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Ask the Editors On Contractions of Multiple Words You all would not have guessed some of these A Look at Uncommon Onomatopoeia Some imitative words are more surprising than others Literally How to use a word that literally drives some people nuts. Even so, she is acutely aware of the tricks and troubles that lie in wait. First up is that odd business of memory. Over the past 10 years, as memoir writing has become fashionable and confident in its own judgments, authors have got into the habit of saying that the truth, strictly speaking, doesn't matter. If you remember something in a particular way, then that is where the real truth, the emotional truth, the deeper truth, actually lies.
Mantel, who "has an investment in accuracy", thinks this is rot. She knows how we all collude in the smartened-up version of the past handed down by anxious parents, but still she believes that, if we try hard enough, we can remember "a face, a perfume, one true thing or two".
"Give Up the Ghost"
And with her own stern advice ringing in her ears, Mantel sets about identifying the particular textures of working-class Derbyshire in the s. There is paint the colour of ox-blood, cheap boxed sweets called Weekend, and her family's piano with the middle C frilled at the edge through over-use young 'Ilary -her parents may be aspirational but they can't aspirate - is pretty sure only Catholics have pianos.
Mantel is smart enough, though, not to over-furnish her memories with bits of Bakelite and other brand names. Instead she uses sense memory to drive the narrative to its proper destination: the observation that her raincoat is the same shade as the electric train tells us not just about the modernisation of the railways, or a particular green you no longer see, but the watchfulness of a clever child trying to fit herself into the landscape.
For Mantel, childhood is a state of war and, within that, a place of siege. All around are the barbarians - teachers, especially, but other children too - who attempt to get a purchase on 'Ilary's inner world.
GIVE UP THE GHOST lyrics
They lob sneaky questions over the ramparts - "do you want me to hit you with this ruler? Sometimes violence becomes necessary, and it is slightly shocking to discover just how capable the dainty Mantel is of delivering a mighty thump. Her grandfather teaches her a way of slapping that will see off the roughest boy and, later, at her smart convent school, she muses, "people say girls can be cruel, but there's nothing a smart slap on the jaw can't cure".
Even as head girl she retains her autonomy by managing never to wear the regulation navy knickers.
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The other epistemological puzzle Mantel tackles is the question of how much of herself she owes to brute biology. Racked not only by endometriosis - in which the lining of the womb breaks away and floats around the body, bleeding monthly into unlikely corners - but the fiesta of medication she has taken over the years to combat its nasty effects, Mantel is left wondering how her altered brain chemistry has affected her personality: "If you skew the endocrine system, you lose the pathways to self. The dreamy seven-year-old who trained camels and rode with Sir Lancelot ends up, 20 years later, without a womb, deprived of a flesh-and-blood future.
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Endometriosis gives Mantel not only a new personality, dark and jittery, but a new body, too. She is unsparing about the horrible oddness of spending the first 25 years of her life as a sylph and the next 25 obliged to wear floating tents to cover her galloping fatness. She keeps a sharp eye out for the reactions of others: the grim satisfaction of a plump female consultant who tells her "now you know what it's like for the rest of us" and the cowardly politeness of a newspaper interviewer who writes her up as "apple-cheeked".
It is just one more example of the way Mantel uncouples the usual steady relationship between the inner and outer worlds, in the process opening up a space where ghosts can settle. When she looks in the mirror and sees a moon-face staring back, Mantel wonders where the thin girl is hiding, the one who occasionally steps lightly through her drug-spiked dreams.