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Beyond Black: A Novel
Beyond Black: A Novel
Beyond Black: A Novel
Электронная книга506 страниц8 часов

Beyond Black: A Novel

Автор Hilary Mantel

Рейтинг: 3 из 5 звезд

3/5

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Об этой электронной книге

Hailed as a "writer of subtlety and depth," Hilary Mantel turns her dark genius on the world of psychics in this smart, unsettling novel (Joyce Carol Oates)

A paragon of efficiency, Colette took the next natural step after finishing secretarial school by marrying a man who would do just fine. After a sobering, do-it-yourself divorce, Colette is at a loss for what to do next. Convinced that she is due an out-of-hand, life-affirming revelation, she strays into the realm of psychics and clairvoyants, hungry for a whisper to set her off in the right direction. At a psychic fair in Windsor she meets the charismatic Alison.

Alison, the daughter of a prostitute, beleaguered during her childhood by the pressures of her connection to the spiritual world, lives in a different kind of solitude. She cannot escape the dead who speak to her, least of all the constant presence of Morris, her low-life spiritual guide. An expansive presence onstage, Alison at once feels her bond with Colette, inviting her to join her on the road as her personal assistant and companion.

Troubles spiral out of control when the pair moves to a suburban wasteland in what was once the English countryside and take up with a spirit guide and his drowned therapist. It is not long before Alison's connection to the place beyond black threatens to uproot their lives forever. This is Hilary Mantel at her finest- insightful, darkly comic, unorthodox, and thrilling to read.

ЯзыкEnglish
ИздательMacmillan Publishers
Дата выпуска18 апр. 2006 г.
ISBN9781429900638
Beyond Black: A Novel
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Автор

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel is the author of seventeen books, including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, the memoir Giving Up the Ghost and the short story collection The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Her latest novel, The Mirror & the Light, won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, while Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were both awarded the Booker Prize.

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Рейтинг: 3.0662393162393164 из 5 звезд
3/5

468 оценок39 отзывов

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  • Рейтинг: 4 из 5 звезд
    4/5
    Great book. Psychic Alison Hart has a dark past and a jerky spirit guide named Morris, who is always making lewd gestures which no one else can see. She hires newly divorced Colette to be her partner on a whim. The book explores their relationship and the impossibility of understanding what it's like to be a psychic if you aren't one. Alison can hardly function as a normal person and Colette can hardly believe in the psychic thing at all even while seeing Alison in trances, talking to the dead and making accurate predictions. Trigger alert: lots of sexual abuse and violence in Alison's childhood, which Mantel flashes back to gradually throughout the book until finally you get the picture of how grim it really was.
  • Рейтинг: 4 из 5 звезд
    4/5
    12. Beyond Black by Hilary Mantelpublished: 2005format: 367 page kindle ebookacquired: Februaryread: Feb 28 - Mar 9rating: 4A little preface: I read this based on a Backlisted podcast (which I checked out because of wandering_star). Backlisted is great fun. The main guys have a good time talking loudly about the books they are reading and discussing. They invite a few guests for each episode, and in the few episodes I've listened to those guests struggle to match the hosts charisma. In this episode they were all gushing about [Beyond Black], when a female guest piped up with how she tried this book when it was new, and found it so painful to read, she gave up. Now that's brave. But, here's the thing, she was spot on. Mantel got very personal with this book (and followed it up with a memoir). She was looking into modern soulless life in suburbia. Alison Hart is a psychic medium, as in like the real thing. She constantly speaks to the spirits of the dead and she makes her living travelling around and holding shows where she tells the audience about what the dead are saying. This is a modern audience, living in artificial neighborhoods removed from nature and short on history. They live meaningless lives, and are so removed from their cultural heritage, some don't even know the names of the grandparents. Although they don't really understand it, they are here, with Alison, to find some meaning. Except Alison's skill doesn't provide this. She is an experienced performer. She knows that her audience actually doesn't actually care what the dead are saying, and probably would be pretty crushed to find out how pedestrian these dead. People don't get any better or wiser just because they've passed. So, she has to give them something else, a tangle of lies and truth, and common sense presented as personally meaningful. I found the first 100 pages, where Alison takes on a manager who she tries to depend on, but who she doesn't really get along with, both brilliant and horribly painful. Colette is practical, but soulless, interested in how Alison works, but unable to understand her. And Mantel drags us through this relationship, relentlessly emphasizing what isn't there, without ever saying so. This is a major work, this novel, maybe a master work, and jagged little pill for sure. I pushed so hard through these pages and found them exhausting. But I kept thinking about these women and so I kept returning to the book. The book either lets up after a bit, or I got used to it, but I was able to cruise through the last three quarters and enjoy the complex characterizations and interactions. Alison Hart has a lot of past to struggle with. And her ghosts don't just lie in the background of her mind, they come up to her and talk to her, and harass her constantly night and day. There isn't really a way to hide from a ghost, or a whole collection of them. I have to say I agree with the Backlisted crew who gushed about this work. It is ingenious and memorable and effective. It's a book a lot of readers chuck early on (and I can understand why). It's also a book that really hits deep into modern life. I think there is a reason Mantel's next novel took place in a very different time and place, it was [Wolf Hall].
  • Рейтинг: 3 из 5 звезд
    3/5
    This one started off marvellously with a lot of (dark) humour but then it sort of runs into the mud and nothing much happens anymore. At one third I got so annoyed I quit.
  • Рейтинг: 4 из 5 звезд
    4/5
    A curious book. A comedy about ... the life beyond, child abuse ... the general crapness of modern day Britain. All things to laugh at, hey?Alison is a clairvoyant, passing on banal messages from dead relatives to audiences in seedy venues in the South-East. But there's no trickery involved - Alison's the real thing. She even has a spirit guide: "a grizzled grinning apparition in a bookmaker’s check jacket and suede shoes with bald toe capsâ€? who sits around making lewd remarks and fondling himself, unseen by anyone but Alison. The dead are as solidly drawn as the living in the novel and even a disorientated Princess Di turns up in Alison's hallway a few hours after passing over.I felt great sympathy for Alison, increasingly under psychic attack from a group of men who abused her sexually and physically as a child, yet unable to share with anyone the true horror of what she sees in the world beyond.Her self-styled "manager" Colette, is a deliciously awful character - prim, humourless and cold ... and the way she gets her come-uppance delighted me. (Guess whose grubby little sock turns up in her washing machine?)But what I loved most about the book was Mantel's spot-on portrayal of an England I recognise all too well, in prose that sings.
  • Рейтинг: 2 из 5 звезд
    2/5
    This is an odd book. At one level it is incredibly unpleasant, and yet I don't remember thinking about stopping. Spoilers follow...Alison is a woman built on generous lines and is a medium. She has, as her spirit guide, a thoroughly unpleasant individual known as Morris. She has known Morris in real life, he was one of a set of distinctly unpleasant individuals who hung around her mother's house when she was young. Alison's mother was on the game, and the group of men (known collectively as the the fiends) were her clients, drug dealers and worse. Alison is confused about her childhood, not being sure what happened exactly when or how old she was. What we glean is that she was auctioned off by her mother to the highest bidder, was shared around, abused, cut, beaten and thoroughly degraded by all concerned. She gradually starts to make sense of her childhood and her adult life begins to make more sense and a change for the better is achieved. In parallel to this we have Collette, who is entirely un-moved by the spirit world. She has just come out of a relationship with Gavin and is seeking meaning in her life. She becomes Alison's business PA, arranging her demonstrations, doing the books etc. they move into a house together (in separate rooms, it's not that sort of relationship) and there is plenty of opportunity for misunderstanding. You could also describe her as completely untouched by the softer arts as well, but that is, to some extent, her purpose in the book, to act as a foil to Alison. The cover describes this as being darkly humorous. It is certainly dark, about as black as it is possible to be, I think, and while there is wit in here, in some of the situations conjured up, I'm not sure its wit will be what stays with me. My overriding feeling on concluding is that there is a particularly dark corner of hell reserved for those who act as the fiends have done. Alison comes of the book in a better place than she went into it, but that is the only positive I think I can take from it.
  • Рейтинг: 2 из 5 звезд
    2/5
    A contemporary fantasy novel about a psychic and her assistant trying to make a business and general interactions with the spirit world. The psychic can really commune with spirits and has her own spirit guide, who causes more mischief then help. The spirit part of the book is light and consists mostly on her spirit guide. The story is mostly about day to day events and past events that helped shape the psychic. Overall there is no plot, very little story, and not an enjoyable read. The characters are like caricatures and remind me of Confederacy of Dunces, but not in a good way. There is a lot of body shaming in the book, which I expected it to lead somewhere, but it didn't. I wouldn't recommend this book.
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    5/5
    Beyond Black is a strange dark and yet also oddly humorous novel. One of the two main characters is Alison; a medium who can speak with people who have died. She meets Colette who becomes here manager and makes Alison more successful. but Colette is not a “sensitive” herself and doesn’t really understand what Alison must endure. Alison is haunted by her childhood. She had an abusive mother who was a prostitute and also let her customers abuse Alison. Alison remembers some of what happened to her but has repressed many of her memories. Unfortunately her spirit guid to the “other side” is Morris, the ghost of one of the men who may have abused her. As the book progresses the behavior of Morris and friends (the ghosts of the other men from Alison’s mother’s circle) becomes more insulting and tormenting.The book really doesn’t have a plot. Alison and her fellow psychics make their living doing group shows and one on one readings for customers. Much of the humor of the book comes from the petty sniping between the psychics and the relationship between Alison and Colette (who buy a house together) and their suburban neighbors. Eventually Alison realizes that, to end the torment from Morris and the others, she must use her powers to uncover the memories from her childhood that she has suppressed.
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    5/5
    Hilary Mantel has always scared me a little when I've seen her interviewed. I find her a bit like a Margaret Thatcher of writing; if I ever met her, I'm pretty sure she's one of those women who would make me feel like I'm 12 again, and I'd be waiting for her to inevitably tell me off for doing something naughty. This was my first foray into her writing, and I have to say she's pretty damn good at it.Beyond Black is not so much a horror story as a bleak tale of exhaustive malign spirits from the afterlife mixed with the joyless reality of unpleasant people in soulless suburbia. I loved the main protagonist Alison, who is the overweight 'sensitive' (psychic medium) around whom the book is based. Alison had a harrowing childhood of abuse and neglect, living on a sink estate with a prostitute mother who unsuccessfully tried to abort her and a constant stream of violent criminals and soldiers from the nearby Aldershot barracks. Her past torments her on a daily basis as one of the men from her childhood has become her unwanted malevolent spirit guide, and Alison finds herself increasingly struggling to keep the past at bay as her childhood nemeses begin to congregate again in the afterlife.Helping to keep Alison's life on track is her live-in manager Colette, who Mantel superbly portrays as a rude and cold android of a woman who is ruthlessly efficient at dealing with their business affairs and anyone who crosses their path, from sales people to nosy neighbours. Mantel plays out the relationship very well between these two, and we watch aghast from the sidelines as Colette increasingly takes control over Alison's every decision, gradually turning her emotional guns inward on the very person she's employed to protect. Mantel takes her time developing the relationship between these two. At first the rope frays so gradually it's imperceptible, but as the years go by it unravels at an ever increasing speed. We start out not so much liking Colette as respecting her straight talking and effective management where Alison's concerned; she's Alison's bodyguard to life's day-to-day nuisances and unpleasantries, leaving Alison free to fight her mental battles with the afterlife. Whilst Alison is strong in her dealings with the spirit world, she's completely passive to Colette's dominance of every aspect of her life, and while we increasingly warm to her inherent good heart, Colette's directness becomes exposed as the cloak of a classic bully.I really enjoyed this novel. It was highly inventive, unpleasant and disturbing at times, but the fantastic characters hook you in despite the raw and brittle backdrop.4.5 stars - highly original and thought provoking.
  • Рейтинг: 3 из 5 звезд
    3/5
    It was better than "okay" and I finished it, and I admire Mantel's imaginative powers and her writing enormously, so it gets 3 stars. But it was a bit of a slog. Mostly, it was just too... damn... long. This from someone who devoured Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and A Place of Greater Safety, barely coming up for air. (Mirror and the Light is next as soon as I can wrench it away from my husband.)

