Hilary Mantel, the miniaturist
Hilary Mantel’s big crossover success was Wolf Hall, her Man Booker-winning historical novel with Thomas Cromwell at its heart. That was a 532-page doorstopper, the big book that publishers and agents – and readers and prize judges, as it turned out – love, a crossover success for a literary writer who had been publishing for decades.
Her sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, weighs in at 432 pages, and is already on this year’s Man Booker longlist. Mantel’s success with these two novels has earned her thousands of new admirers. A pity, then, that many of these admirers may not be as familiar with the joys of her short fiction, with Mantel as miniaturist.
Learning to Talk, a collection of stories published in 2003, has none of the breadth and sweep of Mantel’s last two books. Instead, Vermeer-like, she focuses on the rich detail of the everyday, invests the quotidian with magic. Based on the experiences of her own childhood in the north of England, these sparkling stories are imbued with a sense of intimacy, longing and thwarted hope.