Book recommendations by Hilary Mantel


Welcome to Shelf Life,’s book column where authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re looking for a book to comfort you, move you deeply, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from our series’ authors who love books like you (since you got here). Maybe one of their favorite titles will become one of yours too.

Learning to speak: stories

Before she wrote Tudor history, reading was required with the Wolf Hall trilogy, Dame Hilary Mantel published her first collection of short stories, Learn to speak (Henry Holt), which appears for the first time in the USA. It is one of 16 books, the most famous being the Thomas Cromwell series Wolf Hall (2009), Bring up the bodies (2012) and the NYT instant bestseller The mirror and the light, which sold every 2.7 seconds in its first week of release in 2020. The first two novels – both winners of the Man Booker Prize – were produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and broadcast by the BBC, which won a Golden Globe, two BAFTAs and a Peabody Award. The stage version of the third book, which Mantel adapted with actor Ben Miles (Cromwell), was released in fall 2021; The screen version is not scheduled to air until 2023.

English-born Mantel lives by the sea in Devon (with plans to move to Ireland with her retired geologist husband); once worked in a geriatric hospital and department store; Law studies at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University; chronicled her health issues in her 2003 memoir To quit service (in which she is properly diagnosed with endometriosis); and taught in Botswana and lived in Saudi Arabia, which inspired her 1988 novel. Eight months on Ghazzah Street.

fan of: cricket; Sell ​​sunset and The crownMeghan Markle and St Jerome in His Study, by Antonello da Messina, an early Renaissance painter.

your next work Wolf Hall’s Picture Book (HarperCollins) in collaboration with Ben Miles and George Miles, out in September.

The book that…

…kept me up way too late:

Sarah Waters’ gripping 19th-century crime thriller fingersmith.

…is currently on my bedside table:

glorythe second novel by Zimbabwe-born NoViolet Bulawayo, who has won a number of awards including the Caine Prize for African Writing.

…I last bought:

The power of the dog by Thomas Savage – hoping you’ll like it as much as Jane Campion’s film.

…I read in one go:

A writer’s deepest fear is that she will lose her magic. Michèle Roberts was an award-winning author who was suddenly rejected by her publisher. I devoured her memoirs negative ability, because I wanted so badly for her to revisit and rewrite her life with a happier ending. As she did in the end.

… I always recommend:

Fiction by young Irish novelist Claire Keegan, whose latest book is little things like this.

… made me laugh:

Novel by Naoise Dolan exciting times: prickly, scathing wit that surprises the reader.

…has the best opening movement:

Ford Madox Ford, The good soldier:

“That’s the saddest story I’ve ever heard.” It’s both a challenge for the reader and a decoy.

…has the greatest ending:

Novel by Madeleine St. John The women in black has something rare – an absolutely deserved happy ending. It’s been with me for years.

…I read the most:

I read Therese Desqueyroux, by François Mauriac when I was a teenager, and then three more times in the last year. It is a short, strange, highly atmospheric novel set in 1920s France about a woman who poisons her husband. I’ve never met real people who remotely resemble his characters, but the novel has a mysterious hold on my imagination.

…surprised me:

Penelope Mortimers The Pumpkin Eater: a feminist novel so parsimonious and perceptive, so somber, so bitterly funny and recognizable that it’s hard to believe it was published in 1962.

…I want to be signed by the author:

How about The Complete Works of William Shakespeare?

… I asked for a Christmas as a child:

jane eyre My mother said, “You won’t understand.” That acted as an encouragement.

Bonus Question: If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world it would be:

I would just stay at home. My shelves are filled with books that whisper to be read or read again.

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