    It's a dark, sly, often funny ghost story. It's a clear-eyed, satiric look at the modern "occult" industry, yet with sympathy for the voids and pain of those who practice it and those who consume it. It's a wonderful riff on the afterlife and the souls who exist there, chaotically intruding "earthside" and haunting (literally and figuratively) the mortals trying to get on with their lives. In Alison's case, a good-hearted, earnest, obese psychic is floundering in the wake of an appalling childhood (revealed in fits and starts, and only gets worse as the story proceeds). She is anxious, not very practical, and the cutthroat competition among her peers is killing her. She hires Colette, a skinny, cold-minded, domineering, ambitious young divorcee, to manage her business affairs. It is a predictably stormy relationship, fraught by a team of dead souls who taunt and torment poor Alison - and whom Colette must unwillingly learn to cope with. Business picks up as the partnership crumbles. The ghosts cavort - here Mantel is wonderful in imagining and describing how annoying it is when they slither in through the car's a/c vents, giggle under the living room carpet, and expose themselves in corners. But it all just goes on a bit too long, too often, and finally you begin to skim because you've seen this scene play out already, 20 pages earlier.

    Some readers have been troubled by the repeated description of Alison's obesity, as a sort of ongoing joke in poor taste. In her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, Mantel describes her own harrowing experience with her health - unconscionably ignored, minimized, and dismissed by doctors for years while she suffered. She was subjected to psychiatric treatments, and finally powerful drugs that caused her to go from a stick-thin young woman to an obesity that made her barely able to recognize herself. And let's face it, fat people know they're fat - they are reminded of it every single day, by the mirror, by the media, by the shops, by the world at large. I think Mantel was working to convey something about this issue in a personal and unflinching way, though it may seem cruel in the telling.

