An Experiment in Love

An Experiment in Love - Hilary Mantel Hilary Mantel's portrayal of the highly-charged interactions among young women contains traces of Tudor politics: powerplay, backstabbing and a very thin line between friends and enemies. The novel charts the coming-of-age of Carmel McBain, who many years later is sifting through her memory. Carmel leaves a working-class home, a convent education, and a domineering mother for college, just as England enters the Thatcher era. Accompanying her is Karina, a longtime schoolmate who has been selected as a 'friend' by their mothers. The term 'frenemy' has never been more apt. In a hostel that resembles a draughty hospital, Carmel and Karina grapple with poverty, stress, 'girl-politics' and boyfriends. All these are sharply observed and unsparingly written. The supporting cast include vivacious Julia, angelic rich girl Lynette and various other classmates desperate to shed innocence. They pin their hopes on education to help them live life on their own terms, but realize that women's lib still has frustratingly long way to go, echoing Mantel's own experiences in her memoir 'Giving Up The Ghost.' Each character (even a minor one) is convincing, their fears and conversations almost disturbingly real. Anorexia is a major theme. Carmel gets thinner, Karina fatter, their relationship more brittle. Slowly, the memories move to the tragedy.
Mantel's prose glitters with detail, it is full of lovely similes and imagery. There is something poignant about the descriptions, Carmel's memories and experiences are recognizable, in fact too much so. It is also very funny in places. However, throughout the book the main effect is some sense of foreboding. This feeling leads up to the denouement, but lingers even afterwords.