Hilary Mantel’s Book Recommendations

PORTRAIT BY Els Zweerink / ILLUSTRATION BY YOUSRA ATTIA

Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s book column, where authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re looking for a book to console you, move you deeply, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (because you’re here), love books. Maybe one of their favorite titles will also become one of yours.

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Learning to Speak: Stories

Before she did Tudor history, you had to read with the hall of wolves trilogy, Dame Hilary Mantel has published her first collection of short stories, Learn to speak (Henry Holt), first published in the United States. It is one of 16 books, the most famous being the Thomas Cromwell series hall of wolves (2009), Bring up the bodies (2012), and the NYT instant bestseller The mirror and the light, which sold every 2.7 seconds in its first week of release in 2020. The first two novels, both Man Booker Prize winners, were staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company and broadcast by the BBC, which won a Golden Globe, two BAFTAs and a Peabody Award. The stage version of the third book, which Mantel adapted with actor Ben Miles (Cromwell) opened in fall 2021; the screen version is not expected to air until 2023.

Mantel, born in England, lives by the sea in Devon (with plans to move to Ireland with her retired geologist husband); once worked in a geriatric hospital and department store; studied law at the London School of Economics and the University of Sheffield; chronicled his health issues in his 2003 memoir Give up the ghost (in which she is correctly diagnosed with endometriosis); and taught in Botswana and lived in Saudi Arabia, which inspired his 1988 novel, Eight months in the Ghazzah street.

Fan of: Cricket; sell sunset and The crownMeghan Markle and St Jerome in her study, by early Renaissance painter Antonello da Messina.

His next job, The Wolf Room Picture Book (HarperCollins) in collaboration with Ben Miles and George Miles, will be released in September.

The book that…

…kept me up way too late:

The gripping mystery of Sarah Waters in the 19th century finger cot.

… currently sits on my bedside table:

Glorythe second novel by Zimbabwe-born NoViolet Bulawayo, who has already won numerous awards, including the Caine Prize for African Writing.

… I bought for the last time:

The power of the dog by Thomas Savage, hoping to like it as much as Jane Campion’s film.

…I read in one sitting:

A writer’s deepest fear is losing his magic. Michèle Roberts was an award-winning author, suddenly rejected by her publisher. I devoured his memoirs Negative capacity, because I so wanted her to revise and rewrite her life, with a happier outcome. Like, finally, she did.

…I recommend again and again:

Fiction by the young Irish writer Claire Keegan, whose latest book is Little things like these.

… made me laugh out loud:

Naoise Dolan’s novel exciting times: sharp and scathing wit that surprises the reader.

…has the best opening line:

Ford Madox Ford, The good soldier:

“It’s the saddest story I’ve ever heard.” It is both a challenge for the reader and a decoy.

… to the greatest end:

Madeleine St John’s novel women in black has something rare – a totally deserved happy ending. He stayed with me for years.

…I read the most:

I read Thérèse Desqueyroux, by François Mauriac, when I was a teenager, then three times over the past year. Set in France in the 1920s, it’s a short, strange and strongly atmospheric novel about a wife who poisons her husband. I’ve never met real people who look like his characters, but the novel has a mysterious hold on my imagination.

…surprised me:

by Penelope Mortimer The Pumpkin Eater: a feminist novel so stripped down and sharp, so dark, so bitterly funny and recognizable, that it’s hard to believe it was published in 1962.

… I would like signed by the author:

What would you say The Complete Works of William Shakespeare?

… I asked for a Christmas when I was a child:

Jane Eyer. My mother said, “You won’t understand that. It acted as an incentive.

Bonus question: If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world, it would be:

I would just stay home. My shelves are filled with books just waiting to be read or re-read.

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