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"Anger and fear, she thought. Fight and flight."

  • Aug 31, 2010
Rating:
+4
Mantel's unusual tale is intriguing, a contrast between the seemingly normal lives of neighbors on a quiet street, most unaware that an odd mother and daughter exist in quite another world, one where spirits inhabit the rooms as well as the residents. In 1970ss England, Evelyn Axon and her mentally-challenged daughter, Muriel, are an unusual pair. A medium, the widowed Evelyn is haunted by the spirits she calls upon for clients, her rambling, decaying house filled with the uninvited. The sly, observant Muriel, no longer a child, takes great pains to outwit Evelyn, who berates her daughter cruelly and often. Not surprising that the ungainly, uncommunicative Muriel is the predictable product of her bizarre environment. The hammering of various social welfare workers is met with silence from within, the Axon's recoiling from unwanted intrusion.

Isabel Field, the current social worker assigned the Axon's, is troubled by her inability to help this pair, judging her own efforts inadequate. But Isabel gets distracted by a short affair with married schoolteacher Colin Sidney, whose unhappy wife, Sylvia, can barely control the three children who fill her days with chaos, let alone track the movements of a boring husband. In a vague connection, Colin's unmarried sister, Florence, lives next door to Evelyn and Muriel, her tentative overtures of friendship quickly rebuffed. Coping with the disappointments of an unhappy marriage and the scant rewards of an illicit relationship, Isabel and the Sidney provide the face of everyday life as most of us experience it, Muriel and Evelyn the unpredictable, both victims and conspirators in a bureaucratic social network meant to help those in need.

Mantel explores both the light and the dark side of human existence, the mental aberration bred of dysfunction, the accidental exposure of a nightmare in the midst of a quiet neighborhood, where incipient tragedy festers in dark corners and the scent of decay is pervasive. The blundering Colin Sidney, the well-meaning Isabel and the helpful neighbor, Florence, are caught up in a contretemps with unforeseeable consequences as the tortured daughter of an unstable woman finds herself at the mercy of an unfamiliar world, institutionalized by a system that swallows the needy whole. Out of sight, out of mind, or is she? Luan Gaines/2010.

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About the reviewer
Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #109
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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Wiki

This remarkable first novel takes us into a slatternly house, filled with demons and ghosts, where the clairvoyant Evelyn Axon and Muriel, her pregnant half-wit daughter, cower out of sight of society. Moving seamlessly to a cottage in another part of London, it introduces Colin Sidney, father of three stupefyingly unappealing children, tries to escape the disappointments of marriage via a hole-in-corner affair with Isabel Field, a young social worker assigned to surpervise Muriel. It turns out that Colin grew up in a house around the corner from the Axons, that his mother tried to speak to her dead husband through Mrs. Axon, and that his sister was sexually abused by the late Mr. Axon, who, once Muriel was born, refused to risk further congress with his wife. All these soiled reminders of times past lingernasty little spirits who upset the furniture, steal from the larder, even leave hortatory notes. Who fathered Muriel's baby? Her mother cannot guess, but a changeling it must be, and, like all changelings, it must be cast away. When Mrs. Axon is similarly cast away, Colin Sidney, in defiance of the portents, moves his family into her haunted house, leaving the thoroughly involved reader to imagine what lies in wait.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Details

ISBN-10: 0312668031
ISBN-13: 978-0312668037
Author: Hilary Mantel
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Picador
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