The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

Full title: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher and Other Stories Fourth Estate, 2014, 252 p.

The ten stories this collection contains are all exquisitely written, in them every word counts. Mantel shows her mastery of the short story is as good as her novel writing.

Sorry to Disturb is narrated by an Englishwoman living in Jeddah as her husband works there. One day a man in import-export rings her doorbell, lost, asking to use her telephone. This is Ijaz, who returns next day to thank her and thereafter calls regularly – nothing untoward but he seems as lonely as she is. Her loneliness is not eased by her female neighbours. Her state of mind is illustrated by the fact that Ijaz may well be a figment of her imagination, though that is not the only possible interpretation of the text.

In Comma a woman remembers her childhood friendship with a girl her mother considered unsuitable and the pair’s clandestine visits to the grounds of the local big house.

The Long QT describes the moment a man starts to dally with another woman and the unexpected effect this has on his wife.

Winter Break describes the taxi journey a woman and her resolutely anti-children husband take from their destination airport to their holiday hotel. What it is about, though, is not seeing what’s in front of you.

Harley Street is narrated by a female receptionist in one of the premises there, where the doctors are all nicknamed for their specialty – and who to a man (and woman) all hold their patients in contempt. It is more concerned however with the relationships between the ancillary staff.

Offences Against the Person tells of the interactions between the daughter of a conveyancing solicitor, taken on as a junior clerk in his office one summer when she is seventeen, with his main secretary, Nicolette, soon to be the cause of her parents’ marriage break-up.

How Shall I Know You? examines the trials and tribulations of a jobbing writer asked to speak to reading clubs – the seedy hotels, the usual questions, the tiresome small talk afterwards – but is more concerned with the employee at the hotel where she stays on one visit, a young woman with a facial deformity but a kindly disposition despite her treatment at the hands of the regulars.

The Heart Fails Without Warning anatomises the relationships within a family where the elder daughter is anorexic.

In Terminus a woman sees her dead father in the carriage of a train on a parallel track. At the terminus she tries to find him, fails, yet nevertheless gains a sort of contentment.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: August 6th 1983 is an account of the intrusion by a gunman intent on killing the PM into the home of a woman expecting a plumber to call on the day Margaret Thatcher is to leave the private hospital the back of which the woman’s bedroom overlooks. He seems to be an IRA man. In reply to something the woman says he replies, “‘You’re right. They’re Englishmen,’ he said, sadly. ‘They can’t remember bugger all.’”

Note to the sensitive: at one point a character says, “White nigger, isn’t it?”

Pedant’s corner:- “whether the house is quiet as I left it” (‘quite as I left it’ would be more usual but quiet does make sense in context,) sunk (sank,) typically there are missing commas before pieces of direct speech which begin within a sentence, “computer disks” (I stll rebel at spelling ‘disc’ with a ‘k’,) “against front window of bookshop” (against the front window,) “a row of … were marked out” (a row was marked out,) sat (sitting.)

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