    I'm a Mantel fan, and will try pretty much anything she has written. But while this has her trademark fizzing imagination, brilliant imagery, biting characters and dialog... it may be too much, too rampant, too unedited to be one to start with.
  • Рейтинг: 4 из 5 звезд
    4/5
    This book is most definitely not for everyone, and not even for everyone who loves Hilary Mantel otherwise. t's necessary to let yourself slip into another world, much as you must do with the Harry Potter novels, where the natural laws we all take for granted are superseded by another set of rules that are not at all congenial to those bound by them. Alison Hart is a professional psychic beset by a mangled cadre of "fiends" from the other side; a heartless, thoroughly unlikeable assistant; and a paranoid lot of neighbors who see terrorists and prowlers in every shifting shadow, poisoned soil and noxious plants in every patch of untended garden. We gradually come to understand that much of what torments her from the spirit world has a basis in her own violent and abused childhood, but (and here's where the suspension of disbelief is essential) we are not meant to attribute the earthly presence of her demons entirely to mental imbalance or psychological damage. Along with sharp satire and humor that is, well, beyond black, the book is full of precisely drawn characters both living and passed, who are uncomfortably true to life. I found it quite good, if not nearly the equal of other Mantel novels I have read. Not what I would call an enjoyable read, but one I've completed with great admiration for the author's skill. Review composed in January, 2012
  • Рейтинг: 4 из 5 звезд
    4/5
    A bizarre story beautifully handled. I've never read anything like this before. Psychics and mediums aren't something I know much about so enjoyed seeing their working life. Moments of utter bleakness in Alison's life hard to reconcile with her general cheer. Loved how the concept of ghosts was handled.
  • Рейтинг: 3 из 5 звезд
    3/5
    Here’s the perfect set-up for a black comedy: an overweight, repressed psychic named Alison must confront her own ghosts—and not just symbolic ghosts, like mere stand-ins of desires and secrets, but actual, real ghosts—the Fiends she calls them. What makes Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel really interesting is that Alison is the real deal. In a live performance in front of an audience in one of the more dramatic scenes in the book, we’re treated to her special skills in action. Nothing sensationalist or jaw-dropping happens; Alison is just a psychic able to tune in and listen to the voices of the dead trying to get messages across. No mysticism here. The dead are just as insufferable as the living; they are bores, petty grudge-holders, boorish, and often liars. It could almost be a sitcom. Alison doles out advice on medical matters and remodeling projects. Here is this powerful psychic mind, and she’s doing counseling for gullible, insecure people. Because we see Alison hold her own so well on stage, it makes all the revelations offstage about her past and childhood that more painful and dark in contrast. Life was never easy for Alison. Even her spirit guide all these years, Morris, is a total lech and low-life. No trace of the dignity of some ancient sage here; no, Alison’s ghost companion is a man that lounges on the floor and fondles himself, a man who often vandalizes children’s car seats in parking lots. A lot of the dark comedy comes from Morris’s annoying antics. But Morris is much more than just comic relief; he stands for everything horrible that has happened in Alison’s childhood—and there is a lot of it. We see glimpses of Alison as a terrified, stunned child throughout the book, as well as get her first-hand account of various abuses she has experienced as she tells it to her friend, Colette. We learn that Alison’s mother was a prostitute and that men, often violent drunks, hung around the house a lot. A sordid, macabre trade of sorts develops: Chopped up body parts. A severed head in a bathtub. Vicious guard dogs constantly barking. Alison has blacked out on most recollections but slowly starts to unspool from her oblivion to remember. Whenever Alison does remember, it is often shared without any pathos or feeling. It comes out matter-of-factly, which seemed odd to me. Collete is Alison’s anchor—a companion, business partner, assistant, and listener. She helps Alison in her moments of psychic crisis when she gets overwhelmed. She also keeps house and handles all of Alison’s business affairs.The gist of the conflict in the book comes as more and more ghouls like Morris start coming out of the woodwork and start harassing Alison. Mantel writes these figures so well; her details about their clothing and faces are vivid; it’s as if these disembodied beings are there in the room, lurking with flesh-and-blood solidity. There is a Thelma-and-Louise kind of dynamic between Alison and Colette that is fun to watch, though by the end it’s transmuted into something far more intimate and dark. When the final confrontation takes place, it feels both anticlimactic and cathartic. Everyone has his or her demons, they say. Beyond Black takes that premise and gives it a literal tune-up.Overall, Beyond Black is a hard book to like and embrace. There’s a choked grimness to the characters’ lives. The vitriol is thick. The banality of the evil that lurks among Alison’s spiteful ghosts can be overwhelmingly depressing, long after you’ve stopped laughing and want to turn away in horror.
  • Рейтинг: 3 из 5 звезд
    3/5
    I really don't know why I didn't enjoy this book more. I think I wanted the psychic to be more forceful, to take more control of her life.
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    5/5
    This novel is both horrifying and maliciously funny. Alison –Al- Hart, overweight medium, is making a good living, giving private readings and doing psychic fairs, but is always alone- at least, where living people are concerned. She can never escape from the dead, who follow her and bother her constantly. And here’s the thing: people don’t get any smarter or nicer when they die. They don’t undergo any spiritual awakening. If they were nasty and mean in life, that’s how they are in death. Al, survivor of a horrific childhood of poverty and abuse, finds she has an old childhood tormentor as her spirit guide. He swears, drinks, gropes women, and sits around masturbating. Only Al can see him, but that’s bad enough. When fate brings bitter, recently divorced Colette her way, Al hires her as a manager/partner. Colette takes charge of Al’s finances and schedule, and they find themselves enjoying a moderate success. Al jumps at her chance to live in a place where no one has lived before, where she hopes she will encounter no spirits. But life cannot be nice for Al; nastiness follows her even into a newly built subdivision (which has its own special brand of horror). Even though she tries to do good things and think good thoughts, she is tainted by her past. She attracts badness to herself; she must come to terms with her past to rid herself of it. The book is brilliant, and very dark. Mantel’s wit cuts like a knife through the middle class, the lowest of the lower class, the way heavy people are treated, real estate developers and New Age believers. This is not a cheery type of funny book; the title tells us how black the humor is. This is very unlike Mantel’s Cromwell books, and just as good in its own way.

