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Giving Up the Ghost : A Memoir (John MacRae Books) Paperback – August 12, 2004


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Product Details

  • Series: John MacRae Books
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (August 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312423624
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312423629
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #392,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As she approaches midlife, Mantel applies her beautiful prose and expansive vocabulary to a somewhat meandering memoir. The English author of eight novels (The Giant, O'Brien; Eight Months on Ghazzah Street; etc.) is "writing in order to take charge of the story of my childhood and my childlessness; and in order to locate myself... between the lines where the ghosts of meaning are." Among the book's themes are ghosts and illness, both of which Mantel has much experience with. She expends many pages on her earliest years, and then on medical treatments in her 20s, but skips other decades almost entirely as she brings readers up to the present. At age seven she senses a horrifying creature in the garden, which as a Catholic she concludes is the devil; later, houses she lives in have "minor poltergeists." The first and foremost ghost, though, is the baby she will never have. By 20, Mantel is in constant pain from endometriosis, and at 27, after years of misdiagnosis and botched treatment, she has an operation that ends her fertility. Her pains come back, she has thyroid problems and drug treatments cause her body to balloon; she describes these ordeals with remarkably wry detachment. Fans of Mantel's critically acclaimed novels may enjoy the memoir as insight into her world. Often, though, all the fine detail that in another work would flesh out a plot-such as embroidery silk "the scarlet shade of the tip of butterflies' wings"-has nowhere to go.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

This bleak memoir by a prolific British novelist recounts her upbringing in the North of England in the nineteen-fifties and sixties. Mantel's domineering stepfather has contempt for her intellectual aspirations and for her constant nausea and migraines. When, at college, she takes her symptoms to a doctor, he prescribes antidepressants and sends her on to a psychiatrist, who, in turn, suggests that she give up her studies to work for her mother selling dresses. Finally, at twenty-seven, she is diagnosed with severe endometriosis. Her uterus is removed, and hormone replacements cause extreme weight gain. For most of her life, she has struggled with emaciation, but strangers increasingly assume she is pregnant, now an impossibility. While Mantel's prose shimmers with suppressed anger, the reader might have preferred a story more plainly shaped, and one that gave some sense of the growth of her remarkable imagination.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Hilary Mantel is the author of nine previous novels, including A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, and Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Winner of the Hawthornden Prize, she reviews for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England.

Customer Reviews

I love the way Hilary Mantel writes.
Penny
I really don't like her style of writing, it uses many descriptive terms to describe very little.
Christopher S
There may be a wish for privacy here--but she IS writing an autobiography after all.
Patricia C. Andrews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Blue Moon on February 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a book to be read and re-read; Hilary Mantel's prose is so spare and sharp that at first glance it conceals the depths that unlie her descriptions of events and people throughout her life. The "ghost" takes many forms; her reactions to them become her life. Although she has led a life of hardships and pain, she tells of times of pleasure and inserts wry and very amusing lines as counterpoints to dark and dramatic moments. Women in particular will understand much of what Mantel has been through both physically and emotionally as she wrestles with disease and doctors. I recommend this highly to anyone who has read and enjoyed Mantel's novels.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Penny on September 1, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I love the way Hilary Mantel writes. Her imagery and descriptions are so true, so evocative, sometimes I need to put on a sweater or snuggle deeper into the duvet just to cope. She strings me out and keeps me roped in. I have no other way of expressing just how fine her writing feels to me. When I'm reading her work, I feel that she has tapped into the great reservoir--the man-made basin brimming with pain and suffering, dreams and devils. This book is haunting and grim--yet one identifies so strongly with the author, risk and all.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By LitCrit101 on April 4, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In her memoir, Giving up the Ghost, Hilary Mantel obliquely tackles a subject much debated in psychoanalytical circles of a century ago and revisited by feminist literary critics from 1968 onward: To what degree is female ambition and achievement in the arts ( or any field, for that matter) a compensation for an unfertile womb, and in what way is artistic creativity in women related to mental instability and even madness? In our post-feminist era such suggestions sound outrageous, reactionary. We are accustomed to thinking that we can and will have it all. But slip back fifty, then one hundred years or more and examine the lives of great women writers and poets. Virginia Woolf insisted that without leisure time, education, private income, and a space to write, a woman could not produce literature, hence the demands of motherhood and marriage might be a serious obstacle. Emily Dickinson, a spinster, withdrew from the world, Charlotte Bronte died of a pregnancy related illness with her unborn first child, Elizabeth Bishop was gay, Sylvia Plath found both marriage and motherhood devastating. Mantel reminds us that in her formative years, a time not so long ago, women were expected to stay home and to become homemakers, and though England already had a long tradition of penwomen, it was no easy journey to become a writer.
This memoir is about how a poor, "neverwell" child of Irish origins, from a disadvantaged family became one of the world's most celebrated novelists, twice winning the Man Booker prize, an unprecedented feat. Home was drab lodgings without a bathtub, with few books, where her mother maintained an unusual ménage living, for a time, with both her husband and lover.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By carolinaislandgirl on April 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
This memoir for me was what I look for in a memoir: revealing, analytical, self-deprecating and helping the reader come to know the author as a person. When the memoir is written by someone who has only been known to the reader as an admired author, but not at all on a personal level, and the memoir draws the character of the writer so indelibly, it can only be a very satisfying read. And that's exactly what it was for me. I wondered who in the world could write the novels she has written and now I find out a bit about the woman, her interior world and her life, in a very well wrought piece.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Emma Steed on July 21, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The boom in British memoir writing means, inevitably, that precedents have been established, problems flagged, conversations set in play. Hilary Mantel is smart to these concerns, aware of the intellectual tangles and the technical difficulties involved in inserting herself in an already crowded genre. She muses on the temptation to use charm to make herself lovely and works hard at the problem of how to inhabit the mind of a child as well as an older self without lurching clumsily between the two. She is wise, too, to the expectations of the genre, balking at those points when her life does not quite fit the template (there is an incident, when she is seven, of almost unwritable awfulness, but it has nothing to do with the sexual abuse that Mantel assumes we will, as practised readers, be expecting). Still, none of this knowingness gets in the way of the writing, which is simply astonishing - clear and true. In Giving Up the Ghost, Mantel has finally booted out all those shadowy presences that have jostled her all her life, and written the one character whom she feared she never could - herself.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth R. Mabry on March 16, 2010
Format: Paperback
Mantel's memoir seems to prove her own point when, just a few pages in, she writes, "I hardly know how to write about myself. Any style you pick seems to unpick itself before a paragraph is done." Much later in the book, she adds, "Writing about your past is like blundering through your house with the lights fused, a hand flailing for points of reference."

Indeed, Mantel is tentative about what to say about her life and how to say it which raises the question of what she was hoping to accomplish with this effort.

Aside from a few self-reflective comments, I found the first three-fourths of the book, covering her growing up years in England in the 1950's-60's and other biographical stories, to be rather tedious. I almost gave up.

Not until her illness manifests--misdiagnosed as a psychiatric illness--did I find her story compelling. At this point forward, I could grasp what she wanted to expose in this writing: the anger and regret from turning herself over to medical authorities, her Catholic faith's encouragement to deny pain, her sorrow over not having a child, and her conviction that she deserved very little in life. Those themes are encompassing enough for a worthy memoir.

Mantel may be much more accomplished as a fiction writer. I have not read any of her fiction. For this memoir, I wish she could have focused much earlier on the imperative elements of her story.
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