Probable Stories — Mantel Pieces by Hilary Mantel


I am Jim McKeownwelcome to Likely Stories, a weekly magazine of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

Hilary Mantel has created a wonderful trilogy relating to the life story of Thomas Cromwell. Fireplace parts is a collection of interesting stories about a wide range of coins. His work includes eleven equally well-made stories.

I start by “Newspaper: Shopping in a library in Jeddah 1989—When the Salman Rushdie affair broke, the first thing I thought of was the day we tried to buy a library in Jeddah. Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s most sophisticated and cosmopolitan city. Compared to the capital, Riyadh, it is liberal and lively. He is also of course very rich. Its frigidly air-conditioned malls are temples of marble and glass, lush greenery and tinkling fountains. They are something like the Muslim version of Heaven; only the hours are missing. You can buy a fox fur, if you like, or a portrait of King Fahd, or an American donut; a king-size sofa with a built-in stereo, if you fancy that. But you couldn’t, in 1983, find a library anywhere. No call for them. […] During my four years in the Kingdom, the supply of books began to improve. It was possible to but a limited selection of paperbacks. People going on vacation received a list of books to bring back, but they had to pass their purchases through Saudi customs. Some governments publish lists of banned books, but if the Saudis had an index, I’ve never seen it: it was only rumors telling you what offended you most recently, and your fortune might depend on the piety or sensitivity of the customs officer who turned to you. your cases. We thought the customs officers couldn’t read English; that if they could, they would not; that a book would be judged by its cover” (21-22).

It’s the Belgians’ fault: Christopher Marlow: “You don’t want to see it,” said the Corpus doorman, when Charles Nicholl went to Cambridge to look at the portrait which is probably Christopher Marlow. “He died in a fight in a tavern. // Nicholl saw the putative Marlow, in his opulent slashed doublet, and wondered how he could afford the outfit. […] His conclusion? There was a tavern. There was no fight. It was an old lie that Nicholl set about nailing, but he is unable, he admits, to substitute a new truth for it” (65).

Fatal Non-Readers: On Marie Antoinette 1999 “In June 1999 the BBC showed a documentary called Diana dress. It was about the auction which took place at Christi’s in New York two months before the descent of the princess in the Parisian underground. Buyers spoke reverently of Diana when she was alive, but her death turned cheerful rags into relics. “I want Ted to be royalty,” one said. “I’m in awe of the dress,” said another. (103).

Fireplace parts, by Hilary Mantel, is a treasure trove of interesting artefacts from her travels. 5 S7ars!

Likely Stories is a KWBU production. I am Jim McKeown. Join me next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

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