Sunday, January 8, 2012

Story Sundays: Comma, Hilary Mantel

"Comma," by Hilary Mantel (in The Guardian, August 13, 2010) is a dark and suspenseful story of a little girl and her forbidden friendship with Mary Joplin, a slightly older child from a less well off, looked-down upon family. Despite being warned away from Mary, the narrator sneaks out with her, and the two girls spend their summer days exploring the town, especially sneaking onto the grounds of the home of the Hathaways, a wealthy family who lives just beyond the graveyard. Mary insists that if they watch long enough, they will see the "comma", and one night they stay late enough that they do. The tenderness they witness there brings out Mary's jealousy, and causes her to act out.

I've been meaning to read Hilary Mantel's books for a while but haven't gotten to them yet, and so was delighted to have the chance to get to know her writing a bit through this short story. I especially enjoyed the way she captured the tension and inequalities inherent in this unlikely relationship - they put the reader on alert. The narrator is drawn to Mary because she is different, taboo, and perhaps a bit dangerous. But while she goes to meet her every day, the narrator carefully navigates her ambivalence about the friendship, for she is not exactly a loyal friend to Mary. When the girl makes excuses about her whereabouts to her mother and aunt, she makes them at Mary's expense, and they all have a good laugh over the Joplin family. The story ends with a later-in-life meeting between the now-grown women, the emotional content of which rings stark and a bit sad, but sadly true.

You can read Comma here. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the story. For those of you who have read other books by Hilary Mantel, how does "Comma" compare? Which of her books do you most recommend? Are you looking forward to the soon-to-be released sequel to Wolf Hall?

Story Sundays are all about short fiction here on the blog. This weekly meme was created by Ellen at Fat Books, Thin Women and is also celebrated at Novelniche: A Place for Books. Be sure to check out their blogs for wonderful short fiction selections and other excellent reviews. All stories reviewed can be read free online.


  1. I haven't read anything by this author. But the story sounds compelling, plus I enjoy short stories. The photo of the house seems creepy, yet adventurous. Something you'd see as as kid and be afraid of or as an adult and be curious about.

  2. Am I looking forward to Wolf Hall's sequel? Do silkworms need to build cocoons?

    They do. And I'm looking forward to the sequel like nothing else.

  3. Lena, thanks, yes there is a definite draw to the house in the story- maybe everyone has a childhood memory of an alluring mystery house of one kind or another.

    Bibliobio - lol! Seems like a good time for the rest of us to start catching up. Also noticed she had a few short story collections out - any opinion on those?

  4. I wasn't even aware that Mantel wrote short stories. I'm headed over to check this out now. Thanks!


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