Alison, an overweight psychic ("not some sort of magic act," she says), not only sees ghosts: she talks to them, too. With her new assistant Colette (a skinny little normal thing, fresh from divorce) and "spiritual guide" Morris, a lowlife ghost who mutters obscenities not quite under his breath, Alison travels through England on the "fayre" circuit. Her upbeat performances belie her tortured childhood and wreck of a life, one that her beleaguering spirits never fail to dish up. Colette soon organizes their lives, and together they try to carve a normal life from the dark supernatural.
Henry Holt. 365 pages. $26. ISBN: 0805073566
"[Mantel] has taken that ethereal halfway house between heaven and hell, between the living and the dead, and nailed it on the page. … This is a book out of the unconscious, where the best novels come from." Fay Weldon
Dallas Morning News
"Hilary Mantel’s marvelous new novel … makes the unreal as real as bad TV reception. … Beyond Black is like Alison herself: It makes past and present, the living and the dead mingle with each other, drink watery tea, fall into arguments. And it makes this magic look easy." Jerome Weeks
NY Times Book Review
"This is a dark, dark book, but it’s fun to read because at heart it’s a celebration of the joys of saying exactly what’s on your evil little mind. … Hilary Mantel’s humor, like Flannery O’Connor’s, is so far beyond black it becomes a kind of light." Terrence Rafferty
"Perhaps this doesn’t sound very promising to you—a novel about a psychic and her unsympathetic sidekicks—but Mantel makes it work, brilliantly. … Part of the appeal is in Mantel’s astringent sense of humor, a particularly British form that she has in common with some of my favorite writers: Muriel Spark, Penelope Fitzgerald and Barbara Trapido."
"Beyond Black is a daring and extravagant book, filled with as much wit as darkness. Sometimes, wit can’t really replace light, and I found myself longing once in a while for the novel to take a sudden sharp turn and leave the paranormal and the traumatic far, far behind." Meg Wolitzer
"And such is Mantel’s force rough yet oddly subtle that the reader is compelled, not exactly into belief but, as in the grim ghostliness of The Turn of the Screw, a suspension of disbelief. … In Mantel’s story of mediums and ghosts and the tawdry on-the-road tedium of ectoplasmic showbiz, a battle of good and evil has been fought." Richard Eder
"It’s not always a pleasant experience, but it is a thoroughly credible one. … But she belabors their situations—Colette’s uncertainty about ditching her dud husband, Alison’s uncertainty about the facts of her grim girlhood—for longer than seems warranted."
Beyond Black is just that—so black it reaches beyond the dark and makes the unbelievable believable. A story that normalizes clairvoyance shouldn’t work this well, but it does. Mantel discussed her own experiences with illness and ghosts in her memoir Giving Up the Ghost (2003), but this novel is pure fiction. A seedy sideshow of ghosts (at turns helpful, annoying, and evil), all-too-human characters, a British brand of humor, shrewd commentary on the state of the world, and rich prose make for convincing, if not always agreeable, reading. Although Alison’s flashbacks never emerge clearly, they create some of the novel’s most painful scenes.