work is rich with marvels. She was also humorous, intelligent, and had a unique brand of skepticism of her own.
Sarah Waters. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian
“She was the greatest living writer in the UK,” said Sarah Waters
Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith by Welsh author
It’s amazing to think that Hilary, who was already a well-known author when I recall selling her books in a bookstore in the late 1980s, still had a 30-year career ahead of her. She was one of those really amazing writers who start off terrific and develop even better. Many authors do their most important work early on and then just repeat it.
She was able to take her work in a wide variety of directions, which may have contributed to her literary longevity. She was as at home writing tight family dramas as she was historical epics, and she was equally at ease using fable as she was realism. Although she is most known for her wonderful Thomas Cromwell trilogy, it is her darker, more female-centric novels—particularly the chilling masterwork Eight Months on Ghazzah Street and the beautiful Beyond Black—that have most influenced me.
I compare her to Muriel Spark and Beryl Bainbridge, two other ferociously bright and darkly mischievous British authors, since both of their works have always defied simple classification and proved all the more intriguing as a result. She was always nice and gracious when I only saw her a few times, but even so, I felt as nervous in her company as if I were meeting royalty, which I suppose I sort of was. She was the best living writer in the UK, thus her passing is a terrible loss.
Sarah Perry. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian
What shall we do without her, wonders Sarah Perry?
Author of The Essex Serpent is British.
Since I only knew Hilary Mantel once and we didn’t communicate often, I feel ashamed of how sad I am about her passing. However, it occurs to me that she might find it funny that I’ve kept the Christmas card she signed with the wishes that I was happy and that 2015 would be a good year for me and my gift as a holy relic (Mantel).
I had locked myself in the restrooms of the offices where I worked a year or two earlier to complete her autobiography Giving Up the Ghost. I sobbed in silence while reading about the stark sorrow and grief it contained. After returning to my work, I composed a lengthy love letter. I gave her praise for things that we should all give her praise for: the grace and rigor of her prose, the startling visions of her imagination, the honesty and bravery of her self-knowledge, the treacly blackness of her wit, and the piercing intelligence that held everything together with bolts of stainless steel. I stole some office stationery, stuffed a bunch of treasury tags in the package, and sent my dedication first class after reading that she bound her manuscripts with them.
I have only grown to adore her more over the years. As it turned out, 2015 and the years that followed were not as wonderful to me as she had imagined they would be. I became sick and experienced excruciating agony, so her writing about physical suffering came to me like letters from a traveler who had gone into a dark place before me and had left a map and a light. She wrote books that were unequaled by any living author, and I loved her for that, but I also loved her because she was a woman for all seasons, with a mind that could handle whatever moral or political issue the world could throw at her. Without her, what will we do? She was supposed to give me an update on the crown that has been handed down from one ancient hand to another, but she’s decided not to.
I’ve been pacing around the house aimlessly all afternoon while clutching the card she gave me and laughing at how ridiculous I must seem to the dogs. I locate her in the blue-eyed jackdaw figurine that watches over me from the mantelpiece, the deck of tarot cards I have nearby, the box of opioid painkillers I keep under my bed in case the agony reappears, and the postcard of Cranmer she once gave me that I’ve placed over my workstation. Usually, I find her at my shoulder correcting me when my writing starts to seem flimsy and uninspired. She said, “All homes are haunted. She follows me and won’t leave. What meek priest would risk it?