Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir

From the double Man Booker Prize-winning author of ‘Wolf Hall’, a wry, shocking and beautiful memoir of childhood, ghosts, hauntings, illness and family.

‘Giving up the Ghost’ is award-winning novelist Hilary Mantel’s uniquely unusual five-part autobiography.

Opening in 1995 with ‘A Second Home’, Mantel describes the death of her stepfather which leaves her deeply troubled by the unresolved events of her childhood. In ‘Now Geoffrey Don’t Torment Her’ Mantel takes the reader into the muffled consciousness of her early childhood, culminating in the birth of a younger brother and the strange candlelight ceremony of her mother’s ‘churching’. In ‘Smile’, an account of teenage perplexity, Mantel describes a household where the keeping of secrets has become a way of life. Finally, at the memoir’s conclusion, Mantel explains how through a series of medical misunderstandings and neglect she came to be childless and how the ghosts of the unborn like chances missed or pages unturned, have come to haunt her life as a writer.


[It is a Saturday, late July, 200; we are in Reepham, Norfolk, at Owl Cottage]


(Fourth Estate, 4 March 2010, owned)




I really enjoyed Giving up the Ghost.

This memoir has a non-linear structure, split into parts rather than chapters that don’t follow any specific structure. This format is unusual for memoirs but works really well.

I’m a huge fan of Mantel’s work but knew very little about her as a person before I read this. I’m glad I did and got to find out more about one of my favourite writers. She’s more flesh and blood now and I can appreciate her as a writer even more.

Part 5, Show Your Workings is my favourite part of the memoir, and in a way the saddest as Mantel pays a high price for a lifetime of medical blunders and assumptions by other people. She also plays a part because certain Catholic beliefs led her to assume it was better to keep her mouth shut. I found this part of the memoir very moving.



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