‘I used to think that autobiography was a form of weakness, and perhaps I still do. But I also think that, if you’re weak, it’s childish to pretend to be strong.’ When she wrote her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost (2003), Hilary Mantel unleashed the full force of her creativity by exorcising the past. Since then she has gone from strength to strength. Her novel Beyond Black was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2006, Wolf Hall won the Booker in 2009 and so did its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, in 2012. While the world waits for her third (and probably final) volume about Thomas Cromwell, she has chosen to offer ten short stories, each a sharp reminder that her inventive power and purpose extend far beyond the Tudor court.
The first story, ‘Sorry to Disturb’, is memoir not fiction. It is set in 1983, during the four years Mantel and her husband lived in Jeddah, and shares the brave self-exposure of Giving Up the Ghost: ‘I was ill in those days, and subject to a fierce drug regime which