Hilary Mantel



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Hilary Mantel (Britain, 1952)

"Every Day is Mother's Day" (1985) +

"Vacant Possession" (1986)

"Eight Months on Ghazzah St" (1988)

"Fludd" (1989) is a novel with a thin plot that wouldn't stand on its own without the writer's verbal virtuosity. The plot flirts with the supernatural but never crosses the line into horror. In fact, it remains a comedy throughout the end. Mantel enjoys tearing apart the conservative society of a small town that pivots around the church. Mantel doesn't do much with the ruins: she just leaves them there for us to wonder what will come next.

In 1956 the aging priest of a country village, Father Angwin, is told by the bishop that the statues in the town's church need to be destroyed because they are not appropriate, they reflect ancient superstitions; and that a younger curate will come to assist the agint priest. His housekeeper Agnes immediately spreads the news in the small town, and mother Perpetua, who runs the convent and its school, immediately comes to demand a clarification. The priest has come up with a trick to save the statues: they will be buried, not destroyed.

One rainy night the new curate, Fludd, shows up. Father Angwin befriends him to the point of confessing to him that he actually lost his faith: one morning he stopped believing in God. He does believe in the devil, though, because he has seen it many times: it's a tobacconist in a nearby town. Agnes is disturbed by the fact that she can't remember how Fludd looks like when he's not in front of her.

Angwin believes Fludd to be a spy of the bishop. Fludd visits the convent and chats with mother Perpetua, who gossips about a young nun, Philomena, who claimed to have Jesus' stigmata, and about Angwin, who uses his sermons to disparage the Pope calling him a nazi and the head of the mafia. Fludd befriends Philomena, who reveals the story behind the stigmata. Her mother wanted both her daughters to become nuns, but her sister Kathleen was kicked out of the convent when she accepted a ride from a truck driver, and then turned to drinking and dancing. When strange signs appeared on Philomena's hand, her mother saw an opportunity to redeem the name of the family and immediately hailed a miracle. The bishop, however, thought otherwise and dispatched Philomena to another convent, this one in Angwin's town. Later the two meet a man named Judd McEvoy who seems to be nice and helpful, but Philomena tells Fludd that this is the man whom Angwin believes to be the devil. Fludd doesn't take it seriously and Philomena wonders aloud whether Fludd himself could be the devil, at which Fludd simply toys with her imagination. Philomena reaches the convent in tears. Philomena disrespects the mother superior, Perpetua: the nuns gossip that Perpetua was flirting with Angwin but he rejected her and she never forgot him. She would be jealous of her, Philomena, if she knew of Fludd's interest in her. Philomena keeps thinking of Fludd and convinces himself that Fludd is no priest. Furthermore, she realizes that she cannot remember Fludd's face. Angwin notices another odd feature of Fludd: he seems to absorb food rather than eat it, as food disappears into his body with little or no chewing.

Then we suddenly enter Fludd's thoughts and we hear him think of Philomena with feelings and be surprised of having human feelings; basically a confession that he is indeed the devil.

At night Fludd grabs a shovel and starts digging in the graveyard where the townfolks buried the statues. Angwin hears him and joins. Agnes and Philomena hear and join them. Judd McEvoy stumbles on them. They end their work that it is still dark. Fludd walks Philomena back to the convent, tells her that she has to get out of the convent, and kisses her. When the sun rises, Judd shows up with a wheelbarrow and rope to finish the job and haul the statues back where they were. Agnes notices that her wart has disappeares. The wart reappears on Perpetua's face.

Gossip spreads fast. The whole convent knows that Philomena decided to flee. Agnes sends her a ring. The old nun Anthony (who hates Perpetua) helps her change into lay clothes. Then Philomena, whose real name is Roisin, walks out after dusk towards the train station: Fludd instructed her to take the train and promised to join her. Unbeknownst to her, Perpetua too knows, and rushes out to stop her, but somebody stops her on the way to the station. Angwin talks to the bishop who signals his intention to visit soon, and Angwin would like to warn Fludd, but Fludd is nowhere to be found. Angwin drinks his whiskey, but realizes that it is water, and thinks that it's a miracle on reverse devised by Fludd. As Philomena waits nervously for the train, any train, she realizes that another man is waiting for it: Judd McEvoy.

Philomena and Fludd take a hotel room and Philomena begins a new life. Fludd seems to have plenty of money. Philomena truly had the stigmata but didn't like to be special. Then one morning Fludd disappears, leaving her a one-line note that simply says where he left money for her. Philomena packs her belongings and heads to the train station, where she picks a destination at random.

Meanwhile, the bishop is visiting Angwin. The police is investigating the mysterious disappearance of Philomena, but also a miracle of sorts: Perpetua has burst into flames. She is alive but only mutters something about the flames attacking her. The bishop hears Angwin mention the name of Fludd and asks who he is: obviously Fludd was not a curate sent by the bishop, as the town believed. Angwin is not too surprised.

The novel closes with a short chapter that is simply the description of a painting of Mary the mother of Jesus with a strange expression on her face.

"A Place Of Greater Safety" (1992)

"An Experiment in Love" (1995)

"Wolf Hall" (2008) +

"Bring Up the Bodies" (2012)

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