Beyond Black

Beyond Black

by Hilary Mantel

Paperback(First Edition)

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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Colette and Alison are unlikely cohorts: one a shy, drab beanpole of an assistant, the other a charismatic, corpulent psychic whose connection to the spiritual world torments her. When they meet at a fair, Alison invites Colette at once 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. It is not long before 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312426057
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 04/18/2006
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 237,730
Product dimensions: 5.53(w) x 8.23(h) x 0.78(d)

About the Author

Hilary Mantel is the bestselling author of many novels including Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Bring Up the Bodies, Book Two of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy, was also awarded the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book Award. She is also the author of A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, An Experiment in Love, The Giant, O'Brien, Fludd, Beyond Black, Every Day Is Mother's Day, and Vacant Possession. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Mantel was the winner of the Hawthornden Prize, and her reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England with her husband.

Read an Excerpt

Beyond Black


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 insideher: 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.

Copyright © 2005 by Hilary Mantel

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. Beyond Black is set in contemporary England, a world of internet, suburbs, and commuting. Why do you think Hilary Mantel chose this period in time? How would the novel be different had she set it in a different time period? What does Mantel seem to be saying about contemporary English life?

2. Describe Alison's relationship with Colette. What do the characters offer one another? How does their relationship change as time passes? How do think their histories and appearances (Alison being extremely overweight, Colette being thin and drawn) affects the way in which they deal with one another and why?

3. Describe Alison's connection with those on the other side. How different are the living from those "beyond black"? How would you describe Morris? Has his behavior changed since he was living? If so, in what way? Do any characters, dead or living, seem happy or healthy?

4. How does Princess Diana's death play a key part in the book? How do you feel about the way Mantel handled the fictional representation of a real person? Why did Mantel choose to draw her in this particular way and is it different from the Princess Diana you imagined?

5. Alison's terrible childhood is revealed gradually in the novel, through flashbacks and Morris, her despicable spirit guide. Why did Mantel choose to do this? How would the novel and your opinions of the characters have changed had Alison's childhood been revealed sooner?

6. Beyond Black is a dark and often disturbing novel. Did Mantel's use of humor and wit make the story more digestible? Had Mantel addressed the themes of the book in a more serious fashion, how would the reading experience have been different? Where is the light in Beyond Black?

7. By the end of the book, did you feel as though Alison had found some redemption? What do you see in Alison's future, beyond the end of the story?

8. Mantel presents the life of a psychic as banal and ordinary. Why do you think Alison is portrayed simply as a woman doing a job? Why do you think Mantel presents the supernatural world to be as mundane as everyday life? Did the story make you reconsider your thoughts and feelings about the supernatural?

9. Alison has extrasensory powers, but can only vaguely recall her childhood. Did you find this ironic? What does Mantel seem to be saying?

10. Do you see a difference between the way Alison deals with clients and audience members when talking about their pasts and futures and the way in which she deals with her own? How is her language and tone different?

11. Alison knows whatever she says to her audience members or personal clients will be accepted, though she may, on occasion, have to tweak and hone. What assumptions does Alison make about the types of people who seek her services?

12. How are the jobs of novelist and clairvoyant similar? How are they different? What advantages did Mantel, an accomplished novelist, have in the telling of this story?

13. Morris's mates start to show up just as Alison begins dictating her autobiography. Is this coincidence? Is it metaphor?

14. Did you believe Alison was truly seeing or hearing all of the supernatural events? Did it matter to you?

15. Have you had any experiences with psychics or clairvoyants either in person or on television, for instance America's John Edwards? Was the experience similar to what's portrayed in Beyond Black?

16. Many novels (from Dante Alighieri's The Devine Comedy to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones) and movies (The Sixth Sense and Ghost) have depicted the afterlife. How is Mantel's depiction different from those? In what ways is it similar?

Customer Reviews

Beyond Black 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Our heroine Allison is a successful psychic who can see and speak to spirits from the other side. That is a good thing. Given her unbelievably abusive childhood her only other option would have been life in a mental institution. What this book has in common with the related titles below is the writer's amazing ability to portray the bizarre and unimaginable in a very human yet tragicomic manner. In this case it is schizophrenia. The books below deal with autism, Tourettes and multiple personality. 'Beyond Black' is entertaining, funny, tragic and enlightening.
gocam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an odd one. It was by no means an enjoyable read - the characters are singularly unappealing and many of the situations seem terribly forced - when I finished it I felt that it would pass quickly from my memory. But it hasn't - Mantel has an odd way of finagling her concerns into your head, unappealing as they may indeed be, and I find myself thinking about the situations far more than I would have expected many months after completing the book. Those expecting a lightweight humourous look at the occult be warned - there is some funny business, but it is black, indeed businesslike, and said occult is a backdrop to darker musings on the nature of being - relationships, family, depth and depression. Most odd.
jayne_charles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
mrstreme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Philotera on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
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Ms Mantel is amazing. Such a generous intellect. Some would say this is chick lit. But it is also dead lit. It is so very good. If you buy one book this month, buy this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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