Beyond Black (no spoilers)
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I have to admit: I had a hard time writing this review. How can a book be intriguing and boring at the same time? That's the state I find myself in as I put together my thoughts on Beyond Black.
In summary, Beyond Black is the tale of Alison, a psychic, and her business partner/personal assistant, Colette. Their relationship reminded me of "The Odd Couple" - you couldn't get two more different people together. Alison was a big presence - vibrant, full-figured, sweet-smelling and congenial. Colette was a drab sidekick - beige, skinny and condescending. How they ended up together is still a mystery to me, even as I finished the book.
Alison is forever tormented by spirits. Her spirit guide, Morris, is a dirty pig, often found fondling himself (thank goodness only Alison could see him). As the story progresses, Mantel reveals that Alison knew Morris before his death, which opens up the intriguing parts of the book: Alison's tortuous childhood. Bit by bit, Mantel feeds the reader information about Alison's past - what was done to her and what she did. These bite-size nuggets help propel the story; however, it was not enough. Beyond Black is mixed with so much "non-action" that it overshadowed the compelling stuff.
Parts of Beyond Black were darn funny (my favorite scene was Princess Diana talking to Alison), but the most of it was too dark for my taste. The pace of Beyond Black was uneven, and I think it could have been tightened by a good 100 pages. But we all know that Mantel can write - and I look forward to reading my next Mantel selection, The Giant, O'Brien, very soon.
Y'all are going to make me go get this book from the library!! I'm amazed by the divide in comments :) Think I may just have to read for myself!!
Completely unlike Mantel's historical novels except in her superb writing ability, Beyond Black is a horrifying, funny, at times gruesome novel ostensibly about a fat female psychic, Alison, her performances at "fayres" around southern England, a group of others on the same circuit, and the spirits, mostly nasty, that haunt her. But really it is the story of a woman trying to remember and overcome the effects of a really unspeakable childhood. While harrowing at times, Mantel's characterizations are so fascinating (including a self-serving, self-satisfied, petty helper Alison takes on, as well as the various spirits), the portrait of the superficiality and blandness of much of contemporary life so pointed, and the writing so lively that I accepted the horror along with the satire.
On my way to work this morning, I listened to the CBC Writers & Company podcast with Hilary Black (an encore from 2005). I found it quite interesting, and she mentions this "superficiality and blandness" as one of the themes of the novel. As much as it's about Alison and psychics and all that, it's also a commentary on the state of modern Britain.
I just found out that it was long listed for the Booker Prize in 2005. So, Orange and Booker . . . someone is seeing something in it.
Bit of a risk you take when you make that as your theme! Because if you do it too well, there goes the book.
ELizabeth Costello by JM Coetzee, was about a rambling, confused professor of philosophy. He succeeded in making it rambling and confusing. Ugh.