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.