IT HAS BEEN said that Hilary Mantel 'writes like an angel'. Thinking about the implications of this, I found the angel Belial rather than a Renaissance putto sprang most immediately to mind. Like Milton's lippy rebel chained to the burning lake, Mantel prefers the pains of consciousness to sweet oblivion. Words are her weapons against misfortune and, as this collection of six stories eloquently demonstrates, she has learned to talk with a vengeance. Despite being billed as 'fiction', the stories appear to have been written as a warm-up for Mantel's recently published memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, and offer further instalments of the familv drama which she reveals in that book. This time, the spotlight is on Mantel's mother, and in particular on the lies and deceptions which even intelligent parents stuff down the throats of their offspring, and then wonder why they sicken and vomit, or wheeze asthmatically in the poisoned air.
In his essay 'The Art of Fiction', Henry James referred to the difference 'between that which people know and that which they agree to admit that they know'. He was talhng about what it was permissible to-write in a novel, without, in Mr Podsnap's