Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel | A dark but funny read

Hilary Mantel came to my notice back in 2012 when I fell in love with Wolf Hall. Since then, I’ve read a few of her earlier novels  including A Change of Climate and  Beyond Black. But, so far, nothing really matches Wolf Hall for me.

Beyond Black is about a medium called Alison Hart and her business manager, Colette.  Alison plies her trade in towns outside London, working with audiences and passing on messages from their dead relatives. She avoids the capital because she doesn’t like to work with ethnic communities who believe in reincarnation.

There are a lot of charlatans in Alison’s line of work, but she really does see dead people. She’s haunted by them, and not in a good way. She can’t get away from the dead and she sees things that her clients are better off not knowing.

This isn’t Hammer House of Horror scariness — if anything it’s more disturbing — because the dead continue to have the same traits they had while living. “You don’t get a personality transplant when you’re dead. You don’t suddenly get a degree in philosophy,” Alison tells Colette.

So Beyond Black is dark — particularly where Alison is haunted by the men her mother was involved with during Alison’s childhood. But it’s also funny, not least when Princess Diana puts in an appearance.

To some extent, Beyond Black reminds me of Will Self’s How the Dead Live, although I found Self’s book a faster and funnier read.

Beyond Black is published by Fourth Estate. Thanks to Wicklow County Council Library Service for the loan of a copy.

In a Cottage in the Woods by Cass Green | Review

I really liked how In a Cottage in the Woods opened. Cass Green sets up the story in just a couple of pages.

She introduces a troubled heroine, Neve Carey and a suicidal woman called Isabelle.  Neve meets Isabelle on a bridge and they have a brief conversation just before Isabelle jumps. Although brief, we learn a lot about Neve from this conversation. For one thing, she’s kind enough to stop and help a stranger. She’s also very hard on herself. She questions her own motivations, and thinks that she falls short.  She’s someone who does the right thing when it matters, but she’s also troubled and unhappy. Within just a couple of pages, you get a really strong sense of who she is and why she does what she does.

Believable character

Neve’s a very believable character. There’s a lot going wrong in her life — her relationship has broken up and she’s temporarily staying in sister’s house because she can’t afford to stay anywhere else. Her work is boring and she’s underpaid. Her financial insecurity and emotional unhappiness impact her relationships, stirring up conflict that isolates her from family and friends. This isolation is what makes her the perfect heroine for Cass Green.

Cottage in the Woods

Neve inherits Isabelle’s cottage in the woods when she has hit rock bottom — no home, no relationship, no money, no job. So she has no choice but to move in. The cottage is isolated and creepy, making it an excellent setting for Neve to face her demons. And not all of them are internal. Someone doesn’t want Neve in the cottage.  The question is who? And why?

In a Cottage in the Woods is an entertaining page turner and a fast read. I enjoyed it. If you like the sound of it, you might also like The Woman Next Door.

Disclosure: HarperCollins provided a review copy.

The Break by Marian Keyes 

Marian Keyes takes a wry look at midlife crises in The Break.

The Break by Marian Keyes is the story of how a husband’s midlife crises sparks personal growth in his wife.

Following the death of his father, Hugh decides he wants to find himself. He plans a 6 month break away from home and packs a backpack destined for South East Asia.

News of the proposed ‘break’ comes as shock to his wife, Amy. A PR executive, she has the skills to ‘manage’ perceptions of the break so she steals a march and announces it on social media.  But it undermines her confidence even though she decides not stand in Hugh’s way.

Hugh says he’ll come home once the six months are up but Amy fears that he might not. And, even if he does return, who’s to say that things won’t change in the meantime, So, Amy’s anxious. And having to put on a brave face isn’t as easy as she makes it look.

Marian Keyes meanders a bit too much for my liking and it takes many pages before Hugh, the husband eventually leaves.  Once he’s gone, the pace picks up as Amy learns to cope with her new situation.

This is a chatty novel with lots of online shopping and gossip — not unlike a night out with the girls!

Disclosure: I read an advance review copy via Netgalley.