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  • Рейтинг: 4 из 5 звезд
    4/5
    This is a very hard book to review. I should really not have liked it. The premise is one I don't believe in or have much interest in and the characters and actions were dark and dirty and unlikable. But somehow the book works. Mantel is really good writer. So what is this book about? Well, it's about an overweight medium, Alison, who meets Colette who has just left her husband. Colette becomes Alison's manager - a 24 hour manager, even moving in with Alison. She books her shows, sets them up just right, and keeps Alison company through long nights of interference from the spirit world. As their relationship progresses, Colette gets more an more controlling, monitoring Alison's eating habits and becoming an abusive partner in most ways. Then there is Alison's personal story, which Colette never really understands. Alison seems to be the real deal as far as mediums go. She has a spirit guide named Morris who is a dirty, cruel, little man. As the book progresses, we see that Morris and Alison have a history in life as well. Morris was part of a group of men that were customers of her abusive prostitute mother. Alison has incomplete flashbacks of a horrifying childhood. She was terribly abused, but did she commit some atrocities as well? As Alison's abused childhood comes out I kept thinking, oh all these spirits are just in her imagination from her damaged past. It's some way for her to work it out. Maybe. But Mantel doesn't really go there. She doesn't seem to concern herself with whether or not all this is true; it's a vehicle for her to explore these characters she's created. And that's why it worked for me. She wasn't trying to convince me what the spirit world is like (or that it exists at all) or that mediums really have a knowledge of the spirit world, but the book is a creative way to explore some interesting characters. So despite not liking the subject or the characters, I really liked this book. I've only read Mantel's historical fiction before (which I love) so I was hesitant to change my opinion of Mantel by reading something I thought I might not like. In the end, I'm so glad I did since this really increased my respect for Mantel. This was a very, very different book from the others I've read and it was still great.
  • Рейтинг: 4 из 5 звезд
    4/5
    Alison is a psychic and Cholette her companion take us on a journey to the spirit world.This is a heart breaking story of the struggles and inner turmoils of a psychic, giving an insight into  their techniques and works. A good litrary read.
  • Рейтинг: 3 из 5 звезд
    3/5
    Alison Hart is a successful medium with a troubled past; Colette is a cold but efficient manager. Almost on the spur of the moment, they decide to form a business partnership because each of them wants to escape the status quo: Alison is tormented by the spirits of her violent and malicious abusers, and Colette wants to escape a marriage where her husband pays more attention to the car magazines than her. Over the following seven years, we follow their chalk-and-cheese, love-hate relationship until it comes full circle again.I guess that I came to this book with certain expectations: the review snippets on the front and back covers suggested a ghost story (which is what I was hoping for), but this is only true in the broadest sense of the word as that there are spirits of the dead that haunt people earthside, yet it is mainly a novel about confronting one’s inner demons and learning to accept them. Hilary Mantel’s writing shows more maturity and skill than was encountered in A Place of Greater Safety, but I still feel that several promising plot strands disappointingly ended in literary cul-de-sacs, whereas other narrative threads appeared to me as distractions from the main character developments, like the author had somehow got sidetracked and forgotten what and who she was writing about. The underlying subject of Alison’s traumatic childhood and her battle with an eating disorder should, by all rights, not be funny, but thanks to the author’s wicked sense of humour (I would describe it as beyond black) they are somehow turned on their heads. She imbues her characters with life (even the dead) and warmth, and yet I wouldn’t want to be at the receiving end of her rather sharp pen when she’s harbouring a grudge against something: several places and occupations seem to be getting the Mantel treatment here. On the whole I’d say that I enjoyed the book more than I was irritated by its having too many loose ends in my opinion, but I would expect more from a writer of her calibre.
  • Рейтинг: 2 из 5 звезд
    2/5
    The best review I can give this novel is that I actually reached the end, which is more than I can say for A Place of Greater Safety. That said, I did wander off about midway through, and read two other books with recognisable direction and likeable characters. Given either of those traditional features, Hilary Mantel's overblown ghost story - or kitchen sink drama, whatever she was aiming for - could have been interesting, but I grew bored with listening to Alison and Colette bitch at each other, and couldn't even discern, from the lack of plot, what their miserable relationship was leading to. I kept checking the page count/percentage on my Kindle, thinking, 'Nearly there!'The two stars are for Mantel's obvious skill at crafting realistic, if deeply detestable, characters, and her cynical observations of everyday life. I also enjoyed Alison's descriptions of what goes on 'beyond black'. Two hundred pages less, and I would have perhaps stayed awaked longer and finished the book without interruption!
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    5/5
    This novel is both horrifying and maliciously funny. Alison –Al- Hart, overweight medium, is making a good living, giving private readings and doing psychic fairs, but is always alone- at least, where living people are concerned. She can never escape from the dead, who follow her and bother her constantly. And here’s the thing: people don’t get any smarter or nicer when they die. They don’t undergo any spiritual awakening. If they were nasty and mean in life, that’s how they are in death. Al, survivor of a horrific childhood of poverty and abuse, finds she has an old childhood tormentor as her spirit guide. He swears, drinks, gropes women, and sits around masturbating. Only Al can see him, but that’s bad enough. When fate brings bitter, recently divorced Colette her way, Al hires her as a manager/partner. Colette takes charge of Al’s finances and schedule, and they find themselves enjoying a moderate success. Al jumps at her chance to live in a place where no one has lived before, where she hopes she will encounter no spirits. But life cannot be nice for Al; nastiness follows her even into a newly built subdivision (which has its own special brand of horror). Even though she tries to do good things and think good thoughts, she is tainted by her past. She attracts badness to herself; she must come to terms with her past to rid herself of it. The book is brilliant, and very dark. Mantel’s wit cuts like a knife through the middle class, the lowest of the lower class, the way heavy people are treated, real estate developers and New Age believers. This is not a cheery type of funny book; the title tells us how black the humor is. This is very unlike Mantel’s Cromwell books, and just as good in its own way.
  • Рейтинг: 3 из 5 звезд
    3/5
    My Dad actually insisted I read this book, so, I felt obliged to finish it.I did find it hard going because of the childhood history of the main character. The first few chapters were like trudging through treacle, particularly when the childhood stories came in, but once I'd got through that I found I started to want to know what was going to happen.A lot of interesting ideas and theories about the afterlife, I think what you would call quite gritty characters, and I liked the ending.
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    5/5
    A book, or rather an author, that draws you inexorably into a world of the dark imagination, the world of a woman who both profits and suffers from her psychic gift.
  • Рейтинг: 3 из 5 звезд
    3/5
    A tale where the story is in the describing. Not a great deal happens. The feeling of the main character, Al, and her psychic abilities is finely drawn. But really, the rest of the characters left me rather cold and I kept waiting for the story to move. It never really did. Read "Wolf Hall" instead, much, much better.
  • Рейтинг: 4 из 5 звезд
    4/5
    This completely bizarre book about a spiritualist and clairvoyant who is trying to recover repressed memories of her very abusive childhood while she gets a stick-up-her-a## assistant out of her shell and earns her living communing with the dead is like LSD in print. It's one hallucinatory scene after another with an ending that is just right. Poor fat Alison, the reader is unsure of what to think of her but ends up rooting for her, wishing there were some way she could overcome her literal and figurative ghosts. And poor beige Colette, the only exotic thing about her is her name. Recommended to anyone who wants a new look at how women can make it through life.
  • Рейтинг: 3 из 5 звезд
    3/5
    I have to admit: I had a hard time writing this review. How can a book be intriguing and boring at the same time? That's the state I find myself in as I put together my thoughts on Beyond Black.In summary, Beyond Black is the tale of Alison, a psychic, and her business partner/personal assistant, Colette. Their relationship reminded me of "The Odd Couple" - you couldn't get two more different people together. Alison was a big presence - vibrant, full-figured, sweet-smelling and congenial. Colette was a drab sidekick - beige, skinny and condescending. How they ended up together is still a mystery to me, even as I finished the book.Alison is forever tormented by spirits. Her spirit guide, Morris, is a dirty pig, often found fondling himself (thank goodness only Alison could see him). As the story progresses, Mantel reveals that Alison knew Morris before his death, which opens up the intriguing parts of the book: Alison's tortuous childhood. Bit by bit, Mantel feeds the reader information about Alison's past - what was done to her and what she did. These bite-size nuggets help propel the story; however, it was not enough. Beyond Black is mixed with so much "non-action" that it overshadowed the compelling stuff.Parts of Beyond Black were darn funny (my favorite scene was Princess Diana talking to Alison), but the most of it was too dark for my taste. The pace of Beyond Black was uneven, and I think it could have been tightened by a good 100 pages. But we all know that Mantel can write - and I look forward to reading my next Mantel selection, The Giant, O'Brien, very soon.
  • Рейтинг: 4 из 5 звезд
    4/5
    There was a point, around about chapter 9, when I was sure this book and I were going part company. The plot headed off in strange directions, and it was like chasing shadows along dark alleyways. Up to that point the story, involving a medium and her business partner, had been illuminating, quite funny and very entertaining. But there is a darker side to this novel and its grip on the plot increased as the pages turned. It is an odd mix – lighthearted banter with the shadow of grim events in a character’s past. Looking back, what I liked most about this book were the sections involving the community of psychics, the bitchy banter between them, and the author’s interesting take on the spirit world. The plot strand involving the main character’s childhood was altogether harder to grasp and much is left for the reader to interpret. But it is skilfully rendered, the way childhood memories often appear distorted, fractured, hard to make sense of. Characterisation was excellent throughout, and I was struck by the way characters all seemed to ‘fit’ their names.One thing that did strike me was the strong anti-men feeling that pervaded the novel. There were hardly any sympathetic male characters, and the one nuclear family to feature was portrayed in a negative light. Events in the main character’s back story might account for this but I couldn’t help wondering if there was a broader agenda here.
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    5/5
    If someone offered you psychic powers, the ability to communicate with the dead would not be a good one to choose. The dead are devious, spiteful and importunate, and Alison Hart is never free of them. Her spirit guide, Morris, is the bane of her life, tormenting her and wrecking her attempts to make her life better, while his constant jibes remind her of events from her childhood that she only half remembers and would rather forget altogether.I enjoyed this book a lot, and was glad to see that Collette got what she deserved in the end. But what is it with mediums and the name Alison? The medium in this book is called Alison, as are the medium heroines of the U.S. TV series "Medium" (based on a real-life medium of that name) and the U.K. TV series "Afterlife".
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    5/5
    This is a brilliant book. Clever, funny, inventive, and written in prose as smooth as cough syrup. It's also not a book for anyone looking for a pleasant read about psychics and ghosties. Anyone hoping for a fun romp, let your fingers flee to the next shelf over. Beyond Black, as it's title declares, is black indeed. Sarcastic, dark, satiric, and at times, very disturbing. I couldn't put it down. Also, as an epileptic, I was astonished as just how well indeed Mantel described what certain types of seizures are like. Very impressive.
  • Рейтинг: 2 из 5 звезд
    2/5
    As I read this, I knew it was very well written and inventive and admirable for those reasons, but oh I just LOATHED it! I found the whole reading experience like being forced to spend time in a horrible place full of nasty people. I couldn't work out where the book was coming from at all, it just seemed to be mean about everyone in it. Having said that, I think maybe I was just having an off week with it!
  • Рейтинг: 2 из 5 звезд
    2/5
    I wasn't a big fan of this. It was too long, the plot disintegrated towards the end, and for quite a comical book there was far too much misery, which made the humour hard to accept.
  • Рейтинг: 3 из 5 звезд
    3/5
    I'm not sure if I liked this or not, but I read to the end. Maybe it was there when I was no longer sure if I liked it? I won't add spoilers, but I wasn't happy with the Great Revelations. Nonetheless, Beyond Black was an engaging read, and the Morris character is exceptionally creepy. Likewise the two main characters are exceptional portraits - I felt k=like I knew them by a third of the way in. I didn't particularly like them, but I don't suppose that's the point. I did notice that all the men in the book are heels or worse, while all the women are suffering... Maybe that's why I am not sure if I liked it?

