There is a reason Hilary Mantel won the Booker Prize twice. She is an amazing writer. In Beyond Black she doesn’t only picks a really original subject, she also makes it even more original by the way she implements it. Beyond Black (Picador, 2006) is mainly about the dead haunting the living, but it’s not in the way they go into the corners in dark and open creaking doors, there are no ghosts scaring the shit out of people as we see in horror films. The dead in Beyond Black is more like a mobbing boss, someone we can’t get rid of – we’re bound to. The way Mantel presents us the horror of facing the dead beyond death is so elegant, so different, so malicious and gritty.
Alison(Al), a trading medium: heavily obese with obvious eating disorders, used to being reprimanded, pairs up with Colette by recruiting her as an assistant. Colette has an interest in Tarot reading but she isn’t a medium herself. Al is haunted by her past- and her spirit guide. While the other mediums have proper spirit guides; Al has to deal an abusive, malicious spirit called Morris. Uncle Morris, she used to call him in her childhood- while she was still trying to connect the dots to understand how earth side and beyond-black works. Alison’s childhood is a real tragic one. Neglected, abused, did have a living mother who seems mad- doesn’t even care about herself yet care about Alison. Her mother was a prostitute surrounded by a band of petty criminals- which Morris was a part of- so you can imagine how Alison suffers in the middle of an inescapable past.
This is a sad book, it won’t provide entertainment and fun, but it’s magically addictive and the writing is so beautiful. Dark, funny and witty. The scenes where mediums traded with audiences were the best and most enjoyable parts for me. And of course the parts about Lady Di.
I felt for Alison. I pitied her. I wanted to give her giant body a hug: unloved, abused, doesn’t even believe that she could be happy.
Alison is a monument, showing us how taunting the living can be as well as the dead. In the end and I was left with the question, which side is more bleak and black: the death, or the life.