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

4 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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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.
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Product Details

  • Series: John MacRae Books
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (September 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312423624
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312423629
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #324,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is one of the best memoirs I've read and I'm a devourer of the genre. I was driven to this work by reading the two novels in the Cromwell series. I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies and they both made a big impression on me - fine, fine work. Giving up the Ghost reveals the sensitive, fine mind and genius writer behind these books. Mantel's portrait of post was England is so subtle and deft, moving, enraging and somehow offering a kind of equilibrium, even peace, in the retrospective. Mantel did it so tough as a youngster and as an adult it got even tougher. There is no self pity, but there is a deep sense of fury at injustice and waste and this intense measured stream leads us to the woman who brought to life the enigma Thomas Cromwell and the monarch who changed religion in the western world :Henry VIII. British readers have so much to be proud of. Mantel is a hie credit to Britain and an inestimably important writer.
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