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Publisher's Summary

A stunning collection of essays and memoir from two-time Booker Prize winner and international best seller 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 20 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 best-selling 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.

©2020 Hilary Mantel (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

"It shows the evolution in Mantel’s style, which has been considerable. Some of the pieces are segments of memoir, some are deeply informed historical essays loosely attached to discussions of books. In the earliest reviews – before she is given subjects big enough for her to walk around in – Mantel is sarky and snarky as well as brisk and breezy.... Mantel’s own segments of memoir, which were published as diary pieces, are virtuoso performances.... As a memoirist, Mantel is without parallel.... It is only when her essays are laid out like this that we can see the inside of Mantel’s huge head, bulging with knowledge and a million connections. 5/5 stars." (Telegraph)

"This is a work that is brisk and breezy, and further enhanced by her capacity to examine our hearts, register our feelings, and bring up with tenderness the enduring question of our frail and vulnerable bodies’ Evening Standard ‘Worth buying for the title pun alone, Mantel Pieces brings together three decades’ worth of Hilary Mantel’s criticism in the London Review of Books.... her uncomplicated prose style is no less authorative for being highly readable." (Sunday Times)  

"A volume of critical writing which often feels as if one is in the company of an exceptionally wise and generous friend, exept very few of us have friends who can be as erudite on Madonna as they are on Anne Boylen" (Sara Collins) 

What listeners say about Mantel Pieces

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  • Ali
  • 10-05-20

Wonderful, just oddly pronounced

I loved and recommend Mantlepieces - it was only marred by the strange pronunciations of the narrator. Did no one listen to her while she spoke or notice while editing?
Initially I thought I was just being pedantic but Papists were Pappists, Chapuis was Chapweez, Holbein Holebeen.
Having listened to all Mantel's work on Audible I'm certain that Desmoolins, Miraboo, Orrlayins, Robbisspierre, pappalists, Tooleries and Jacobeen were not what the author, or the French language, intended.
There was also mangling of the English words theologians, vituperation, exegius, degenerates, anachronistic, doctrine and interpolation. As for the Cathars, talmud, piéta, magi, Diderot and Thérèse, well...
Catherine of Oregon was just plain funny.
it's such a shame because the actor has a lovely calm clear voice and the writing is wonderful - perhaps the producers were on a tea break?

8 people found this helpful

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  • Rachel Redford
  • 10-23-20

Spoiled by pronunciation errors

Why oh why did Olivia Dowd accept this assignment? She must have known that many of the words were unfamiliar to her and she therefore needed to learn how to pronounce them. She has a pleasantly modulated voice and reads well but the download is ruined by her constantly outrageously inaccurately pronounced words: Ely Cathedral; courtier, Holbein, Papist, theologian, fecund, doctrinal, Robespierre are a mere sprinkling. There are passages where there are three of these travesties in a couple of minutes. Why are such blunders left uncorrected? If I were Hilary Mantel I’d be very angry to hear my work spoiled in this way.
That said, these twenty reviews, essays and memoir written for The London Review of Books between 1987 and 2017 are a brilliant collection of Mantel’s writing: vigorous and invigorating, erudite and scalpel-sharp. The breadth of the topics is constantly engaging. The essays on Tudor history, obviously Mantel’s forte, are packed with detail and insight. For me, I’d prefer to read these ones on the page because unless I were to sit down and listen to them without interruption or distraction (not whilst cooking!) I can’t absorb all the content. Some are autobiographical – her horrific post-operation suffering in hospital as she lies ‘a watermelon with a piece cut out’ uncomplaining for fear of making it worse, as she remembers her mother saying when she cried ‘I’ll give you something to cry about’. Madonna gets a terrific well-deserved pounding; the Bulger killer boys and their significance are analysed; Royal bodies from Henry viii’s wives, the ‘lawless fiesta of loss’ at Diana’s death, to a scathing assessment of Kate Middleton. The Virgin Mary with her ‘policeman blue eyes’ was a large part of Mantel’s childhood and her study of historical Marian myths and dogma is riveting. Her study of witches and spiritualism through the centuries is fascinating and the early 20th century secreting of objects in female orifices is described as ‘pornography of the time’; John Osborne’s unattractive personality shines through his own description of his ‘blocked drain of a marriage’…
So much to relish and enjoy - such a shame about the narrator.

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  • Xerxes
  • 10-07-20

Sublime Prose, thoroughly engaging

Mantel’s beautiful prose is uplifting and immersive. Her insights are intelligent and perceptive. The chapters on the Tudors - Jane Rochford, Charles Brandon, Margaret Pole - are superb. “Royal Bodies” is a masterpiece.

The narrator speaks with great clarity and her pace his good. But my goodness, she chooses some bizarre pronunciation for some proper names and other words.

Still, a thoroughly enjoyable audiobook.

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  • Keith Carter
  • 10-26-20

Disappointingly read.

poor narration shows lack of direction. spoilt it for me. brilliant stories though. not enjoyable.

2 people found this helpful