Over the weekend of the ‘Royal Wedding’ in April 2011 I was rereading Hilary Mantel’s ninth novel Beyond Black; a book that is, in one sense, examining the public hysteria following the death of Princess Diana. As I was driven to finish this lengthy text for a looming deadline, I ‘missed’ the wedding celebrations and to an extent, for me (rather egotistically) this means that they never really happened.
I started researching Mantel’s writing before she won the Booker prize in 2009. Consequently, my PhD proposal emphasised her ‘invisibility’ as part-justification for the study, which seems laughable now. Mantel’s growing fame has been both a secondary and displacing experience for me as a researcher. There is something odd about being almost invisibly embedded yourself within a humanities discipline, knowing that your work has little if no ‘real’ bearing on the world, THEN having to visit the newsagents to buy every single newspaper they stock because your ‘topic’ is on the front page – again. I have been thinking about when this shock of relevancy might have happened before; I thought of Salman Rushdie and imagined a lone, unknown PhD student reading his work in the early eighties. The implications in Mantel’s case are certainly not as serious, though the spotlight remains a bright one.
I am not sure I have the patience to fully engage with the highly constructed ‘row’ over Mantel’s nuanced London Review of Books article. It has all been said, most effectively and pertinently within the online comment feeds following on from the ‘reports’. This marginal location offers more scope for subtlety than the mainstream journalism, which insists that if Mantel writes of ‘appearance’ that that is The Same as describing reality. So, for example, an image might appear with the Duchess of Cambridge floating in mid-air, which of course is basically the same as the reality that she can fly. Except of course it is not, the image would be carefully ‘framed’ literally and further still metaphorically – i.e. there may have be a series of stories about royalty and supernatural powers, with the story itself appearing on ‘fly-to-work’ day. Or something equally absurd, like reports of a member of the royal family opening a charity, alongside some ‘sexed up’ remarks from a novelist two weeks early. Remarks that look like criticisms of said royal – if read from a very great distance, so great in fact as to not constitute reading at all, which says much about David Cameron’s approach to writing, however ‘great’ he may deem Mantel’s books.