Monday, March 01, 2010

The mirror and the light

Anna Murphy interviews Hilary Mantel at the Telegraph (I am hoping, of course, that she will 'fall into the pit' of a 10-year Civil War novel - that is exactly what I would love to read!):
A self-proclaimed slip of a thing when she was young, her struggles with severe endometriosis – the pain of which has often debilitated her – followed by a thyroid problem, led to her body 'rising like a loaf left in a warm place’. In the past she has written of how 'ignorable you become when you are fat – like a piece of furniture. I’m like a comic-book version of myself. My body is intent on telling the story, so my mind had better go along with it and write the memoir.’ And yet, as these words suggest, this body that has again and again betrayed her has also empowered her as a writer.

Indeed, she credits her ill health with getting her to write in the first place. She studied law at university but by her early twenties, 'My options were closing off, because the things I felt I might do, I clearly wasn’t going to be able to do. I was still without diagnosis, but I knew something was wrong with me. I felt really marginalised, and that what I needed was a project under my control.’ As she once wrote, 'Illness forces you to the wall, so the stance of the writer is forced on you.’

And so, while Mantel still struggles through days and weeks when she feels too ill to work, paradoxically her illness also seems to be her hardest and therefore her most loyal task master. As she puts it now, 'You can’t get away from dire health, but you may as well get some use out of it. It is not a question of making sense of suffering, because nothing does make sense of it. It is a question of not… sinking into it. It is talking back to whatever hurts, whether that is physical or psychological, so that it doesn’t submerge you.’

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