An experiment in love

Hilary Mantel, 1952-

Book - 2007

A girl's climb up the social ladder in 1960s England. She is Carmel McBain from Lancashire, whose low-class mother pumps her with ambition. The novel follows Carmel through a convent school to university, describing her ups and downs integrating in her new milieu, and the price she pays for it. By the author of A Place of Greater Safety.

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Subjects
Genres
Bildungsromans
Published
New York : Picador 2007.
Edition
1st Picador ed
Language
English
Item Description
Originally published in Great Britain by Viking; first published in the U.S.: New York : H. Holt and Co., 1996.
Physical Description
250 p. ; 22 cm
ISBN
9780312426873
0312426879
Main Author
Hilary Mantel, 1952- (-)
Review by Library Journal Reviews

Although Mantel is well known and highly praised in England, this is only the second of her seven novels (following A Place of Greater Safety, LJ 2/15/93) to be published in the United States. As it begins, middle-aged, affluent suburbanite Carmel McBain sees a photo of her college roommate in the morning paper and flashes back to her first day at university, where she is asked to choose between the other two Holy Redeemer graduates attending her college. She picks Julianna, a popular and pampered girl, over her fellow scholarship student, Karina. Carmel's "experiment in love" is multifaceted. It begins with her mother's desire to change the working-class Catholic girl from Lancaster into a typical English lady-an experiment that both succeeds and fails, as each of Carmel's successes widens the chasm between mother and daughter. The young college women also experiment with love and sex, as members of the first generation to claim the Pill as their birthright, and with sisterhood as they explore the relationship between self-interest and care of their neighbors. The plot is not linear, moving from contemporary times to Carmel's college years and before, but the writing is concise and touching. One is left hoping for a sequel about these intriguing characters. Recommended for popular collections.-Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati Technical Coll. Copyright 1996 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Carmel McBain is a bright Lancashire-Irish child whose mother is fond of telling her, "your father's not just a clerk, you know"-though, in fact, he is. As Carmel grows up, this snobbish tendency metamorphoses into the brutal driving force of the girl's young life. As a teenager, with ambition bullied into her, she alternates between nights spent locked in her room to study and days filled with the "routine sarcasms of nuns." Carmel's move from posh convent to London university is a lonely one; at school, she undergoes a disturbing loss of self-awareness. Between her mother's ruthlessness and the cruelties of the nuns, Carmel's self-worth has been damaged, with near fatal results. Mantel's seventh novel (but only her second to appear here, after A Place of Greater Safety, 1993) is a powerful coming-of-age story that meticulously highlights the patterns of self-inflicted cruelty sometimes taught to young women. It perfectly conveys the confusion of one contemporary Catholic girl, and provides a subtly moving take on the mystery of anorexia nervosa. Despite its grim subject, the writing, replete with sharp humor and evocative details of 1960s England, is never self-indulgent. Irony prevails stoutly over sentimentality, while the finale delivers a surprising twist of horror that will shake readers to the core. (May) Copyright 1996 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A girl's climb up the social ladder in 1960s England. She is Carmel McBain from Lancashire, whose low-class mother pumps her with ambition. The novel follows Carmel through a convent school to university, describing her ups and downs integrating in her new milieu, and the price she pays for it. By the author of A Place of Greater Safety.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the YearIt was the year after Chappaquiddick, and all spring Carmel McBain had watery dreams about the disaster. Now she, Karina, and Julianne were escaping the dreary English countryside for a London University hall of residence. Interspersing accounts of her current position as a university student with recollections of her childhood and an ever difficult relationship with her longtime schoolmate Karina, Carmel reflects on a generation of girls desiring the power of men, but fearful of abandoning what is expected and proper. When these bright but confused young women land in late 1960s London, they are confronted with a slew of new preoccupations--sex, politics, food, and fertility--and a pointless grotesque tragedy of their own.Hilary Mantel's magnificent novel examines the pressures on women during the early days of contemporary feminism to excel--but not be too successful--in England's complex hierarchy of class and status.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the YearIt was the year after Chappaquiddick, and all spring Carmel McBain had watery dreams about the disaster. Now she, Karina, and Julianne were escaping the dreary English countryside for a London University hall of residence. Interspersing accounts of her current position as a university student with recollections of her childhood and an ever difficult relationship with her longtime schoolmate Karina, Carmel reflects on a generation of girls desiring the power of men, but fearful of abandoning what is expected and proper. When these bright but confused young women land in late 1960s London, they are confronted with a slew of new preoccupations--sex, politics, food, and fertility--and a pointless grotesque tragedy of their own.Hilary Mantel's magnificent novel examines the pressures on women during the early days of contemporary feminism to excel--but not be too successful--in England's complex hierarchy of class and status.