Sunday, May 07, 2006

Witches, ghosts, and fear, part two

Part One is here.

Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black also concerns a young woman entering an unfamiliar world, though in this case, it’s a contemporary suburban London world of low-level psychics and fortune tellers—sensitives, as they call themselves. Fresh out of a broken marriage, Collette signs on as factotum and aide-de-camp to a female psychic named Al. She quickly meets a coterie of psychic professionals, who appear to be mostly well-meaning fakes. There aren't nearly enough novels about work, so I particularly enjoyed the psychics' detailed conversations about aspects of their jobs: Are crystals still in this year? Have you tried offering Reiki? They're believable and funny, and it’s fun to watch Collette attempt to bring sensible management principles to such an odd business. The scenes of Al in performance are fantastic, too, the best part of the book, conveying the intimate bond between fortune teller and audience that is created as Al attempts to satisfy both their ordinary curiosity and their deeper desire to better understand the world and their lives.

For Al, however, psychic readings are by no means just a business. She sees ghosts and hears voices from her youth, and while Mantel leaves it a bit unclear whether Al’s visions are manifestations of another world or aspects of some mental illness, they are both her entrée to the spirit world and a constant, psychically damaging burden, delivering a mix of revulsion and fear. Collette’s inability to see or hear the spirits strains what should be a close relationship and sows seeds of bitterness and resentment that Collette, because of her own uncertainty about her place in life, tends carefully.

In Mantel’s suburban London, like in Salem, uncertainty and fear seem general—Al’s not the only one suffering. In the midst of great prosperity and worldly success, everyone is tense. The neighbors are worried about disease, environmental contamination, global warming, asylum seekers, hooligans, and unattached teens,
like those kids you see on sink estates hanging about parked cars—you don’t know if they’re going to break in and drive them away or just slash the tyres and scratch the paintwork. But why find out? Just don’t go there!

But really, it’s a non-specific, free-floating fear and worry, a way of dealing with the emptiness of contemporary suburban life, which Mantel paints perfectly:
She saw the full moon snared in the netting of a football field, caught there bulging, its face bruised. When a traffic snarl-up brought them to a halt, she noticed the trudging shopper with her grocery bags, leaning into the wind. She noticed the rotted wood of a balcony, London brick weeping soot, winter mould on a stack of garden chairs. A curve in the road, a pause at traffic lights, brings you close to another life, to an office window where a man leans on a filing cabinet in a crumpled shirt, as close as some man you know; while a van backs into the road, you halt, you are detained, and the pause makes you intimate with a man stroking his bald head, framed in the lighted cavity of his garage beneath the up-and-over door.


As with the Puritans, there is a hint of danger in the spaces between people. Everyone is near, but separate, prevented from making meaningful connections. In their individual houses, in their own selves, everyone seems alone, trapped by their fears of the unfamiliar, the unknown, their pasts. Al may be stuck with her ghosts, but in Mantel’s eyes, we’re all just as entangled in our emotional histories, wrapped up in our own minds, without escape. Mantel plays with such dualities throughout, setting the fat Al alongside the thin Collette, the dark spirit world against the bland real world, the awful past against the frightening future, but at the same time, she highlights the slippage between categories, the world’s refusal to align neatly and be understood.

Ultimately, Beyond Black fails to fully deliver on the promise of its early chapters. Al’s emotional life and Collette’s response to it are interesting, but a bit too much of the book is given over to revelations of details of Al’s terrible childhood that were just as effective and menacing when vaguely recollected. Collette’s solution to her uncertainty seems simultaneously pat and unlikely, and, in service of an overall point about the comparative horrors of the unknown spirit world and the all-too-well-known real world, Mantel sacrifices much of the oddness and mystery that propel the book’s opening.

But I suppose the ultimate test of whether a book’s imperfections are outweighed by its successes is whether I’d read another by the author, and in that regard, Beyond Black was clearly a success. About two hours after I finished it, I was at my local bookshop buying Hilary Mantel’s memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. I’m sure you’ll read about it soon enough.

2 comments:

  1. Nice blog you have. Here's a great site about subliminal messages

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  2. What are your 50,000 thoughts a day creating?

    Our thoughts create our reality. This is a simple truth known by all people involved on the spiritual path. It is one of the most taught universal principles in the personal development field. Yet it is one of the most misunderstood!

    People practice visualisation, affirmations, they use hypnosis, subliminal programming or countless other tools to transform their lives. However they fail to recognise one key area in their lives that hinder these wonderful techniques from being effective.

    They sit day after day visualising their perfect scene and yet nothing happens. Why? They have followed all the instructions to the letter! They have chanted and imagined! They have formed a colourful, vibrant scene in their minds and affirmed that this is their reality. Then all of a sudden things get worse! What is going on?

    Would you like to know the secret? Would you like to know why these people get no results? Would you like to hear one powerful statement that explains everything?

    Yes?
    Good. I will tell you why these people get no results or even opposite results to those they are aiming for -simply because of the following truth. Consciously controlled thoughts such as visualisations do not materialise - ALL thoughts materialise!!!
    Most people believe that if they visualise for 10 minutes a day their lives will magically transform. This is not the case. You must change your core thinking. You think approx. 50,000 thoughts a day. How many of those thoughts are working against your ten minute visualisation?
    You can control the thoughts that enter your mind by changing the way you view the world. You can decide which thoughts you give energy to and which thoughts you discard.

    The thoughts that you follow and give energy to become more dominant than the thoughts you discard. Your subconscious mind records these as your dominant picture on the issue at hand. You then move towards this picture because your subconscious mind starts making your outside world reflect the picture that you have stored internally.
    Your mind should be on whatever you want. The picture you need to have is a positive vision of you already having achieved your goal. To realise this vision you need to focus and concentrate. Remember thoughts are real, they create your reality.
    Let's say you have been visualising a new house. You spend your ten minutes in meditation picturing yourself living in your dream home. You finish your session and get up feeling positive that you will achieve your goal. Then during the day you get a heating bill through the post and exclaim "Oh no look how expensive this is I cannot afford to heat this house". Where is your focus in the present moment? What are you affirming? You are telling your subconscious mind that you cannot deal with what you have. You are affirming that your life is not how you want it to be. If you knew without doubt that within a week you would be moving to your new home would you honestly be worried about a heating bill? Perhaps other doubts creep in like "I should be happy with what I have", or "I will never get this house looking the way I want it" and so on and so on.
    These thoughts that are not aligned with your goal. You are not giving complete attention to what you want. Whilst you are dealing with these other lines of thought your attention is not on your goal.
    If you are aware of your thoughts you will suddenly realise that you have spent much more energy on counter productive thoughts than on creating a dominant picture of the goal you want.
    Point your focus in the direction of you're the life you want. Think about what you want NOT what you don't want. It's that simple.

    Your focus determines your reality. Change your focus and you change your life. personal-development.info

    ReplyDelete