Review: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher


Three stars

Of her many accolades, Hilary Mantel can perhaps be most proud of arousing the Daily Mail’s ire. She did so by doing what novelists are supposed to – spotting that which is too directly in front of everyone’s noses for anyone else to notice. To her we owe thanks for observing that Thatcher was a ‘psychological transvestite’ and for noting that the media sees Kate Middleton as a doll on which to hang clothes. Her talent for capturing an attitude in one wry, glancing phrase is abundantly displayed in her latest collection of stories – The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – as is her deeply felt ‘Maggiephobia’. 

The first story, ‘Sorry to Disturb’, easily eclipses the rest. This autobiographical piece recalls the years she spent in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, where a Pakistani businessman’s knock at her door resulting in a comedy of crossed cultures and crossed wires. Yet the overall impression is not comic, because it is as much a sketch as a story of a woman, both claustrophobic and agoraphobic, trapped far from home in a cockroach-patrolled flat, and unwilling to venture into the unfriendly city. 

Unfortunately, not all the stories are so good. ‘Winter Break’ follows a couple’s taxi journey, where the driver hits some creature then finishes it off with a rock, and dumps its corpse in the boot. The classic structure of the short story is identifiable: the ambiguity, about whether the ‘kid’ the car hit was of the four-legged, grass-chewing sort, finds its inevitable resolution in the final sentence. The trouble is, no author in their right mind would finish a story by saying, “Oh, it was just a goat,” so we already realise the car actually hit a human child long before Mantel confirms it. 

Like ‘Winter Break’, ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ describes a bourgeois life interrupted – by the Prime Minister’s eye operation at the hospital near the narrator’s house, then by a call from an IR A assassin requiring a vantage point. The cliché-heavy dialogue which these two very different anti-Thatcherites exchange dissipates the early promise of the story. This makes it the crassest of what is generally a subtle and highly readable collection. 


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