Mantel Pieces

Hilary Mantel

Mantel Pieces
HarperCollins Publishers
United Kingdom
4 November 2021

Mantel Pieces

Hilary Mantel

A stunning collection of essays and memoir from twice Booker Prize winner and international bestseller Hilary Mantel, author of The Mirror and the Light

In 1987, when Hilary Mantel was first published in the London Review of Books, she wrote to the editor, Karl Miller, ‘I have no critical training whatsoever, so I am forced to be more brisk and breezy than scholarly.’ This collection of twenty reviews, essays and pieces of memoir from the next three decades, tells the story of what happened next.

Her subjects range far and wide: Robespierre and Danton, the Hite report, Saudi Arabia where she lived for four years in the 1980s, the Bulger case, John Osborne, the Virgin Mary as well as the pop icon Madonna, a brilliant examination of Helen Duncan, Britain’s last witch. There are essays about Jane Boleyn, Charles Brandon, Christopher Marlowe and Margaret Pole, which display the astonishing insight into the Tudor mind we are familiar with from the bestselling Wolf Hall Trilogy. Her famous lecture, ‘Royal Bodies’, which caused a media frenzy, explores the place of royal women in society and our imagination. Here too are some of her LRB diaries, including her first meeting with her stepfather and a confrontation with a circus strongman.

Constantly illuminating, always penetrating and often very funny, interleaved with letters and other ephemera gathered from the archive, Mantel Pieces is an irresistible selection from one of our greatest living writers.


On the 4th February 2013, two-time Booker Prize–winner Hilary Mantel gave a speech at the British Museum for a London Review of Books event. The speech was entitled ‘Royal Bodies: From Anne Boleyn to Kate Middleton’ and even now some people may remember the overwhelming press and public reaction to it. Some felt it was a scathing attack on the Duchess of Cambridge while others argued that, if read or listened to in full, it was an intelligent and witty observation of Royalty and how some aspects have hardly changed, especially for women. Whatever your opinion, it is a bold and assured piece from arguably one of the world’s best living writers.

‘Royal Bodies’ is just one of the treasures in Mantel Pieces; a non-fiction collection of some of Mantel’s contributions to the London Review of Books, where she was first published in 1987. There are personal essays, correspondence between herself and the LRB editors (which are a treat – some are even handwritten) and of course her reviews.

Review topics range from John Osborne, Madonna and Saudi Arabia, to historical Tudor figures such as Charles Brandon and Margaret Pole, who feature in her groundbreaking Wolf Hall trilogy. The London Review of Books and Mantel are a perfect match due to the publication’s long-form review format. Mantel is a conscientious reviewer, acknowledging in her introduction that reviews take time, and is effective at articulating why a book ultimately works (or doesn’t). Mantel’s research skills - used so often in her historical fiction - are evident in her ability to put a book into a cultural, religious or historical landscape, so that we learn about the topic itself, and not just her opinion on the writing.

Mantel Pieces is a must for any Hilary Mantel fan, but could equally be enjoyed by anyone interested in literary criticism, cultural studies or history.

Amanda Rayner is the returns officer at Readings Carlton.

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