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Likely Stories: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: August 6th 1983

Jim McKeown
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: August 6th 1983 by Hilary Mantel

A collection of stories by the double Booker-Prize winning author of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

In order to feed my craving for more of Hilary Mantel, author of two Booker Prize winning novels of the court of Henry VIII, I picked up a copy of her recently published collection of stories, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.  I have about another year to wait for the third and final volume in the trilogy of Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, and the rest of the Tudors.  But the wait will be more than worth it, because I consider the Tudors one of the most interesting dynasties in history.  So these ten stories will have to tide me over for a while.

Mantel exercises all of her literary power in this collection.  Only one story – about a 17 year-old-girl with anorexia – disturbed me right out of my enjoyment.  The other nine however, are serious, astute, and pleasurable reads.

The first item, “Sorry to Disturb,” tells a tale of a husband, who never speaks to his wife.  She is affected by an oppressive culture, and her husband’s silence only adds to her misery.  The next, “Comma” is a rather peculiar story of two children – both from average middle, class families.  Kitty is precocious and Mary developmentally challenged.  Mary transfers to another school, and loses touch with Kitty.  They bump into each other on the street years later.

In “The Long QT,” Jody catches her husband kissing Lorraine, and a surprising result occurs.  The next, “Winter Break,” involves a couple on a pre-paid vacation, who jump in the first available taxi, and are off for a bumpy ride.  In the story, “Harley Street,” Bettina works as receptionist in a medical building.  She tries to befriend a peculiar, lonely woman, but that plan backfires.  In “Offenses against the Person,” a teen discovers her father’s affair with a co-worker.

One of the most interesting stories is “How Shall I Know You?”  The narrator is on a book tour, and must put up with grungy hotels, terrible food, and an unending series of dull and clichéd questions.  I sense a bit of biography here from Mantel.  “Terminus” is a creepy story about a woman who sees her dead relatives on a train.

That brings us to the title story, “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: August 6th 1983.”  A woman expects a boiler repairman for her home near No. 10 Downing Street.  When the bell rings, she admits him.  He turns out to be an assassin, who takes over her house.  A rather thrilling story to end the collection, which has something for everyone.

I always enjoy English writers for the literary references and what they add to my vocabulary.  Mantel uses “soignée,” “gissel,” and “lickspittle” are among a dozen or so interesting words.  As I say to my students, “Look them up!”  Hilary Mantel’s collection of short stories, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is intelligent, interesting, and a worthy read.  I don’t “mind the gap” in the Tudor Trilogy as much as I might with these great stories to read.  5 stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.