literature

Interview: Hilary Mantel

Archive article

Hilary Mantel’s new novel is set at the time of the great French Revolution which began with the storming of the Bastille prison on 14 July 1789. The novel centres on three of the revolution’s leading figures. She talked to Paul McGarr and John Rees about why she wrote the book and the revolution’s relevance today.

You’ve said that when you started thinking about the book 18 years ago you felt you couldn’t understand anything about society unless you understood revolutions. What gave you that feeling?

In my mid-teens I developed an obsessional interest in revolutions. I thought of this as a political stance, although when I look back on it now I realise that the idea of “the world turned upside down” was attractive to me because I was miserable and I wanted the world to be different and I wanted to be in charge of myself.

The dark heart of West Germany

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Günter Grass, novelist, poet and human rights campaigner, died in April aged 87. He was called the conscience of Germany, or more accurately West Germany. But at the heart of both the writer and the state lay a dark secret that has haunted his reputation. He was born in 1927 in the “free” city of Danzig, a port between Germany and Poland, today Gdansk in Poland. Its free-ness was a state given after the First World War as a price paid by Germany for its defeat.

Lessing's legacy

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For a writer as prolific as she was - she wrote more than 50 books - that's not surprising. This unevenness was also, to some significant degree, the product of her political choices over nearly 70 years.

Lessing grew up in the profoundly racist society of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and her early reaction to that was to explore the complexities of inter-racial relationships in her first novel, The Grass is Singing, and then to join the tiny and secretive Communist Party (CP).

The tragedy of Salman Rushdie

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The controversy about Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses in 1989 revealed the hypocrisy of the ruling class and stoked Islamophobia. But, argues Gareth Jenkins, Rushdie's new memoir reveals someone who has travelled a long way from his former identification with the oppressed

On 14 February 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran, issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for having written a book "blasphemous against Islam". That book, The Satanic Verses, published the previous September, had already stirred up controversy - spectacularly, when it was burnt on the streets of Bradford - with calls for it to be banned in Britain (many other countries had already banned it).

Dickens the radical

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The great Victorian novelist Charles Dickens was born 200 years ago this month. Gareth Jenkins looks back at his life and work

What would Dickens have made of Britain as it celebrates his bicentenary? For all the differences, he would have been only too familiar with the shameless piling up of wealth, the poor struggling to survive, the penny pinching of welfare, and the lofty contempt of our rulers.

Long distance running: Alan Sillitoe (1928-2010)

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The novels of Alan Sillitoe rejoice in working class defiance. John Newsinger writes about a brilliant writer with a sad political trajectory.

(Photo: Monire Childs)

Author Alan Sillitoe died on 25 April 2010. He will be best remembered for his powerful novels and stories of working class life, such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Key to the Door, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, and a ferocious work of family biography, Raw Material.

Edward Upward - 1903-2009

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Edward Upward, the last of the 1930s generation of left-wing British writers, has died at the age of 105. It is astonishing to think that someone who was in his late 20s when the Wall Street Crash heralded the Great Depression should live on to see an equally deep crisis begin to convulse the system once again.

He came from a comfortable background (his father was a doctor and he went to public school and Cambridge). But the disaster of the First World War shook all classes to the core. And like his more famous younger contemporaries, the poet W H Auden and his admirer and fellow novelist Christopher Isherwood, Upward was part of a revolt against the clapped out culture of the past.

Ronan Bennett: A sense of impending tragedy

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Writer Ronan Bennett talks to Shaun Doherty about the lead up to the Iraq war, the ignorance of New Labour and being a political writer

How did 10 Days to War, your series of eight short dramas marking the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, come about?

Someone had come up with the idea of dramatising the run-up to the war in a series of short films. It was green lit, fully financed, and given a broadcast date - which was obviously the anniversary of the war - but had no script. So I was asked.

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