Wednesday, 19 January 2011
Ink in the Blood ~ Hilary Mantel
I was actually looking to see if there was any indication as to when the sequel to Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall was likely to be published. What I found instead was a book by her that came out at the back end of last year, about which I'd heard nothing, Ink in the Blood.
Why hadn't I seen copies of this when I was bookshop mooching last week? Well, the reason soon became apparent. The book is only available in digital form. And, I assume it is only available this way because, even in quite a large print format, it only runs to twenty-four of my I-Pad pages. Now I can't see any publisher putting out a print run of a book that has just twenty-four pages. It surely wouldn't be economic. But, issuing it via the e-reader is another matter entirely, suddenly all sorts of vistas open up. I can foresee a renaissance of that stalwart of previous centuries, the pamphlet and it would be a wonderful way of reaching a wider market with short stories. No more waiting until you have enough for a collection, issue them one at a time. Perhaps this is already happening and I've just not yet caught up? Any way I'm glad to have discovered this example, which I have to say is nothing at all like Wolf Hall.
Ink in the Blood is, as its subtitle says, A Hospital Diary. I hadn't realised but apparently Hilary Mantel was extremely ill last summer and in hospital for a very long time after surgical complications. Indeed, she was lucky to have survived at all. During her recovery the combination of pain, infection and the medications that were supposed to be fighting her illness induced the sort of hallucinations that you really wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. With typical Mantel humour she calls them her 'hallies'.
Later the hallies, as I think of them, become less threatening, but more childish and conspiratorial. I close my eyes and they begin to pack my belongings into a pillow case, whispering and grinning. One sharp-faced dwarfish hally pulls at my right arm, and I drive her off with an elbow in her eye. After this they are more wary of me, intimidated. I see them slinking around the door frame, trying to insinuate themselves.
And then there are the nightmares.
Sometimes I incorporate the sensations into nightmares and imagine, for instance, that the bed is on fire. One night in my dreams I meet the devil. He is 32, 34, that sort of age, presentable, with curly hair, and he wears a lambswool V-neck with a T-shirt underneath. We exchange heated words, and he raises a swarm of biting flies; I wake, clawing at my skin.
Well, you just know, don't you that anyone who combines a lambswool V-neck with a T-Shirt has to be up to no good.
Her grasp of the guilt that I'm sure we all feel when we are sick is so exact; that 'I shouldn't be here causing all this trouble' reaction.
The staff are there to reassure me, and I am there to reassure them; in this way we shield each other from the experience of darkness. One day soon after the surgery I vomit green gunk. 'Don't worry!' I exclaim as I retch. 'It will be fine! It's just like 'The Exorcist,'' I say, before anyone else can.
I could go on quoting from this wonderful book all afternoon. There isn't a page without something memorable to be enjoyed. But what about the writing of all this. I can't imagine that I would be able to put two words together let alone something as sharp and telling as this. For Mantel it was her life line.
The black ink, looping across the page, flowing easily and more like water than like blood, reassured me that I was alive and could act in the world. When Virginia Woolf's doctors forbade her to write, she obeyed them. Which makes me ask, what kind of wuss was Woolf?
And I find something very reassuring in this small book that is the result of Mantel's need not to be wuss. I loved Wolf Hall and eagerly await the sequel (presumably now, somewhat delayed) but I missed the dark humour that is to be found in books like Beyond Black. If that sort of Mantel is to your taste as well then you really should get hold of a copy of this and while sympathising with her suffering relish the writing that has resulted.
Posted by Ann at 12:55