Предварительный просмотр книги

Beyond Black - Hilary Mantel

one

Travelling: the dank oily days after Christmas. The motorway, its wastes looping London: the margin’s scrub grass flaring orange in the lights, and the leaves of the poisoned shrubs striped yellow-green like a cantaloupe melon. Four o’clock: light sinking over the orbital road. Teatime in Enfield, night falling on Potter’s Bar. There are nights when you don’t want to do it, but you have to do it anyway. Nights when you look down from the stage and see closed stupid faces. Messages from the dead arrive at random. You don’t want them and you can’t send them back. The dead won’t be coaxed and they won’t be coerced. But the public has paid its money and it wants results.

A sea-green sky: lamps blossoming white. This is marginal land: fields of strung wire, of treadless tyres in ditches, fridges dead on their backs, and starving ponies cropping the mud. It is a landscape running with outcasts and escapees, with Afghans, Turks and Kurds: with scapegoats, scarred with bottle and burn marks, limping from the cities with broken ribs. The life forms here are rejects, or anomalies: the cats tipped from speeding cars, and the Heathrow sheep, their fleece clotted with the stench of aviation fuel.

Beside her, in profile against the fogged window, the driver’s face is set. In the back seat, something dead stirs, and begins to grunt and breathe. The car flees across the junctions, and the space the road encloses is the space inside her: the arena of combat, the wasteland, the place of civil strife behind her ribs. A heart beats, taillights wink. Dim lights shine from tower blocks, from passing helicopters, from fixed stars. Night closes in on the perjured ministers and burnt-out pedophiles, on the unloved viaducts and graffitied bridges, on ditches beneath mouldering hedgerows and railings never warmed by human touch.

Night and winter: but in the rotten nests and empty setts, she can feel the signs of growth, intimations of spring. This is the time of Le Pendu, the Hanged Man, swinging by his foot from the living tree. It is a time of suspension, of hesitation, of the indrawn breath. It is a time to let go of expectation, yet not abandon hope; to anticipate the turn of the Wheel of Fortune. This is our life and we have to lead it. Think of the alternative.

A static cloud bank, like an ink smudge. Darkening air.

It’s no good asking me whether I’d choose to be like this, because I’ve never had a choice. I don’t know about anything else. I’ve never been any other way.

And darker still. Colour has run out from the land. Only form is left: the clumped treetops like a dragon’s back. The sky deepens to midnight blue. The orange of the streetlights is blotted to a fondant cerise; in pastureland, the pylons lift their skirts in a ferrous gavotte.

two

Colette put her head around the dressing room door. All right? she said. It’s a full house.

Alison was leaning into the mirror, about to paint her mouth on. Could you find me a coffee?

Or a gin and tonic?

Yes, go on then.

She was in her psychic kit now; she had flung her day clothes over the back of a chair. Colette swooped on them; lady’s maid was part of her job. She slid her forearm inside Al’s black crepe skirt. It was as large as a funerary banner, a pall. As she turned it the right way out, she felt a tiny stir of disgust, as if flesh might be clinging to the seams.

Alison was a woman who seemed to fill a room, even when she wasn’t in it. She was of an unfeasible size, with plump creamy shoulders, rounded calves, thighs and hips that overflowed her chair; she was soft as an Edwardian, opulent as a showgirl, and when she moved you could hear (though she did not wear them) the rustle of plumes and silks. In a small space, she seemed to use up more than her share of the oxygen; in return her skin breathed out moist perfumes, like a giant tropical flower. When you came into a room she’d left—her bedroom, her hotel room, her dressing room backstage—you felt her as a presence, a trail. Alison had gone, but you would see a chemical mist of hair spray falling through the bright air. On the floor would be a line of talcum powder, and her scent—Je Reviens—would linger in curtain fabric, in cushions, and in the weave of towels. When she headed for a spirit encounter, her path was charged, electric; when her body was out on stage, her face—cheeks glowing, eyes alight—seemed to float still in the dressing room mirror.

In the centre of the room Colette stooped, picked up Al’s shoes. For a moment she disappeared from her own view. When her face bobbed back into sight in the mirror, she was almost relieved. What’s wrong with me? she thought. When I’m gone I leave no trace. Perfume doesn’t last on my skin. I barely sweat. My feet don’t indent the carpet.

It’s true, Alison said. It’s as if you wipe out the signs of yourself as you go. Like a robot housekeeper. You polish your own fingerprints away.

Don’t be silly. Colette said. And don’t read my private thoughts. She shook the black skirt, as if shaking Alison.

I often ask myself, let’s see now, is Colette in the room or not? When you’ve been gone for an hour or two, I wonder if I’ve imagined you.

Colette looped the black skirt onto a hanger, and hung it on the back of the long mirror. Soon Al’s big black overshirt joined it. It was Colette who had persuaded her into black. Black, she had said, black and perfectly plain. But Alison abhorred plainness. There must be something to capture the gaze, something to shiver, something to shine. At first glance the shirt seemed devoid of ornament, but a thin line of sequins ran down the sleeve, like the eyes of sly aliens, reflecting black within black. For her work onstage, she insisted on colour: emerald, burnt orange, scarlet. The last thing you want, when you go out there, she explained, is to make them think of funerals.

Now she pouted at herself in the glass. I think that’s quite nice, don’t you?

Colette glanced at her. Yes, it suits you.

Alison was a genius with makeup. She had boxes full and she used it all, carrying it in colour-coded wash bags and cases fitted with loops for brushes and small-size bottles. If the spirit moved her to want some apricot eye shadow, she knew just which bag to dip into. To Colette, it was a mystery. When she went out to get herself a new lipstick, she came back with one that, when applied, turned out to be the same colour as all the others she had, which was always, give or take, the colour of her lips.

So what’s that shade called? she asked.

Alison observed herself, a cotton bud poised, and effected an invisible improvement to her underlip. Dunno. Why don’t you try it? But get me that drink first. Her hand moved for her lipstick sealant. She almost said, look out, Colette, don’t tread on Morris.

He was on the floor, half sitting and half lying, slumped against the wall; his stumpy legs were spread out, and his fingers played with his fly buttons. When Colette stepped back she trampled straight over him.

As usual she didn’t notice. But Morris did. Fucking stuck-up cow, he said, as Colette went out. White-faced fucking freak. She’s like a bloody ghoul. Where did you get her, gel, a churchyard?

Under her breath Alison swore back at him. In Colette’s five years as her partner, he’d never accepted her; time meant little to Morris. What would you know about churchyards? she asked him. I bet you never had a Christian burial. Concrete boots and a dip in the river, considering the people you mixed with. Or maybe you were sawed up with your own saw?

Alison leaned forward again into the mirror, and slicked her mouth with the tiny brush from the glass tube. It tickled and stung. Her lips flinched from it. She made a face at herself. Morris chuckled.

It was almost the worst thing, having him around at times like these, in your dressing room, before the show, when you were trying to calm yourself down and have your intimate moments. He would follow you to the lavatory if he was in that sort of mood. A colleague had once said to her, It seems to me that your guide is on a very low vibratory plane, very low indeed. Had you been drinking when he first made contact?

No, Al had told her. I was only thirteen.

Oh, that’s a terrible age, the woman said. She looked Alison up and down. Junk food, I expect. Empty calories. Stuffing yourself.

