The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel, abridged by Julian Wilkinson

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The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel, abridged by Julian Wilkinson.  Prod. Simon Richardson, Elizabeth Allard.  Perf. Rebekah Staton, Harriet Walter.  BBC Radio 4, 5-9 January 2015.

BBCiPlayer to 9 February 2015


This Book at Bedtime reading of four short stories offered an interesting variety of situations and characters.  Read by Harriet Walter, “Sorry to Disturb” was a semi-autobiographical tale of an English woman living in Jeddah with her husband, and encountering a Saudi Arabian man who seemed unable to leave her alone.  Through a series of encounters, whether planned or otherwise, the story looked in a humorous way at the clash of cultures between “west” and “east”; between the oh-so-polite narrator and her Saudi acquaintance, who seemed oblivious to her scruples.  On the face of it, the narrator occupied the moral high ground, as she vowed to remain true to her husband and resist some of the man’s more outlandish schemes; but Mantel, as a story-teller, prompted us to reflect on whether we ought to take the narrator’s claims at face value.


“Comma” focused on the experiences of a young girl, Kitty, ostensibly led astray by Mary, the daughter of an ostracized local family.  They both become obsessed by what they have seen in the garden of a bourgeois house close by; and determine to find out what the mystery is all about.  Yet the story is not so much preoccupied with what they discover, but how the discovery affects both of them.  Suffice to say that the main focus of attention centers on the difference between a comma and a full stop, both in terms of grammar and in terms of one’s life-experience.


Inevitably there has been something of a furor over the short story that lends its name to the entire collection, with protests raised at Mantel’s apparent “disrespect” for a great Prime Minister.  Listening to Harriet Walter’s reading of the tale, one wonders why anyone would really be bothered about it; its main focus of attention centers on a narrator who thinks she has admitted a tradesperson into her house, someone intent on fixing her boiler.  It is only when the person assembles a sophisticated weapon and points it at the hospital exit where Mrs. Thatcher is due to appear that the narrator understands the true purpose of the visit.  Mantel’s story offers some penetrating thoughts on why many people during the Eighties hated Mrs. Thatcher, as well as inviting us to reflect on how we might feel if we felt an assassination was about to take place.


Alternately humorous yet sympathetic to the various narrators’ dilemmas, Mantel proves herself once again to be a fine writer.  I wish the book every success; she certainly deserves it.