Beyond Black A Novel

Hilary Mantel




Trade Paperback

432 Pages


Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy
A New York Times Notable BookA Newsday Best Book of the YearShortlisted for the Orange Prize A paragon of efficiency, well-schooled in the mundane tasks of an average existence, Colette took the next natural step after finishing secretarial school—marrying a man who would do just fine. After a sobering do-it-yourself divorce, Colette, for this first time, is at a loss as to what to do next. Convinced that she deserves a life-affirming revelation, she strays into the world of psychics and clairvoyants, the realm of tarot cards and crystal balls, hungry for a whisper to set her off in the right direction. At a psychic fair in Windsor she sneaks into Alison's show. Alison, beleaguered by spirits since early childhood, lives in a different kind of solitude. She can never escape the dead who speak to her, and the physical pain of their broken bodies—least of all the constant presence of Morris, her low-life spiritual guide. An expansive on stage—in both the physical and the charismatic sense—Alison feels a bond with Colette almost instantly, and invites her to become her personal assistant. A dark, odd, unsettling, yet often amusing novel, Beyond Black follows the pair as they create a new life together, both women struggling to retain control in the face of the material and metaphysical pressures of the modern world. When they move to an industrial wasteland in the ravished English countryside and take in a vagrant who also hears voices (but of a different kind), Alison’s connections to the place beyond black converge with the scrutiny of her neighbors, threatening to uproot her life completely.   With her trademark wit and keen eye for humanity's eccentrics, Hilary Mantel brings us an irresistible account of the complications of lives at the edge of the spirit world—and beyond.


Praise for Beyond Black

"Funny and harrowing . . . Beyond Black feels like a great, gleeful binge, a wallow in the not-good-for-you riches of this writer's extraordinarily vivid, violent imagination . . . Flannery O'Connor, herself no mean connoisseur of the grotesque, once wrote: 'All comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death.' That's precisely the sort of mortal urgency you feel in Mantel's extravagant similes and bursting metaphors. This is, I think, a great comic novel. Hilary Mantel's humor, like Flannery O'Connor's, is so far beyond black it becomes a kind of light."—Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review (cover review)
"Original and deeply dark . . . The author tries hard to push herself past the stark grimness of the world she describes and take the reader somewhere new and compelling . . . Beyond Black is a daring and extravagant book, filled with as much wit as darkness . . . Readers of fiction . . . long for writers to pull fully formed characters from the air and animate them, to dredge up entire histories and futures with a conjurer's panache. They will be satisfied by Hilary Mantel's abilities to perform these feats, and to imbue her writing with a unique combination of exhilaration and dread. With Beyond Black, she shows us how fiction can lift us into the extraordinary."—Meg Wolitzer, The Washington Post Book World
"A darkly funny novel about the odd relationships formed among the living and the dead. Alison Hart, nearing 40, overweight and happily single, is a spiritual seer by trade. She reads palms and tarot cards; in villages throughout England, she performs in front of packed crowds, her stage act a combination of fortune-telling and 'communications' with the other side. In an age of celebrity deaths and terrorist attacks, Alison's authentic spiritual gifts are highly prized, but her personal life is in shambles, physically, emotionally, and financially. Help arrives in the form of Colette, a recently divorced, no-nonsense professional, who sees Alison's predicament as an opportunity to reinvent both women's lives. Obstacles to Colette's ambitious plans include nosy neighbors, competing psychics, even adversaries from beyond—especially a gang of menacing thugs from Alison's childhood. A contemporary ghost story told with humor and heart."—James Klise, Booklist
"Unpleasant and meddling dead people litter the landscape around a very sweet medium whose past would frighten anyone to death. The mark of a great novelist may be the ability to take you where you truly don't want to go. If so, Mantel is the real goods. Who, without some sort of artistic seduction, would willingly go into the mind of an obese English psychic whose tortured childhood makes the worst of Dickens look like a cakewalk? Mantel's lure into this dark trip is the carefully won charm of psychic Alison 'Al' Hart, a sunny-tempered 'sensitive' who has had to tolerate the constant presence underfoot of Morris, her repulsive spirit guide. Morris, who is linked to Al's evil childhood surroundings, hangs around her dressing room, invisible to the 'insensitive' as Alison works the crummy theaters and meeting halls where she and her colleagues bring whitewashed glimpses of the postmortem other side (nobody wants to hear how confused and unhappy the dead really are) to England's lower middle classes. In the years since the appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet brought unimagined looniness onto the world scene, Al has benefited from the no-nonsense assistance of Colette, an erstwhile events manager in flight from a loveless marriage. Colette's keen business sense has put Al's finances in such order that there is enough money for the odd couple to buy the largest model of house in a new subdivision that is so devoid of charm or past that Morris, very much a city lad when he was alive, finally leaves the two women alone for a period of peace. Relative peace. Alison is never without reminders of not just her special abilities but of the incidents in her childhood that scarred her brutally, inside and out. Voices of the dead turn up on Al's taped memoirs, and then her old torturers turn up in the subdivision, following orders from Lucifer. Superbly odd, but still superb."—Kirkus Reviews
"Instead of celebrating the mystical side of 'sensitives,' the people who travel England's contemporary psychic 'fayre' circuit, Mantel concentrates on the potential banality of spiritualism in her latest novel, a no-nonsense exploration of the world of public and private clairvoyance. Colette is a down-on-her-luck event planner fresh from a divorce when she attends a two-day Psychic Extravaganza, her 'introduction to the metaphorical side of life.' There, Alison, a true clairvoyant, 'reads' Colette, sees her need for a new life—as well as her potential—and hires her as a Girl Friday. As Colette's responsibilities grow, and the line between the professional and the personal blurs, Colette takes over Alison's marketing, builds her Web site, plans for a book and buys a house with her. Colette also serves as a sort of buffer between Alison and the multitude of spirits who beleaguer her. (Alison's spirit guide, Morris, 'a little bouncing circus clown,' proves especially troublesome.) Mantel's portraits of the two leading characters as well as those of the supporting cast—both on and off this mortal coil—are sharply drawn. This witty, matter-of-fact look at the psychic milieu reveals a supernatural world that can be as mundane as the world of carpet salesmen and shopkeepers."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Beyond Black
oneTravelling: the dank oily days after Christmas. The motorway, its wastes looping London: the margin's scrub grass flaring orange in the lights, and the leaves of the poisoned shrubs striped yellow-green like a cantaloupe melon. Four o'clock: light sinking over the orbital road. Teatime in Enfield, night falling on Potter's Bar. There are nights when you don't want to do it, but you have to do it anyway. Nights when you look down from the stage and see closed stupid faces. Messages from the dead arrive at random. You don't want them and you can't send them back. The dead won't
Read the full excerpt


  • Hilary Mantel

  • Hilary Mantel's major novels include A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, and Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. Her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, drew rave reviews and brought new readers to her dark genius. Mantel lives with her husband in England.
  • Hilary Mantel John Haynes
    Hilary Mantel




Download PDF



Go to website


Sign Up


Reading Group Guide