I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately. Both Margaret Atwood and Hilary Mantel came out with collections this year, so I’ve found it interesting to compare their styles.
Atwood’s stories are often complex in their setups, whereas Mantel is quite stripped down (the reverse of her Cromwell novels, which I found slow-moving and very dense) in tone and style. While Atwood’s collection is about love, betrayal, and revenge, Mantel focuses on a more vague state-of-nation sensibility and covers a variety of ideas in her stories. My personal favorites are “Sorry to Disturb,” “The Heart Fails without Warning,” and “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: August 6th 1983.” The last one intrigues me, because it suggests an alternate history if Thatcher had died right at the cusp of her Falklands victory. Did she change the course of British history? Or was it inevitably headed towards privatization and conservative reforms? “The Heart Fails without Warning” is a gripping look at an eating disorder from the perspective of a younger sibling who cannot imagine the personal and psychological turmoil of an anorexic older sister and sees only the bony body, the frequent vomiting, and the glassy stares. It’s gripping and heartbreaking at once–one of the finest writing voices that Mantel employs in this collection.
This collection is probably here to tide us over until the third Cromwell book hits the shelves. Is it worth it? Yes, definitely. But it takes on a different tone and style, so don’t be expecting Mantel in her “trilogy form.” This collection has inspired me to seek out her other work, though.