Learning To Talk: Stories

Holt. Jun. 2022. 176p. ISBN 9781250865366. $19.99. F
“People’s lives have become uncomfortable and insecure, and their future has been taken away,” says one character in this expertly crafted collection from two-time Booker Prize winner Mantel, whose loosely autobiographical stories capture ground-down 1960s Britain. Still, Mantel doesn’t focus on financial stress or even the stubborn snobbery revealed in the title story, whose young heroine has landed at a posh school and spends years taking elocution lessons. Instead, Mantel clarifies the significance of ordinary lives, showing how each of us is a fuse (burning faster or slower) and how each of us can hurt. A young man finally acknowledges the secrets of his childhood, even as he recalls a troubling neighbor, now dead among “the mauled lettuce rows, out of grief and bewilderment and iron deficiency.” A boy realizes that a beloved but difficult dog has been destroyed and that he must remain stoic in the face of another pet’s disappearance. A naïve young woman initially fails to grasp that it’s not spooks but something more sinister raiding the fading department store where her mother is ambitiously pursuing a career.
VERDICT A highly recommended collection quietly probing our deep, everyday sorrows.
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