I’m a massive fan of Hilary Mantel’s work and am assiduously working my way through everything she’s published – so far I haven’t been disappointed.
This is not a book like ‘Wolf Hall’ and those hoping for a repeat won’t find it here. What is here, as in all her books, is a quality of writing that is rare, a clarity that is beautifully crafted, a mastery of words, characterisation and situations that is skilful and subtle. Mantel is a brilliant storyteller.
Ralph and Anna Eldred raise their children in an atmosphere of doing good and charity, helping the ‘good souls and sad cases’ that come their way. But their good deeds hide a secret that is eating away at them and at their relationship; a secret tragedy from their time as missionaries in South Africa, a tragedy that threatens the stability, faith and peace that they have striven to provide for their children and for those other waifs and strays that they welcome into The Red House.
The tragedy (the nature of which is not revealed until fairly far on in the book) creates fissures between them that spread out though their family and friends. And when their son falls in love with local girl Sandra, Ralph also sees an opportunity for happiness, or at least for forgetting. However, his actions bring all the resentments, grief and sadness that has been hidden away to the surface and the family finds itself at crisis point.
The characters in this book are portrayed with huge sympathy – Mantel has a real knack of getting right under her characters’ skins. The everyday is drawn as skilfully as the unusual, with both Norfolk and South Africa coming to life – the claustrophobia of a dismal, drab rainy England as real as the oppressive heat of an African day.
Different to Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, but just as wonderful.