The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

Unlike Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction, such as Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, this unsettling collection of brilliantly oblique short stories is situated firmly in a modern England, observed through the eyes of Britain’s peripheral people. From closeted nurses to sickly, paranoid expats, all of Mantel’s characters are self involved, morally ambiguous and almost entirely powerless. Though just below the surface lies a secret, a deeper, darker something that makes each of them very intriguing.

Mantel has spoken extensively about her ongoing battle with ill health, and it is a theme that runs throughout this collection, from the semi-autobiographical ‘Sorry to Disturb’; to the unwell protagonist in ‘Comma’; to the young girl, starving and delusional, in ‘The Heart Fails without Warning’. In the title story, ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’, Mantel paints a plausible reimagining of Thatcher’s death. According to Mantel, this was inspired by a hallucination she had while on morphine during a hospital stay. ‘History could always be otherwise,’ laments the narrator. ‘It is the invalid child’s consolation, the prisoner’s last hope.’ More than one of these transgressive tales left a ghostly, bitter aftertaste, but the overall effect is gripping and Mantel’s prose is masterfully compulsive. However, be warned. While these bite-sized stories may fit efficiently into your commute, they pack a punch that will leave you squirming for hours afterwards.

Sian Williams

Cover image for The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

Hilary Mantel

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