Giving up the Ghost : a memoir by Hilary Mantel
Posted by Librarians with Altitude
Giving up the Ghost : a memoir : by Hilary Mantel
On the Adult Fiction and the Large Print shelves at M
Hilary Mantel is haunted by several ghosts among them the ghost of her father who disappeared from her life after her mother’s boyfriend moved in with the family and Catriona, her unborn child.
Hilary’s working class upbringing in northern England is not as ordinary as those around her. There were the aforementioned interesting domestic arrangements for a start, she is destined to turn into a boy she thinks at 4, a prospect she clings to until she’s about 6 when she reluctantly has to own she’s going to stay as much a girl as she is. ’Ilary is very bright and after having to suffer a terribly ignorant teacher in primary school, goes to a superior convent school and leaves her background behind altogether when she goes to study in London.
There she meets and marries young her husband, a shadowy figure who is never mentioned by name. After time spent in Africa and medical problems which result in infertility they are divorced and then remarried in relatively short time.
Like her last book, the Booker winning Wolf Hall, this memoir is written mostly in the present tense which brings an immediacy to the telling of her story which had me completely immersed. I found I couldn’t wait to get back to the book to find out what “Ilary was doing.
Some of her tale is quite horrific as I will shortly explain, yet there is no wallowing in self-pity or blame laying. Just getting on with life. I came to admire her resilience. I understand Ms Mantel has not published the follow on from Wolf Hall because of serious illness this past year, I hope her resilience gets her through.
Hilary suffers from various ailments from quite young. Countless visits to numerous doctors fail to come up with a diagnosis and Hilary ends up in a psychiatric clinic. There she’s given minor tranquilisers that blur her vision. When she comes back to the clinic with an oversized nightdress with a size 16 label on it, not a size 10 “it was obviously characteristic of mad firls to buy big night dresses.”
Not responding to the first wave of drugs “the possibility arose that you were not simply neurotic, hypochondriacal and a bloody nuisance, but heading for a psychotic breakdown, for the badlands of schizophrenia, a career on a back ward.”
Hilary is given stronger medication. “Do you know about akathisia? It is a condition that develops as a side-effect of antipsychotic medication, and the cunning thing about it is that it looks, and it feels, exactly like madness. The patient paces. She is unable to stay still. She wears a look of agitation and terror. She wrings her hands; she says she is in hell.”
“And the answer to this? Another anti-psychotic. An injection of Largactil knocked me into insensibility.”
Luckily for Hilary, all this treatment was at the expense of her university but then it was the end of term, the end of the year, the end of Hilary’s course of studies and the university could wash their hands of her, Hilary was discharged from the clinic and went home and was sane.
I really, really enjoyed this memoir. I just wished there were pictures . . . I hate biographies without pictures.
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