She’d denied it, of course. In point of fact she never had any money after school for burgers or chocolate, her mum keeping her short in case she used the money to get on a bus and run away. But she couldn’t put any force into her denial. Her colleague was right, Morris was a low person. How did she get him? She probably deserved him, that was all there was to it. Sometimes she would say to him, Morris, what did I do to deserve you? He would rub his hands and chortle. When she had provoked him and he was in a temper with her, he would say, count your blessings, girl, you fink I’m bad but you could of had MacArthur. You could have had Bob Fox, or Aitkenside, or Pikey Pete. You could have had my mate Keef Capstick. You could of had Nick, and then where’d you be?

Mrs. Etchells (who taught her the psychic trade) had always told her, there are some spirits, Alison, who you already know from way back, and you just have to put names to the faces. There are some spirits that are spiteful and will do you a bad turn. There are others that are bloody buggering bastards, excuse my French, who will suck the marrow out your bones. Yes, Mrs. E, she’d said, but how will I know which are which? And Mrs. Etchells had said, God help you, girl. But God having business elsewhere, I don’t expect he will.

Colette crossed the foyer, heading for the bar. Her eyes swept over the paying public, flocking in from the dappled street; ten women to every man. Each evening she liked to get a fix on them, so she could tell Alison what to expect. Had they prebooked, or were they queuing at the box office? Were they swarming in groups, laughing and chatting, or edging through the foyer in singles and pairs, furtive and speechless? You could probably plot it on a graph, she thought, or have some kind of computer programme: the demographics of each town, its typical punters and their networks, the location of the venue relative to car parks, pizza parlours, the nearest bar where young girls could go in a crowd.

The venue manager nodded to her. He was a worn little bloke coming up to retirement; his dinner jacket had a whitish bloom on it and was tight under the arms. All right? he said. Colette nodded, unsmiling; he swayed back on his heels, and as if he had never seen them before he surveyed the bags of sweets hanging on their metal pegs, and the ranks of chocolate bars.

Why can’t men just stand? Colette wondered. Why do they have to sway on the spot and feel in their pockets and pat themselves up and down and suck their teeth? Alison’s poster was displayed six times, at various spots through the foyer. The flyers around advertised forthcoming events: Fauré’s Requiem, giving way in early December to Jack and the Beanstalk.

Alison was a Sensitive: which is to say, her senses were arranged in a different way from the senses of most people. She was a medium: dead people talked to her, and she talked back. She was a clairvoyant; she could see straight through the living, to their ambitions and secret sorrows, and tell you what they kept in their bedside drawers and how they had travelled to the venue. She wasn’t (by nature) a fortune-teller, but it was hard to make people understand that. Prediction, though she protested against it, had become a lucrative part of her business. At the end of the day, she believed, you have to suit the public and give them what they think they want. For fortunes, the biggest part of the trade was young girls. They always thought there might be a stranger on the horizon, love around the corner. They hoped for a better boyfriend than the one they’d got—more socialized, less spotty: or at least, one who wasn’t on remand. Men, on their own behalf, were not interested in fortune or fate. They believed they made their own, thanks very much. As for the dead, why should they worry about them? If they need to talk to their relatives, they have women to do that for them.

G and T, Colette said to the girl behind the bar. Large.

The girl reached for a glass and shoveled in a single ice cube.

You can do better than that, Colette said. And lemon.

She looked around. The bar was empty. The walls were padded to hip height with turquoise plastic leather, deep-buttoned. They’d been needing a damp cloth over them since about 1975. The fake wood tables looked sticky: the same applied.

The girl’s scoop probed the ice bucket. Another cube slinked down the side of the glass, to join its predecessor with a dull tap. The girl’s face showed nothing. Her full, lead-coloured eyes slid away from Colette’s face. She mouthed the price.

For tonight’s artiste, Colette said. On the house, I’d have thought!

The girl did not understand the expression. She had never heard on the house. She closed her eyes briefly: blue-veined lids.

Back through the foyer. It was filling up nicely. On the way to their seats, the audience had to pass the easel she had set up, with Al’s superenlarged picture swathed in a length of apricot polyester that Al called my silk. At first Colette had had trouble draping it, getting the loops just right, but now she’d got it pat—a twist of her wrist made a loop over the top of the portrait, another turn made a drift down one side, and the remainder spilled in graceful folds to whatever gritty carpet or bare boards they were performing on that night. She was working hard to break Al’s addiction to this particular bit of kitsch. Unbelievably tacky, she’d said, when she first joined her. She thought instead of a screen on which Al’s image was projected. But Al had said, you don’t want to find yourself overshadowed by the special effects. Look, Col, I’ve been told this, and it’s one bit of advice I’ll never forget; remember your roots. Remember where you started. In my case, that’s the village hall at Brookwood. So when you’re thinking of special effects, ask yourself, can you reproduce it in the village hall? If you can’t, forget it. It’s me they’ve come to see, after all. I’m a professional psychic, not some sort of magic act.

The truth was, Al adored the photo. It was seven years old now. The studio had mysteriously disappeared two of her chins; and caught those big starry eyes, her smile, and something of her sheen, that inward luminescence that Colette envied.

All right? said the manager. All humming along, backstage? He had slid back the lid of the ice cream chest and was peering within.

Trouble in there? Colette asked. He closed the lid hastily and looked shifty, as if he had been stealing. See you’ve got the scaffolding up again.

C’est la vie, sighed the manager, and Colette said, Yes, I dare say.

Alison kept out of London when she could. She would fight her way in as far as Hammersmith, or work the further reaches of the North Circular. Ewell and Uxbridge were on her patch, and Bromley and Harrow and Kingston-on-Thames. But the hubs of their business were the conurbations that clustered around the junctions of the M25, and the corridors of the M3 and M4. It was their fate to pass their evenings in crumbling civic buildings from the sixties and seventies, their exoskeletons in constant need of patching: tiles raining from their roofs, murals stickily ungluing from their walls. The carpets felt tacky and the walls exhaled an acrid vapour. Thirty years of freeze-dried damp had crystallized in the concrete, like the tiny pellets from which you boil up packet soup. The village hall was worse, of course, and they still played some of those. She had to liaise with village-idiot caretakers, and bark her shins and ankles hauling chairs into the semicircle Al favoured. She had to take the money on the door, tread the stage beforehand to detect comic squeaks, and pull out splinters; it was not unknown for Al to kick off her shoes partway through the first half, and commune barefoot with Spirit World.

Is she all okay back there on her own? asked the manager. A large gin, that’s the ticket. Anything else she needs? We could fill the place twice over, you know. I call her the consummate professional.

Backstage, Al was sucking an extra-strong mint. She could never eat before a show, and afterwards she was too hot, too strung-up, and what she needed to do was talk, talk it all out of her system. But sometimes, hours after she had put out the light, she would wake up and find herself famished and nauseous. She needed cake and chocolate bars then, to pad her flesh and keep her from the pinching of the dead, their peevish nipping and needle teeth. God knows, Colette said, what this eating pattern does to your insulin levels.

I’d really like my gin, she thought. She imagined Colette out there, doing battle for it.

Colette was sharp, rude and effective. Before they joined up, Al was thrust into all sorts of arrangements that she didn’t want, and she was too shy to speak out if things didn’t suit her. She never did sound checks unless the management told her to, and that was a mistake; you needed to insist on them. Before Colette, nobody had tested the lighting, or walked out onstage as her surrogate self, to judge the acoustics and the sight lines from the performer’s point of view. Nobody had even checked underfoot, for nails or broken glass. Nobody made them take the high stool away—they were always putting out a high stool for her to perch on, not having realized she was a big girl. She hated having to hoist herself up, and teeter like an angel on a pinhead: getting her skirt trapped, and trying to drag it from under her bottom while keeping her balance: feeling the stool buck under her, threatening to pitch her off. Before Colette, she’d done whole shows standing, just leaning against the high stool, sometimes draping one arm over it, as if that were the reason why it was put there. But Colette just minced the management when she spotted a stool onstage. Take it away, she doesn’t work under those conditions.

Instead Colette asked for an armchair, wide, capacious. Here, ideally, Alison would begin the evening, relaxed, ankles crossed, steadying her breathing before her opening remarks. At the first hint of a contact, she would lean forward; then she would jump up and advance to the front of the stage. She would hang over the audience, almost floating above their heads, her lucky opals flashing fire as she reached out, fingers spread. She’d got the lucky opals mail-order but, if asked, she pretended they’d been left to her family by a Russian princess.

