Hilary Mantel

Author as Father Bear

The Lyre Of Orpheus

By

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Ancestors do turn quear, as Daisy Ashford says, and when you begin the third novel of a trilogy without knowledge of its forerunners, your fear is not so much that you won’t know who the characters are, for any competent author can introduce you to them; it is that the novelist may have embarked earlier on some grand figurative device that is set to run and run, some complex allegory that you haven’t a hope of coming to grips with. But when you find that, on the first page, a man called Arthur Cornish is presiding over a board meeting at a circular table; that the trust fund over which he presides is discussing an opera called Arthur of Britain, or the Magnanimous Cuckold; then learn in the next chapter that Arthur (not the King) has developed mumps and swollen testicles; that the unfinished opera was allegedly the work of Hoffmann, who in turn was worked over by Offenbach, who provides – ah yes- the title of the book – you do not feel you are in the company of an author who is going to chain you in a pit of obfuscation. ‘The lyre of Orpheus opens the door of the underworld.’ Eureka. Nil desperandum. Light breaks where no sun shines.

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