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ABR Arts

Book of the Week

A Memoir of My Former Self: A life in writing

A Memoir of My Former Self: A life in writing by Hilary Mantel, edited by Nicholas Pearson

In the title piece of this posthumous selection of reviews, criticism, essays, and journalism, Hilary Mantel describes how she once visited an irritating psychic she nicknamed ‘Twerp’ in order to guide her back to her former self: ‘I didn’t necessarily think I had a past life, but I wanted to know how it would feel if I did.’ Her former self turns out to have been a ‘miserable illegitimate infant’ called Sara, born to a family of millworkers in the north of England. Sara isn’t an unlikely candidate: Mantel’s mother worked in a cotton mill from the age of fourteen, as did her maternal grandmother, who left school aged twelve; Mantel’s great-grandmother had been illiterate. Mantel comes from ‘a long line of nobodies’. All that ‘Twerp’ wants to ask Sara is whether or not she is courting, when the real love of Sara’s life is Billy, her white bull terrier. ‘If Sara had slapped him,’ Mantel wonders, ‘what sort of a defence would I have had to a charge of assault?’




From the Archive

March 2009, no. 309

The Virtuoso by Sonia Orchard

This novel is Sonia Orchard’s second book, published six years after her first, the compelling and intimate memoir Something More Wonderful (2003). For those who read the memoir – the harrowing story of her thirty-one-year-old friend’s battle with cancer – The Virtuoso may come as a surprise. Orchard has abandoned her own assured voice for that of a fictional and unreliable narrator, a young Englishman besotted with a concert pianist, slightly older than himself. The milieu is an eccentric circle of musicians and writers in 1940s London. If there is any similarity between Orchard’s memoir and her novel, it is the narrator’s stance as the observer, with a beloved and idealised friend at centre stage.

From the Archive

May 2001, no. 230

The Eternal Frontier: An ecological history of North America and its peoples by Tim Flannery

In 1978 the writer John McPhee, accompanied some geologists on a field trip to the American West, and in order to express their insights into the vast processes that had formed the present landscape, he coined the evocative and durable term ‘deep time’. With a sharp Australian eye, Tim Flannery has now done the same for the entire continent in this remarkably ambitious yet highly readable book. As an active research palaeontologist, he has a profound sense of the history of his discipline, and has the ability vividly and sometimes whimsically to put himself and the reader into the places of discovery and into the mindsets of the often testy pioneers in this fossil game.

From the Archive

November 2012, no. 346

Letters to the Editor

True grit Dear Editor, Melinda Harvey’s piece on Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of Travel (October 2012) is precisely the kind of review that makes a…