So the novel begins: “When Mrs Axon found out about her daughter’s condition, she was more surprised than sorry; which did not mean that she was not very sorry indeed.” Mysteriously, Evelyn Axon’s daughter Muriel is pregnant, and “Her face wore an expression of daft beatitude.” Something is wrong with Muriel, but before we can work out what a visitor arrives, in dim autumnal light, at the Axons’ house in a suburban avenue of an English town. It is Mrs Sidney, who wishes to contact her dead husband. Evelyn, who is evidently a medium, offers her orange squash and the heat of a two-bar electric fire. Invited to talk about her husband, Mrs Sidney becomes distressed: “the scarlet line of lipstick above her top lip contorted independently of the mouth”. Evelyn contemplates her growing symptoms of distress. “There is, Evelyn reflected, a custom known as Suttee; to judge by their behaviour, many seemed to think its suppression an unhealthy development.” This is the opening of Hilary Mantel’s first published novel, Every Day Is Mother’s Day. Those who know any of Mantel’s backlist will recognise some of her hallmarks: the mix of banality and weirdness; the pitiless black humour (suttee, of… Read full this story
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