The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

The new collection of short stories from double Man Booker winner Hilary Mantel is clever, sharp and very memorable. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher sweeps you from the hemmed-in, smothering and slightly dangerous confines of a Saudi apartment for British ex-pats to the short story of the title. Oddly, I found the story far less about Margaret Thatcher than I expected. A politician who liked to burnish her own myth of superhuman qualities with tales of hardly needing any sleep, her seemingly iron control of her emotions during tumultuous times and what appeared to be her staggering lack of empathy, Thatcher may well have wept or been uncertain but it is slightly hard to believe now that she wasn’t a perfect automaton. The assassin’s reasons for his actions are as rehearsed and familiar to us as the Thatcher construct, and so you sort of don’t care that she might be assassinated because she is just an image (like a target, made for shooting at) not a real person, which kind of makes the whole idea of assassinating her pointless.
I liked Mantel’s various sulky, slightly damaged, cruel and troubled young women and girls – life is quite a grind, there is little joy or contentedness. There is a frightening twist in ‘Winter Break’, where, at the end, unpleasantness that has been building ever since a British couple got into their taxi for the long drive into the Greek mountains finally breaks – it is a relief and a horror.
Mantel observes a certain sort of person so well, you don’t really want to meet any of them, and, heaven forfend, that you yourself are like any of them, but they are interesting to read about, stewing in their own slightly bitter juices. Which is perhaps the point, Mantel keeps you reading by the cleverness of her craft, and wondering just what she is thinking about us behind her smiling authorial face – no wonder she can deal with the byzantine intrigues of the Tudor court.

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