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An Experiment in Love

1 rating: 5.0
fiction book by Hilary Mantel

A girl's climb up the social ladder in 1960s England. She is Carmel McBain from Lancashire, whose low-class mother pumps her with ambition. The novel follows Carmel through a convent school to university, describing her ups and downs integrating in her … see full wiki

Author: Hilary Mantel
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: H. Holt and Co.
Date Published: 1996
1 review about An Experiment in Love

"Carpe diem is an empty sentiment."

  • Jan 26, 2009
  • by
Mantel's novel of 1960s London fairly aches with the awakening of young womanhood confronted with the incipient sexual revolution. The security of the past rejected for the prospects of a future filled with sexual freedom, the pill and control over one's body, the implications are almost staggering. For Carmel McBain, product of a strict Catholic school upbringing, the choices are daunting. Constraint built into her psyche, she attempts to balance the lessons of a painful childhood with a new identity that affords a wider view of the world at large. In contrast to her unrestricted appreciation of life's potential, albeit within monetary and class limits, Carmel's body pays the price of her family's financial situation. At no time does she enjoy the excesses of abundance, either in material goods or the amount of food she is forced to subsist on. It becomes a forced march, this rigorous schooling at Towbridge Hall, denying herself in order to achieve her goals. Barely aware of her descent, Carmel slips into the nether world of anorexia, self-denial a common condition.

Rooming with a girl who is her polar opposite, Carmel views Julianne Lipcott as the embodiment of worldliness, sporting a cavalier attitude that serves her well, Julianne afforded the luxury of watching others suffer while she looks on. The girls live out their tribulations under Julianne's observant eye, relieving her of the necessity of personal experience. Although the two girls have attended Holy Redeemer School together, a daunting feat for Carmel's elderly, bitter parents, it is the third person in this unholy trilogy that haunts Carmel's emotional development. Karina has been a burden since their earliest years, a plump, unattractive, gluttonous girl much favored by Carmel's mother. A hulking dark shadow at her side, Karina lumbers along, forever in Carmel's shadow, symbolically growing larger as Carmel literally disappears. Confronted by the ease of sexual relations and the burdens entailed, Carmel fails to achieve the abundant freedom of her roommate, emotionally vulnerable to the vagaries of first love, driven to excel while plagued with self-doubt.

Karina remains the embodiment of a murky, unhappy past, a penurious childhood riddled with Catholic guilt, a quest to find a more nurturing niche in the world and a reminder of a tragedy that suddenly illuminates one girl's ignominious deed at the cost of another. As Mantel mines the deep contradictions of Carmel's past, the protagonist's spirit fairly glows in spite of her slight frame, her perceptions of reality honed by experience and a natural intuition for honesty. Like a pale moon, Julia recedes as Carmel's tale unfolds, the burdensome visage of Karina expiated by unexpected circumstances. The prose reveals all, the terrible tensions of the sexual revolution, an awakening of female consciousness and the seductive pull of the more cautious past: "The little women inside were looking out through our eyes and waving to the world." Luan Gaines.
An Experiment in Love

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