The cover article of this week’s (Oct. 5) New York Times Book Review is a glowing assessment, a “run, don’t walk” rave of Hilary Mantel’s new story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Speaking of Mantel’s deserved reputation in English literature, the reviewer, Terry Castle, declaims that:
“Mantel has assumed an esteemed place in what might be called a great tradition of modern British female storytelling, an ardor-filled, bluestocking lineage extending from Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield in the early part of the 20th century through Elizabeth Bowen, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Elizabeth Taylor, Iris Murdoch, Edna O’Brien, Barbara Pym, Penelope Fitzgerald, Muriel Spark, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Doris Lessing, Beryl Bainbridge and many others in subsequent decades, all the way to such gifted living practitioners (again, to name only a few) as A.S. Byatt, Ruth Rendell, Maureen Duffy, Ali Smith, Jane Gardam, Emma Donoghue, Jeanette Winterson and Zadie Smith.”
I cite the entire list because it strikes me that what Castle is presenting here, in her homage to Hilary Mantel, is a sampling of Virginia Woolf’s vast legacy. These women and many more have fulfilled Woolf’s wishes for women and literature when, in A Room of One’s Own, she admonished them (us, that is) “to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast.”
Mantel’s fantastic title story is reproduced in its entirety in the Sept. 28 Review. I love its keenly observed descriptions and quirky but believable characters; I suspect that Virginia Woolf would have enjoyed it too.