Short, Sly and Sepulchral: Hilary Mantel’s Short Stories


After reading “Comma”, I sat quietly. The masterful wordplay, the black humour, the pathos and the loose threads left to the reader’s imagination-is it what I think it is? Could it be?At the beginning, I had been naive enough to have hopes of a Boo and a tale of Scout.Then I remembered the intense Joanne Harris book ‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ and the  haunted memoirs of nine year old Framboise. Ah, memories of childhood and cruelty-within and without. Comma is a well crafted piece of eerie poetic justice. The story had been published independently in the Guardian  in 2010.

Two stories left me cold and feeling horrible. “The heart fails without warning” and “Winter Break”.The blurb had spoken of the lacerating observational acumen of the author.  Most reviews of this  particular collection had pointed at a bleak house of brilliance- a writer who took pleasure in her ability to shock and jolt the reader awake with her scalpel like precision. But I think, Hilary cut too close to the bone in these  two particular dishes of the succulent fare she was offering to the reader. Malignant beauty I dislike intensely. In people and in ideas.

The title story, obviously having basked in controversy’s famous sunshine, did not satisfy me as much as Comma or The Long QT. Somewhere when you feel the protagonist is acting too smart, you tend to simmer a bit in your own resentment. It happened to me with this story.

Well, most of the stories of this masterful compilation that reached my hands a bit late, reinforced my faith in the wonderful genre of short stories. The world needs more of this word craft. For me as a reader, the joy, the suspense, the intensity and truth of the short story’s  love affair with words can never be paralleled. Whether it is Alice Munro’s deftly written  “The bear went over the mountain”,  or Hilary Mantel’s “Comma” , or K.R.Meera’s impeccable short story in the vernacular, “The vein of memory” – my wavelength gets easily attuned to this word art.

A beautiful short story is like a pearl within the oyster-wrought with much pain and grit; resplendent to the thankful receiver of the gift. Sometimes, less is enough.


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