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Vacant Possession Paperback – August 31, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031266804X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312668044
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #934,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The haunting sequel to Mantel's Every Day Is Mother's Day (see above) offers powerful insight into its precursor. Muriel Axon is the untouchable yet tarnished heroine here, and she selectively reveals her disturbing plans for revenge against all who vaguely knew and despised her. A decade after the close of the first book, Muriel has just been released from the institution where she was housed after her mother's suspicious death, and has since acquired new skills to aid her vengeful mission. Taking on the identity of "Poor Mrs. Wilmot," she rents a room from paranoid Russian landlord Mr. Kowalski and works the night shift as a cleaning lady at St. Matthew Hospital, where, not coincidentally, she assumes an unlikely bedside manner with the elder Mrs. Sidney and her former social worker Isabel Field's bedridden father. Mrs. Sidney's son, Colin; his wife, Sylvia; and their four children have moved into the former Axon home despite its history as a house of violent tragedy. Even after a renovation and the help of a new though odd housekeeper, Lizzie Blank, the house refuses to be maintained. Although Colin ended an affair years ago, the strain of being the breadwinner while being ignored by the civic-minded Sylvia and hassled by his money-grubbing teenagers allows him to entertain the fantasy of finding his lost lover. And he does reconnect, thanks in part to his naive, 18-year-old daughter. Surprise revelations from start to finish mark Mantel as a remarkably clever writer whose second book, paired with her first, makes for wickedly pleasurable reading. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --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

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In 1980s England, it is ten years after the shocking denouement in Every Day is Mother's Day, the characters having moved on with their lives. (While it isn't necessary to read the prior novel, it adds historical context- and menace- to this one.) No longer beleaguered by the spirits who haunted her mother, Evelyn, a medium, the hulking, crafty Muriel is a product of her environment, properly institutionalized for the last few years. Evelyn's death has seemingly put an end to the disturbing case of a mother and daughter living in isolation, successfully avoiding the social workers assigned to them. The other peripheral characters have moved on with their individual lives, unconcerned with the fate of Muriel Axon, "that reclusive slab of a woman".

Social worker Isabel Field, traumatized by her short but violent involvement with the Axon's, has married, but is still plagued by self-doubt and depression, unable to give her husband a child. The brief distraction of her affair with married schoolteacher Colin Sidney in the `70s met a predictable end with the pregnancy of Colin's wife, Sylvia, the social worker just another victim of the folly of loving a married man. Currently, Isabel derives more comfort from the bottle than her husband. For his part, Colin clings to the memories of his affair with Isabel as a respite from Sylvia's incessant carping about their unruly children and the career she might have had. With the impending arrival of their fourth child, the Sidney's have moved house, snapping up the Axon residence as a bargain, next door to Colin's unmarried sister, Florence.

Muriel is the star of the piece, an enigmatic creature whose cunning enables her to escape the tangled bureaucracy of the social welfare system.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Phil Moores on December 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
I don't think I've ever known a book with such misleading cover blurb. If anyone can "lie back and laugh yourself silly" while reading this, as the UK edition proclaims, I'd like to meet them. Yes it's a satire that hits all its targets, yes it involves situations and characters that are bigger and more grotesque than would occur in real life, but these characters are so sympathetically drawn that you feel for them deeply in their lives, hamstrung as they are by circumstance, coincidence and those family ties that bind. The book is a abject potrayal of Thoreau's dictum that most men (and women) lead lives of quiet desperation. If you can laugh yourself silly at that, and I don't belive Mantel intends you to, perhaps you can laugh at all human suffering. The intricately laid out plot reels you in like a thriller, giving hints but never spoiling the twists. I found this book immensely satisfying and Mantel is a fine writer (as I also know from 'Fludd' and 'A Change of Climate') whose work I intend to read more of.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Judith Bradley on July 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
One doesn't have to have read Martel's previous novel featuring these unsavory characters to enjoy (?) its successor. What a nasty piece of work is our Muriel Axton! Admittedly, her horrendous upbringing by a lunatic mother gives her meager brain sufficient cause to seek sadistic revenge upon those she sees to be her enemies, but how fortuitous it is that fate so often cooperates with her! Martel is positively brilliant at keeping the convoluted plot going full pace at all times --the reader is never absolutely certain as to just what will happen, but knows that whatever does, it will not be pleasant. The mordant wit is most enjoyable to those of us who appreciate such nice touches! Regardless of the genre she chooses, Martel is a gifted writer and a pleasure to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Maryann Kowalczyk on November 11, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hilary Mantel is an amazing writer. No more proof needed than "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies", both of which got her the Man Booker Prize. I decided to read all of her earlier work and this was where I started. One of the things is that, if you can manage it, read her books aloud. Or maybe purchase audio editions, because the vocabulary sings and her work has a pace that is mesmerising. I recommend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Judy Correllus on September 10, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Book and delivery from Amazon was, as usual, spot on. The Book, however was confusing and dark. I have read some of her other books and did not find them boring. Will try more of her others.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Martha E. Pollack on June 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
At the end of Hilary Mantel's first novel, "Every Day is Mother's Day," Muriel Axon is sent to a psychiatric institution after a series of unpleasant events that lead to the death of both her infant and her mother Evelyn. "Vacant Possession" takes place ten years later, and recounts Muriel's time in the asylum and the period after her release, during which she hatches a complicated scheme to take revenge on the people whom Muriel blames for those deaths. Along the way, she takes on a variety of identities, including that as Lizzie Blank, the housekeeper for the Sidney family, who now live in the house Muriel and Evelyn used to share, and as "Poor Mrs. Wilmot," a cleaner at the hospital where Isabel Field's father is a patient. Isabel, as readers of the first book will remember, is the social-worker assigned to the Axons, who had an affair with Mr. Sidney. In "Vacant Possession" yet more connections between the Fields, the Axons, and the Sidneys are revealed. Indeed, coincidences run rampant in this book, and the tangled connections between the main characters go on and on. But never mind: the story is gripping and wickedly funny, and once again displays Ms. Mantel's wonderful skills as an author.
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