She had explained it all when Colette first joined her. Russia was favourite for ancestors, even better than Romany, nowadays; you didn’t want to put anxiety in the clients’ minds, about fly-tipping, head lice, illegal tarmac gangs, or motorhomes invading the Green Belt. Italian descent was good, Irish was excellent—though you must be selective. In the Six Counties hardly anywhere would do—too likely to crop up on the news. For the rest, Cork and Tipperary sounded too comic, Wicklow and Wexford like minor ailments, and Waterford was too dull.

Al, Colette said, from where do you derive your amazing psychic gifts tonight?

Al said at once, in her platform voice, From my old great-grandmother, in County Clare. Bless her.

Bless her and bless her, she said, under her breath. She looked away from the mirror so Colette wouldn’t see her lips moving. Bless all my great-grandmothers, whoever and wherever they may be. May my dad rot in hell, whoever he may be; whatever hell is and wherever, let him rot in it; and let them please lock the doors of hell at night, so he can’t be out and about, harassing me. Bless my mum, who is still earthside of course, but bless her anyway; wouldn’t she be proud of me if she saw me in chiffon, each inch of my flesh powdered and perfumed? In chiffon, my nails lacquered, with my lucky opals glittering—would she be pleased? Instead of being dismembered in a dish, which I know was her first ambition for me: swimming in jelly and blood. Wouldn’t she like to see me now, my head on my shoulders and my feet in my high-heeled shoes?

No, she thought, be realistic: she wouldn’t give a toss.

Ten minutes to go. Abba on the sound system, Dancing Queen. Glass of gin held in one hand, the bottle of tonic looped by her little finger, Colette peeped through a swing door at the back of the hall. Every seat was full and space was tight. They were turning people away, which the manager hated to do but it was fire regulations. How does it feel tonight? It feels all right. There’d been nights when she’d had to sit in the audience, so Alison could pick her out first and get the show going, but they didn’t like doing that and they didn’t need to do it often. Tonight she would be flitting around the hall with a microphone, identifying the people Al picked out and passing the mike along the rows so she could get clear answers out of them. We’ll need three minimum to cover the space, she’d told the manager, and no comedians who trip over their own feet, please. She herself, fast and thin and practiced, would do the work of two.

Colette thought, I can’t stand them now: the clients, the punters, the trade. She didn’t like to be among them, for any purpose. She couldn’t believe that she was ever one of them: lining up to listen to Al, or somebody like her. Booking ahead (all major cards accepted) or jostling in a queue by the box office: a tenner in her fist, and her heart in her mouth.

Alison twisted her rings on her fingers: the lucky opals. It wasn’t nerves exactly, more a strange feeling in her diaphragm, as if her gut were yawning: as if she were making space for what might occur. She heard Colette’s footsteps: my gin, she thought. Good-good. Carefully, she took the mint out of her mouth. The action left her lips sulky; in the mirror, she edged them back into a smile, using the nail of her third finger, careful not to smudge. The face does disarrange itself; it has to be watched. She wrapped the mint in a tissue, looked around, and looped it hesitantly towards a metal bin a few feet away. It fell on the vinyl.

Morris grunted with laughter. You’re bloody hopeless, gel.

This time, as Colette came in, she managed to step over Morris’s legs. Morris squawked out, Tread on me, I love it.

Don’t you start! Al said. Not you. Morris. Sorry.

Colette’s face was thin and white. Her eyes had gone narrow, like arrow slits. I’m used to it. She put the glass down by Alison’s eyelash curlers, with the bottle of tonic water beside it.

A splash, Al directed. She picked up her glass and peered into the fizzing liquid. She held it up to the light.

I’m afraid your ice has melted.

Never mind. She frowned. I think there’s someone coming through.

In your G and T?

I think I caught just a glimpse. An elderly person. Ah well. There’ll be no lolling in the old armchair tonight. Straight on with the show. She downed the drink, put the empty glass on the countertop with her strewn boxes of powder and eye shadow. Morris would lick her glass while she was out, running his yellow fissured tongue around the rim. Over the public address system, the call came to switch off cell phones. Al stared at herself in the mirror. No more to be done, she said. She inched to the edge of her chair, wobbling a little at the hips. The manager put his face in at the door. All right? Abba was fading down: Take a Chance on Me. Al took a breath. She pushed her chair back; she rose and began to shine.

She walked out into the light. The light, she would say, is where we come from, and it’s to the light we return. Through the hall ran small detonations of applause, which she acknowledged only with a sweep of her thick lashes. She walked, slowly, right to the front of the stage, to the taped line. Her head turned. Her eyes searched, against the dazzle. Then she spoke, in her special platform voice. This young lady. She was looking three rows back. This lady here. Your name is—? Well, Leanne, I think I have a message for you.

Colette released her breath from the tight space where she held it.

Alone, spotlit, perspiring slightly, Alison looked down at her audience. Her voice was low, sweet, and confident, and her aura was a perfectly adjusted aquamarine, flowing like a silk shawl about her shoulders and upper arms. Now Lee, I want you to sit back in your seat, take a deep breath, and relax. And that goes for all of you. Put on your happy faces—you’re not going to see anything that will frighten you. I won’t be going into a trance, and you won’t be seeing spooks, or hearing spirit music. She looked around, smiling, taking in the rows. So why don’t you all sit back and enjoy the evening? All I do is, I just tune in, I just have to listen hard and decide who’s out there. Now, if I get a message for you, please raise your hand, shout up—because if you don’t, it’s very frustrating for the spirits trying to come through. Don’t be shy, you just shout up or give me a wave. Then my helpers will rush to you with the microphone—don’t be afraid of it when it comes to you, just hold it steady and speak up.

They were all ages. The old had brought cushions for their bad backs; the young had bare midriffs and piercings. The young had stuffed their coats under their chairs, but their elders had rolled theirs and held them on their knees like swaddled babies. Smile, Al told them. You’re here to enjoy yourselves, and so am I. Now, Lee my love, let me get back to you—where were we? There’s a lady here called Kathleen, who’s sending lots of love in your direction. Who would that be, Leanne?

Leanne was a dud. She was a young lass of seventeen or so, hung about with unnecessary buttons and bows, her hair in twee little bunches, her face peaky. Kathleen, Al suggested, was her granny: but Leanne wouldn’t own it because she didn’t know her granny’s name.

Think hard, darling, Al coaxed. She’s desperate for a word with you.

But Lee shook her bunches. She said she didn’t think she had a granny; which made some of the audience snigger.

Kathleen says she lives in a field, at a certain amount of money … bear with me … Penny. Penny Meadow, do you know that address? Up the hill from the market—such a pull, she says, when you’ve got a bag full of potatoes. She smiled at the audience. This seems to be before you could order your groceries online, she said. Honestly, when you think how they lived in those days—we forget to count our blessings, don’t we? Now Lee, what about Penny Meadow? What about Granny Kathleen walking uphill?

Leanne indicated incredulity. She lived on Sandringham Court, she said.

Yes, I know, Al said. I know where you live, sweetheart, but this isn’t anywhere around here, it’s a filthy old place, Lancashire, Yorkshire, I’m getting a smudge on my fingers, it’s grey, it’s ash, it’s something below the place you hang the washing—could it be Ashton-under-Lyne? Never mind, Alison said. Go home, Leanne, and ask your mum what Granny was called. Ask her where she lived. Then you’ll know, won’t you, that she was here for you tonight.

There was a patter of applause. Strictly speaking, she hadn’t earned it. But they acknowledged that she’d tried; and Leanne’s silliness, deeper than average, had brought the audience over to her side. It was not uncommon to find family memory so short, in these towns where nobody comes from, these southeastern towns with their floating populations and their car parks where the centre should be. Nobody has roots here; and maybe they don’t want to acknowledge their roots or recall their grimy places of origin and their illiterate foremothers up north. These days, besides, the kids don’t remember back more than eighteen months—the drugs, she supposed.

