The Guardian today published a short story by Hilary Mantel entitled The Assassination Of Margaret Thatcher. This piece apparently took Ms Mantel thirty years to write, for “technical reasons” – “I just couldn’t see how to get [the characters] to work together”. The inference is that she has at last solved the problem, but it seems to me that the characters – an assassin and the woman whose flat he uses to set up his sniper’s nest – neither work together nor individually.
I have always found Mantel a curiously lifeless writer. The popularity of her prize-winning Thomas Cromwell books is a profound mystery, and Beyond Black was spectacularly turgid. In the present story she makes full use of her gift for clunking, tin-eared dialogue.
Most amusing is the revelation that the original title of the forthcoming collection of stories for which The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher acts as a trailer was Ten Transgressive Tales. Ooh! Transgressive! What could be less transgressive than an infantile fantasy about murdering a Tory prime minister published in the pages of the Guardian?
For the next thirty years I intend to work on a story entitled The Assassination of Hilary Mantel. The technical challenge, to drain all life from my prose, will be huge, but hey!, think how transgressive and shocking it will be.
NOTA BENE : For something genuinely transgressive, see my forthcoming book Tony Benn Was A Complete Wanker.
Ah, I applaud a kindred critic who also thinks too many critics think too highly of the turgid assassin. Perhaps this says something also about the Booker. I dragged my way through Wolf Hall and did not understand all the fuss and praise. I will pass on the short stories, but I remember wishing Wolf Hall had been a short short short story.