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Likely Stories -- Mantel Pieces by Hilary Mantel

Fun romp through the Saudi Kingdom with Hilary Mantel

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

Hilary Mantel created a magnificent trilogy pertaining to the story of the life of Thomas Cromwell. Mantel Pieces is a collection of interesting stories over a wide array of pieces. Her work includes eleven stories equally well done.

I begin with “Diary: Bookcase Shopping in Jeddah 1989—When the Salman Rushdie affair broke, the first thing I thought of was the day we tried to buy a bookcase in Jeddah. Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s most sophisticated, cosmopolitan city. Compared to the capital, Riyadh, it is liberal and lively. It is also of course very rich. Its shopping malls, with their icy air-conditioning, are templets of marble and glass, of lush greenery and tinkling fountains. They are something like the Muslim version of Paradise; only the hours are missing. You can buy a fox fur, if you like, or a portrait of King Fahd, or an American-style donuts; a king-size sofa with a stereo built in, if that takes your fancy. But you couldn’t, in nineteen-eighty-three, find a bookcase anywhere. No call for them. […] During my four years in the Kingdom the supply of books began to improve. It was possible to but a limited selection of paperbacks. People going out on vacation would be given a list of books to bring back—but they would have to get their purchases through the Saudi customs. Some governments publish lists of prohibited books, but if the Saudis had an Index I never saw it: It was only rumors that told you what had most recently given offence, and your fortunes might depend on how pious or touchy was the customs officer who turned out your cases. We believed that the customs men could not read English; that if they could, they wouldn’t; that a book would be judged by its cover” (21-22).

Blame it on the Belgians: On Christopher Marlow: ‘You don’t want to see him,’ said the porter at Corpus, when Charles Nicholl went to Cambridge to look at the portrait that is probably Christopher Marlow. ‘He died in a tavern brawl.’ // Nicholl viewed the putative Marlow, in his opulent slashed doublet, and wondered how he could afford the outfit. […] His conclusion? There was tavern. There was no brawl. It was an old lie that Nicholl has set out to nail, but he is unable, he admits, to substitute a new truth” (65).

Fatal Non-Readers: On Marie-Antoinette 1999 “In June of nineteen-ninety-nine the BBC showed a documentary called Diana’s Dress.  It was about the auction which took place at Christi’s in New York two months before the princess’s descent into the Paris underpass. The purchasers spoke reverently of Diana when she was alive, but her death turned glad rags into relics. ‘I want ted to have a part of royalty,’ one explained. ‘I am in awe of the dress,’ said another.” (103).

Mantel Pieces, by Hilary Mantel, is a trove of interesting items from her travels. 5 S7ars!

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