25 September, 2015

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel - Review

This year I am listening to and writing micro-reviews for the five shortlisted entries in the BBC National Short Story Award. Why not listen along with me?

The fourth shortlisted story is The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel. The story takes place in a flat overlooking a hospital where Mrs. Thatcher is due to emerge from minor surgery. The main character lets in a "plumber" only to find he is really a sniper. You can listen here.

There was something perverse in me that wanted to dislike this story. Hilary Mantel has won the Booker Prize twice for her lengthy novels. It seems unfair that she should be such a good short story writer as well. As this particular story had already become famous, the judges knew who had written it before reading. Surely then, they had only shortlisted it because of the name attached? No. Hilary Mantel's talent shone through.

The thing that struck me straight away was the detail. The scenes are drawn so carefully, with tiny details that give the story colour without slowing the pace. There is a strange, almost flippant, tone to the narration, but somehow that seems to work too. I loved that such a dramatic situation was told without drama - drawing me in by weaing the story around me, rather than setting off fireworks in my face.

As with Broderie Anglaise, this story has the kind of ending that occurs a few scenes before you're expecting it. With both stories, some of the events the narrative appears to be leading towards haven't happened by the time the music stops, as it were. However, I think in the case of The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, it works really well. I didn't feel cheated of the main event. I'm not convinced I'm smart enough to get all the nuances and subtleties of what was being said, but as a story it worked for me and I appreciated the quality of the writing - slick without being fancy. It wasn't the most entertaining of the stories so far, but I think it's the best-written one. One more to go!

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