A Memoir of My Former Self: A Life in Writing

Holt. Oct. 2023. 384p. ISBN 9781250342225. $35. LIT
This may be the last collection from the pen of unsurpassable historical-fiction writer Mantel (“Wolf Hall” trilogy; A Place of Greater Safety), who died in 2022 at the age of 70. It complements her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, and 2020’s Mantel Pieces, which brought together criticism from the London Review of Books. The essays in this volume are the leftover pieces of a great writer who was a perceptive, often sharp-tongued, but immensely human commentator on things literary, historical, and personal. Not all are great pieces. Many are short, even abbreviated. (She learned early that reviews shouldn’t exceed 800 words, so hers never did.) But even the shortest casts light on the mindset of this, alas now gone, historicist who could imagine herself into the inner life of creatures she’d never met better than any other writer today. Mantel was always looking out to see what the other person was thinking and feeling, even if it was her own behavior that she was dissecting. Readers will find most interesting the several essays on writing historical fiction and writing Wolf Hall.
VERDICT Warm, human, unfailingly engaging, this lovely collection should appeal widely. As usual, she writes like a dream.
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