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.

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land | A pacy psychological drama

Ali Land’s debut novel Good Me Bad Me caught my eye because it’s described as a psychological thriller.  It could perhaps equally be  a ’young adult’ novel in that it deals with teenagers and bullying themes, although it is very dark — perhaps too dark for some younger readers.

The main character is Annie whose mother — a serial killer of children — is awaiting trial after Annie reported her to the police. 

With her mother in jail, Annie gets a new name — Milly — and is sent to live with a foster family. Almost immediately, she is bullied by her foster parents’ daughter Phoebe and Phoebe’s friends. But Milly has skills learned in her past that help her to cope with the pressure.

What is a bit depressing in this novel is that virtually all of the characters are either manipulative or  exploitative of others. The possible exceptions are Morgan, with whom Milly forms a friendship, and her 

Foster father, Mike, for example, seems kind in his interactions with Milly  as he counsels her to help her prepare for her mother’s trial. But even Mike has an ulterior motive as he’s writing a book about Annie.

Milly is an interesting character and Good Me Bad Me is a pacy read.  It’s published by Penguin. I read an advance copy courtesy of Netgalley.

Genuine Fraud by E Lockhart

Like Lockhart’s earlier work, Genuine Fraud explore themes of privilege, truth and lies.

In an author’s note, E Lockhart lists her sources of inspiration for Genuine Fraud.  They include Victorian orphan stories, con artist tales and narratives of class mobility. She talks about stories told backwards and tales of female ambition. Much of this filters through into Genuine Fraud, the story of Jule West-Williams, a young con woman who exploits friendships for personal gain.

Jule is rather like the orphans in Dickens who engage in crime out of necessity. She sees herself as an action hero, physically and mentally strong yet she’s also vulnerable, living on her wits and in constant danger of being uncovered as a fraud.

Like Lockhart’s earlier novel, We Were Liars, Genuine Fraud explores themes of privilege, truth and lies. It’s a story of good and evil, privilege and want, elite and envy. It’s dark and twisty — a tale of self-invention and self-deception. It’s a fast and engaging read.

Jule spends a lot of time worrying about her origin story. She struggles between what she tells herself and what she tells others. Is she disturbed or is she simply dangerous? That’s the question you’ll ask yourself if you decide to read Genuine Fraud.

Disclosure: The publisher provided a review copy via Netgalley.