Beyond Black

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9780007157754: Beyond Black

The much anticipated novel from the critically acclaimed author of Giving Up the Ghost and A Place of Greater Safety. There's something nasty at the heart of Britain. The earth is poisoned: radioactive waste is washing into the water supply, and Japanese knotweed is choking the grasslands. Ghastly housing estates are proliferating across the Home Counties and terrorists are hiding in the ditches. This is Britain at the end of the last century and at the birth of the new. Alison knows what is coming. She foresees the death of Princess Diana (an annoying presence who is just as confused on the other side as she was on this). Alison foresees the coming down of the twin towers. Alison Hart is a medium by trade: dead people talk to her and she talks back. With her flat-eyed, flint-hearted sidekick, Colette, she tours the dormitory towns of London's orbital road, passing on messages from dead ancestors: 'Granny says she likes your new kitchen units.' But there are messages that Alison must keep to herself. Alison's ability to communicate with spirits is a torment rather than a gift. Behind her plump, smiling and bland persona is a desperate woman. She knows the next life holds terrors that she must conceal from her clients. Her days and nights are haunted by the men she knew in her childhood, the thugs and petty criminals who preyed upon her hopeless, addled mother. As the spirits become stronger and nastier it becomes clearer that there are terrible secrets about to be revealed. Who is Alison? Why is she so keen to perform a good deed in a desperate world? What terrible thing was it that she did as a child? Why is she drawn to the cutlery drawer even now? This is Hilary Mantel's tenth novel and her first for six years. Beyond Black is an hilarious and deeply sinister story of dark secrets and dark forces, set in an England that jumps at its own shadow, a country whose banal self-absorption is shot through by fear of the coming, engulfing blackness.

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About the Author:

Hilary Mantel was born in Derbyshire. She was educated at a convent and later studied law. After ten years abroad in Africa and the Middle East, she returned to Britain in 1985 to make a career as a writer.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Beyond Black
one Travelling: the dank oily days after Christmas. The motorway, its wastes looping London: the margin's scrub grass flaring orange in the lights, and the leaves of the poisoned shrubs striped yellow-green like a cantaloupe melon. Four o'clock: light sinking over the orbital road. Teatime in Enfield, night falling on Potter's Bar. There are nights when you don't want to do it, but you have to do it anyway. Nights when you look down from the stage and see closed stupid faces. Messages from the dead arrive at random. You don't want them and you can't send them back. The dead won't be coaxed and they won't be coerced. But the public has paid its money and it wants results. A sea-green sky: lamps blossoming white. This is marginal land: fields of strung wire, of treadless tyres in ditches, fridges dead on their backs, and starving ponies cropping the mud. It is a landscape running with outcasts and escapees, with Afghans, Turks and Kurds: with scapegoats, scarred with bottle and burn marks, limping from the cities with broken ribs. The life forms here are rejects, or anomalies: the cats tipped from speeding cars, and the Heathrow sheep, their fleece clotted with the stench of aviation fuel. Beside her, in profile against the fogged window, the driver's face is set. In the back seat, something dead stirs, and begins to grunt and breathe. The car flees across the junctions, and the space the road encloses is the space insideher: the arena of combat, the wasteland, the place of civil strife behind her ribs. A heart beats, taillights wink. Dim lights shine from tower blocks, from passing helicopters, from fixed stars. Night closes in on the perjured ministers and burnt-out pedophiles, on the unloved viaducts and graffitied bridges, on ditches beneath mouldering hedgerows and railings never warmed by human touch. Night and winter: but in the rotten nests and empty setts, she can feel the signs of growth, intimations of spring. This is the time of Le Pendu, the Hanged Man, swinging by his foot from the living tree. It is a time of suspension, of hesitation, of the indrawn breath. It is a time to let go of expectation, yet not abandon hope; to anticipate the turn of the Wheel of Fortune. This is our life and we have to lead it. Think of the alternative. A static cloud bank, like an ink smudge. Darkening air. It's no good asking me whether I'd choose to be like this, because I've never had a choice. I don't know about anything else. I've never been any other way. And darker still. Colour has run out from the land. Only form is left: the clumped treetops like a dragon's back. The sky deepens to midnight blue. The orange of the streetlights is blotted to a fondant cerise; in pastureland, the pylons lift their skirts in a ferrous gavotte. Copyright 2005 by Hilary Mantel

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Mantel, Hilary
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