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Saturday, 17 January 2015

Religion is rather good at telling us about human weakness, self-admiration and enslavement to appetite

Today's Guardian has a perceptive article by John Mullan about Hilary Mantel's fiction which includes the following:

'... theology is often alive and well in Mantel’s fiction. She was brought up as a Roman Catholic, formed by her early experience of Catholic doctrine and her later battles of cunning with the nuns of her convent school. In her next novel, Fludd, set in the 1950s, she creates a bizarre village on the edge of some northern moorland where the Roman Catholic church holds a redoubt. Transformed from her memories of Glossop in Derbyshire, where she grew up, it is another of Mantel’s prisons of the spirit. Fetherhoughton is presided over by a Catholic priest, Father Angwin, who seems to have lost his faith in God while keeping to his horrified belief in the devil, and the appalling Mother Perpetua, mother superior of the local convent. Into this benighted world comes the curate Fludd, a spiritual alchemist who can free anyone who will listen – but particularly the rebellious Sister Philomena – with the influence of his beneficent magic. It is the only Mantel novel with a happy ending.

Religion always impinges on Mantel’s fiction, but not because, like those Catholic converts Muriel Spark and Graham Greene whom she has diligently read, she uses it to detect any providential shape to events. Emma, one of the main characters in A Change of Climate, published in 1994, thinks of the Catholic church as a “bauble shop”, even as, in bereavement, she visits a shrine to tap its sympathetic magic. Religion reflects back the needs and fears of its would-be believers and its no-longer-believers. A Change of Climate, which moves back and forth between present and past, Norfolk and Africa, centres on a married couple, Ralph and Anna, who, driven initially by Christian idealism, have dedicated themselves to philanthropic work. Ralph is a “professional Christian”, but the novel tests any Christian faith in human goodness well past breaking point. Not in disdain of religiosity though: it may be that religion is rather good at telling us about human weakness, self-admiration and enslavement to appetite. Mantel’s characters tend to have, as we say, their demons, and the temporal shifts of this novel are devised, in true Mantelian manner, to show us how these good people are haunted by their hardly repressed memories of evil.'


16 Horsepower - Bad Moon Rising.

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