The Pequod Review:
This coming-of-age novel tells the story of Carmen McBain, who was born in 1952 in the working class town of Lancashire and moved to London in 1970 to study law at the University of London. Carmen’s history is narrated from the present (about 1995) and traces her college friendships, romantic relationships, and academic pursuits as she grew into adulthood – all with the backdrop of feminist, political, and economic changes in 1970s Britain. The plot itself is somewhat unremarkable (although I admired the unsettling and fragile college friendships, and the fact that the book never settles for a happy ending), but the real pleasure is Mantel’s writing – careful, considered, a bit dreamlike (matching the hazy feel of Carmen’s distant memories), and always choosing the right words to describe a situation or character. The result elevates Carmen’s everyday experiences to the universal. If, like me, you are not drawn to Mantel’s 16th century historical fiction, this is a good entry point into her work.