Book Talk: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

9:00:00 PM

If you're looking for a mid-afternoon pick me up, something to take your mind off your troubles, or for solace in the darkness, you've come to the wrong place.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is not a happy book, but then again, it never claims to be. Instead, it is a psychological study of the darkest parts of humanity - each story examining a different angle of the parts of ourselves we'd rather not see.

I was first drawn to this collection of short stories because of the cover art - one of my favorite covers of all time - as well as the author's name. While I've never read Wolf Hall or Bringing Up the Bodies, it's hard not to know the legacy that Hilary Mantel carries in the literary world. I knew she was an acclaimed writer, and I knew that after my last marathon read, it would be refreshing to read some short fiction. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into.

I think the best way to begin is to talk about some of my favorite stories individually - so here we go!

1. The Heart Fails Without Warning - This story explores the relationship between two sisters, one of whom is anorexic. The story, which is divided almost into vignettes, depicts one sister's descent into the illness as her family looks on. Mantel delves deeply into the dynamics of a family - she is able to depict these characters as simultaneously sympathetic and unlikeable. As I listened I found myself horrified at the cruelty these characters show each other without realizing it - and I began to think about exactly how each of us treat our families - in that same way, careless, simply because we can be. The story seems to building toward an inevitable conclusion, but ends ambiguously, which left me feeling perplexed.

Favorite quote: "Morna was undoing herself. She was reverting to unbeing."

2. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher - The final story, and the one that gives the collection it's name, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher clung on and would not let go, because its premise was so banal it made it seem all the more real. I felt as though someone I knew was telling me about their day - how they had waited at home for the plumber to arrive, only for their day to go vastly differently than they planned when an assassin arrived to take out the prime minister. I loved the wry, almost flippant humor of the narrator, who rather than panicking or trying to prevent the death of Thatcher, spends her time helping the sniper find an escape route.

Favorite quote: "She lives on the fumes of whiskey and the iron in the blood of her prey."

3. Winter Break - This story about a middle aged couple and their taxi driver was one that felt like the lovechild of the Twilight Zone and an Edgar Allan Poe poem. The couple, set off kilter by their brash, monosyllabic taxi driver, become unwittingly complicit in the murder of what they tell themselves is a deer, but what ultimately turns out to be a child. This story, about the choices that we make and the lies we tell ourselves, was one of the most chilling.

Favorite quote: "He was a squat man with the regulation moustache, and he wore a twill zipped jacket with a tartan lining peeping from under it; as if to say, forget your sunshine illusions."

4. Terminus - This story was the shortest, which only served to pull me in further. Upon it's conclusion, I felt like saying wait, what?! and going back for a second read. This story is more like a description of a photograph, capturing a singular moment in time, when a woman riding a train looks out the window to see a parallel train traveling in the opposite direction - with her dead father aboard.

Favorite quote: "It’s not generally agreed, it’s not much appreciated, that people are divided by all sorts of things, and that, frankly, death is the least of them."

5. Comma - This story captures the cycle of neglect, cruelty, and violence through a woman's memory of playing with her (possibly imaginary) childhood friend as they torment a disabled person they refer to only as the comma.

Favorite quote: "We saw something - not a face but perhaps, I thought, when I thought about it later, perhaps a negotiating position for a face, perhaps a loosely imagined notion of a face, like God’s when he was trying to form us,"

The Assasination of Margaret Thatcher was edgy and unnerving. Each time I expected something, I was thrown off balance, left wondering, waiting, and worshipping at the altar of a writer who could make me feel this way in the span of a few pages. This collection of stories is dark, deep, and funny, and as with all my favorite stories, it left me wanting more.

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