Remembrances of British author Hilary Mantel, on Twitter and beyond

The loss of Hilary Mantel, the brilliant and much-loved British author who died Thursday at the age of 70, sparked many eloquent reactions of grief from her admirers.

Critics and fellow authors took the opportunity to once again marvel at Mantel’s gifts. New Yorker book reviewer Parul Sehgal wrote that the author’s death felt “like a theft”.

Historian Simon Schama called her “one of the greatest of our writers; poetic and profound prose with an incomparable sense of the texture of history.”

Novelist and editor Gabriel Roth called “Wolf Hall” “one of the greatest novels” and put a dizzying spin on its construction:

The word “genius” appeared frequently on Twitter, but “generous” was not far behind. It was clear that Mantel left a lasting impression on not only readers, but journalists who interviewed her and authors who received her support. For example, Hillary Kelly recalled the experience of losing an entire interview with Mantel to a “faulty recorder,” only to have Mantel voluntarily rerun the entire conversation.

The novelist Stephen May was one of many writers who recalled Mantel reaching out to encourage their work.

“She leaves a powerful legacy in her writing,” May wrote, “but she also led an emblematic writing life. Do the work, focus on it, and help others where you can.”

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Lucy Caldwell called it “one of the greatest joys of my own writing life” when Mantel unexpectedly reached out to praise Caldwell’s novel “These Days.” “Even better was the excuse to write her back and tell her how much her work meant to me — how long and deeply I’d loved it.”

Mantel became a well-known literary name after the publication of “Wolf Hall” (2009), a novel depicting the life of Thomas Cromwell, who became Henry VIII’s closest adviser. That book and its sequel, “Bring Up the Bodies,” both won the prestigious Booker Prize, making Mantel the first woman to win the award twice. The final book in the Cromwell trilogy, “The Mirror & the Light”, was a finalist for the Booker.

“The contradictions and the awkwardness – that’s what gives historical fiction its value,” Mantel told the Paris Review in 2015. “Finding a form instead of imposing a form. And letting the reader live with the ambiguities. Thomas Cromwell is the character with whom that is most essential. He is almost a case study in ambiguity.”

Those books sold millions of copies, but Mantel had built up a reputation well before that time among critics and writers, including other historical fiction. A Place of Greater Safety, a novel about the French Revolution spanning more than 700 pages, was Mantel’s first book, but it wasn’t published until later in her career. When uninspired by history, Mantel often wrote about the supernatural. “Beyond Black”, a realistic novel, set in a world of psychics and psychics. Fay Weldon reviewed it for The Guardian in 2005, writing of Mantel: “She’s witty, ironic, intelligent and, I suspect, ghostly. This is a book from the unconscious, where the best novels come from.”

Mantel memorably described her initial anxiety in her memoir, “Giving Up the Ghost,” which the New York Times named one of the 10 best memoirs of the past 50 years. She remembered meeting some kind of ghost in her garden one morning when she was a young girl. “It’s as tall as a two-year-old,” she wrote. “It has no edges, no mass, no dimension, no form except the formless; it moves. I beg, stay away, stay away. Within the space of a thought it sits within me and has created a sickly resonance in my bones and in all the cavities of my body.”

The writer Sam Knight was another who spoke warmly about Mantel’s generosity, and he ended by suggesting that perhaps Mantel’s experience of the supernatural was not over. “What a wonderful ghost she will be,” he wrote.

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