Mantel Pieces: Royal Bodies and Other Writing from the London Review of Books by Hilary Mantel (Review)

Mantel Pieces: Royal Bodies and Other Writing from the London Review of Books by Hilary Mantel.


In 1987, when Hilary Mantel was first published in the London Review of Books, she wrote to the editor, Karl Miller, ‘I have no critical training whatsoever, so I am forced to be more brisk and breezy than scholarly.’ This collection of twenty reviews, essays and pieces of memoir from the next three decades, tells the story of what happened next.

Her subjects range far and wide: Robespierre and Danton, the Hite report, Saudi Arabia where she lived for four years in the 1980s, the Bulger case, John Osborne, the Virgin Mary as well as the pop icon Madonna, a brilliant examination of Helen Duncan, Britain’s last witch. There are essays about Jane Boleyn, Charles Brandon, Christopher Marlowe and Margaret Pole, which display the astonishing insight into the Tudor mind we are familiar with from the bestselling Wolf Hall Trilogy. Her famous lecture, ‘Royal Bodies’, which caused a media frenzy, explores the place of royal women in society and our imagination. Here too are some of her LRB diaries, including her first meeting with her stepfather and a confrontation with a circus strongman.


I was really excited when this arrived in my parcel box and thought it would be the ideal book to just dip in and out of when I felt like it. How wrong was I? I began reading it and could not put it down so my other books had to sit on the bedside table for a while.

I loved this glimpse into Mantel’s career as a reviewer and some of her reviews have made me desperately want to read the books. I wasn’t terribly interested in the notes to and from her editor to be honest and really did not like her entry from her diary after her operation but the rest of the book I loved.

As a reviewer Mantel is brilliant. She clearly does a great deal of research around the subject of the book she is reviewing and reads other connecting works and quotes these in her reviews. Mantel’s reviews are also not short but weighty chapters all on their own. This all means that the reader gets a thorough briefing about the book they might want to read and whether it is worth spending the money on the book.

I will be honest I did find Mantel rather anti Catholic in her writing and she isn’t the kindest to the royal family either. I particularly felt sorry for the Queen in her one item. Mantel is an excellent writer though and this definitely comes across in her collection of reviews and essays. Some of my favourite pieces included In Bed with Madonna 1992, On Marie Antoinette 1999 and Jane Boleyn.

I thoroughly recommend this book to all Mantel fans and to those who have never read her work before. It is a perfect book to dip in and out of or just read from cover to cover like I did. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons.

About the Author


Hilary Mantel was born in 1952 and is an English writer. Mantel was the first woman to receive the Booker Prize twice for her books Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Mantel published her first book Every Day is Mother’s Day in 1985 and began reviewing films and books for a number of magazines and papers.


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