From Publishers Weekly
This remarkable first novel takes us into a slatternly house, filled with demons and ghosts, where the clairvoyant Evelyn Axon and Muriel, her pregnant half-wit daughter, cower out of sight of society. Moving seamlessly to a cottage in another part of London, it introduces Colin Sidney, father of three stupefyingly unappealing children, tries to escape the disappointments of marriage via a hole-in-corner affair with Isabel Field, a young social worker assigned to surpervise Muriel. It turns out that Colin grew up in a house around the corner from the Axons, that his mother tried to speak to her dead husband through Mrs. Axon, and that his sister was sexually abused by the late Mr. Axon, who, once Muriel was born, refused to risk further congress with his wife. All these soiled reminders of times past lingernasty little spirits who upset the furniture, steal from the larder, even leave hortatory notes. Who fathered Muriel's baby? Her mother cannot guess, but a changeling it must be, and, like all changelings, it must be cast away. When Mrs. Axon is similarly cast away, Colin Sidney, in defiance of the portents, moves his family into her haunted house, leaving the thoroughly involved reader to imagine what lies in wait.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
A rundown, and possibly haunted, Victorian house takes center stage in these back-to-back black comedies, written by British novelist Mantel (The Giant, O'Brien) with a distinct Rendellian flavor. In the first story, set in the mid-Seventies, Evelyn Axon, a terrorized, guilt-ridden widow, lives with her dull-witted daughter, Muriel. Into their lives comes the nettlesome social service bureaucracy, primarily in the person of Isabel Field, the last in a long series of social workers assigned to their case. Isabel has problems of her own, though, the main one being a stagnating affair with Colin Sydney, a married man she has met in an evening class on creative writing. Muriel has been encouraged to participate in weekly workshops for the mentally handicapped at the local community center, but she eludes both her mother and her case workers and manages to get herself pregnant. All these lives intersect at the novel's bizarre conclusion, as Evelyn dies, Muriel is institutionalized, and Colin Sydney's family take up residence in the Axons' house. The second novel opens ten years later as Muriel is caught up in the Eighties trend to deinstitutionalize the mentally challenged. Out on the streets once more, she knowingly adopts multiple personas with the misguided intention of exacting revenge on those she believes have wronged her, principally Isabel Field and Colin Sydney. Slowly, all these entangled lives begin to come undone. Like her fellow Brits Rose Tremain and Penelope Fitzgerald, Mantel continually produces novels that chart fresh terrain and derive from a wellspring of creative imagination. These two early novels herald the promise of the rich and varied literary career that followed. Recommended for most public libraries.-Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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