She was sorry for Kathleen, panting and striving, her wheezy goodwill evaporating, unacknowledged; Penny Meadow and all the rows about seemed shrouded in a northern smog. Something about a cardigan, she was saying. A certain class of dead people was always talking about cardigans. The button off it, the pearl button, see if it’s dropped behind the dresser drawer, that little drawer, that top drawer, I found a threepenny bit there once, back of the drawer, it gets down between the you-know, slips down the whatsit, it’s wedged like—and so I took it, this threepence, and I bought me friend a cake with a walnut on top. Yes, yes, Al said, they’re lovely, those kind of cakes: but it’s time to go, pet. Lie down, Kathleen. You go and have a nice lie-down. I will, Kathleen said, but tell her I want her mum to look for that button. And by the way, if you ever see my friend Maureen Harrison, tell her I’ve been looking for her this thirty year.

Colette’s eyes darted around, looking for the next pickup. Her helpers were a boy of seventeen, in a sort of snooker player’s outfit, a shiny waistcoat and a skewed bow tie; and, would you believe it, the dozy little slapper from the bar. Colette thought, I’ll need to be everywhere. The first five minutes, thank God, are no guide to the evening to come.

Look, this is how you do it. Suppose it’s a slow night, no one in particular pushing your buttons; only the confused distant chitchat that comes from the world of the dead. So you’re looking around the hall and smiling, saying, Look, I want to show you how I do what I do. I want to show you it’s nothing scary, it’s just, basically, abilities that we all have. Now can I ask, how many of you, she pauses, looks around, how many of you have sometimes felt you’re psychic?

After that it’s according to, as Colette would say, the demographics. There are shy towns and towns where the hands shoot up, and of course as soon as you’re onstage you can sense the mood, even if you weren’t tipped off about it, even if you’ve never been in that particular place before. But a little word, a word of encouragement, a don’t hold back on me, and sooner or later the hands go up. You look around—there’s always that compromise between flattering stage lighting and the need to see their faces. Then you choose a woman near the front, not so young as Leanne but not so old she’s completely buggered up, and you get her to tell you her name.

Gillian.

Gillian. Right. Here goes.

Gill, you’re the sort of woman—well—she gives a little laugh and a shake of her head—"well, you’re a bit of a human dynamo, I mean that’s how your friends describe you, isn’t it? Always on the go, morning, noon, and night, you’re the sort of person, am I right, who can keep all the plates spinning? But if there’s one thing, if there’s one thing, you know, all your friends say, it’s that you don’t give enough time to yourself. I mean, you’re the one everybody depends on, you’re the one everybody comes to for advice, you’re the Rock of Gibraltar, aren’t you, but then you have to say to yourself, hang on, hang on a minute, who do I go to when I want advice? Who’s there for Gilly, when it comes to the crunch? The thing is you’re very supportive, of your friends, your family, it’s just give give give, and you do find yourself, just now and then, catching yourself up and saying, hang on now, who’s giving back to me? And the thing about you, Gillian—now stop me if you think I’m wrong—is that you’ve got so much to give, but the problem is you’re so busy running round picking up after other people and putting their lives to rights, that you haven’t hardly got any opportunity to develop your own—I mean your own talents, your own interests. When you think back, when you think back to what made you happy as a young girl, and all the things you wanted out of life—you see, you’ve been on what I call a Cycle of Caring, and it’s not given you, Gill, it’s not given you the opportunity to look within, to look beyond. You really are capable, now I’m not telling you this to flatter you, but you really are capable of the most extraordinary things if you put your mind to it, if you just give all those talents of yours a chance to breathe. Now am I right? Say if I’m not right. Yes, you’re nodding. Do you recognize yourself?"

Gillian has of course been nodding since the first time Al paused for breath. In Alison’s experience there’s not a woman alive who, once past her youth, doesn’t recognize this as a true and fair assessment of her character and potential. Or there may be such a woman, out in some jungle or desert, but these blighted exceptions are not likely to be visiting Alison’s Evening of Psychic Arts.

She is now established as a mind reader; and if she can tell Gillian something about herself, her family, so much the better. But she’s really done enough—Gillian’s brimming with gratification—so even if nobody comes through from Spirit, she can just move right on to whoever is her next target. But long before this point Alison has become conscious of a background mutter (at times rising to a roar) situated not there in the hall but towards the back of her skull, behind her ears, resonating privately in the bone. And on this evening, like every other, she fights down the panic we would all feel, trapped with a crowd of dead strangers whose intentions towards us we can’t know. She takes a breath, she smiles, and she starts her peculiar form of listening. It is a silent sensory ascent; it is like listening from a stepladder, poised on the top rung; she listens at the ends of her nerves, at the limit of her capacities. When you’re doing platform work, it’s rare that the dead need coaxing. The skill is in isolating the voices, picking out one and letting the others recede—making them recede, forcing them back if need be, because there are some big egos in the next world. Then taking that voice, the dead voice you’ve chosen, and fitting it to the living body, to the ears that are ready to hear.

So: time to work the room. Colette tensed, forward on her toes, ready to sprint with the mike. This lady. I feel some connection with the law here. Do you have to see a solicitor?

Constantly, the woman said. I’m married to one.

There was a yell of laughter. Al joined it. Colette smirked. She won’t lose them now, she thought. Of course she wanted Al to succeed; of course I do, she told herself. They had a joint mortgage, after all; financially they were tied together. And if I quit working for her, she thought, how would I get another job? When it comes to YOUR LAST POSITION, what would I put on my CV?

Who’s got indigestion at the back? Al’s forehead was damp, the skin at the nape of her neck was clammy. She liked to have clothes with pockets so she could carry a folded cologne tissue, ready for a surreptitious dab, but you don’t usually get pockets in women’s clothes, and it looks stupid taking a handbag out on stage. This lady, she said. She pointed; the lucky opals winked. This is the one I’m speaking to. You’re the one with the heartburn, I can feel it. I have someone here for you who’s very happy in Spirit World, a Margo, Marje, can you accept that? A petite woman wearing a turquoise blouse, she was very fond of it, wasn’t she? She says you’ll remember.

I do remember, I do, the woman said. She took the mike gingerly and held it as if it might detonate. Marje was my aunt. She was fond of turquoise and also lilac.

Yes,—and now Al softened her voice—and she was like a mother to you, wasn’t she? She’s still looking out for you, in Spirit World. Now tell me, have you seen your GP about that indigestion?

No, the woman said. Well, they’re so busy.

They’re well paid to look after you, my love.

Coughs and colds all around you, the woman said. "You come out worse than you went in—and you never see the same doctor twice."

There was an audible smirk from the audience, a wash of fellow feeling. But the woman herself looked fretful. She wanted to hear from Marje: the dyspepsia she lived with every day.

Stop making excuses. Al almost stamped her foot. Marje says, why are you putting it off? Call the surgery tomorrow morning and book yourself in. There’s nothing to be frightened of.

Isn’t there? Relief dawned on the woman’s face; or an emotion that would be relief, when it clarified; for the moment she was tremulous, a hand on her ribs, folded in on herself as if to protect the space of the pain. It would take her some time to give up thinking it was cancer.

Now it’s the glasses ploy. Look for a woman in middle age who isn’t wearing glasses and say, have you had your eyes tested recently? Then the whole world of optometry is at your command. If she had an eye test last week, she’ll say, yes, as a matter of fact I have. They’ll applaud. If she says no, not recently, she’ll be thinking, but I know I ought to … and you say, get it checked, I’ve a feeling you need a new prescription. As for the woman who says she wears no glasses ever: oh, my love, those headaches of yours! Why don’t you just pop along to Boots? I can see you, a month from now, in some really pretty squarish frames.

You could ask them if they need to see the dentist, since everybody does, all the time; but you don’t want to see them flinch. You’re giving them a gentle nudge, not a pinch. It’s about impressing them without scaring them, softening the edges of their fright and

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