The Hilary Mantel Fiasco


The latest big news in the literary world is the simultaneous publication on Friday, September 19, in both The Guardian and The New York Times Book Review, of a story by esteemed establishment writer Hilary Mantel, “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.” The story is a way for both newspapers to promote Mantel’s new book of short stories, released under the same title as the story.

There are FIVE questionable points about Hilary Mantel’s story and its publication.

1.) The appearance of monopolistic behavior by the two gigantic book conglomerates behind the book’s publication, HarperCollins (via Fourth Estate) in the United Kingdom, and Macmillan Group (via Henry Holt) in the United States. These are two of the “Big Five” conglomerates accusing Amazon of monopolistic behavior. It seems bad timing for these two giants to combine with the two most influential newspapers on the planet in the same-day hyping of a single author. Some could say it’s evidence of the insular and cronyistic nature of the old-style legacy publishing world.

What does monopoly look like?

2.) What short story masterpiece could’ve brought about this combination of powerful forces? Surely it must be a tale for the ages.

Yet when one reads the actual story, “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher,” one is captured by its relentless mediocrity. It’s a classic  example of contemporary literary banality. The title is the only striking thing about it.

At his blog, NEW POP LIT’s Karl Wenclas has penned this quick takedown of Hilary Mantel’s not-very impressive achievement:

3.) The question has to be asked, because conservative commentators will surely ask it (or not; HarperCollins is owned by Rupert Murdoch): Is “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher” merely a cheap political hit piece on one of the icons of conservative thought? Given the way The Guardian is spotlighting Hilary Mantel’s “boiling detestation” of Ms. Thatcher, the writer comes across more as an axe-grinding (or axe-wielding) ideologue than a serious author. Which raises question number four.

Hilary Mantel

4.) Have both Guardian Books and the New York Times Book Review displayed spectacularly poor judgment in promoting this story? It has the air of desperation on the part of supporters of the tottering mainstream publishing world. Beyond seeking to manufacture sales for the conglomerates, they appear to be attempting to manufacture controversy– which is particularly unseemly, and not a position these two prestigious news giants should be in. A related question: Are they objective newspapers, or glorified advertisers? (Or, how much ad space is bought in the Guardian and the Book Review by Macmillan and HarperCollins?)

5.) Why are no other literary sites covering the monopolistic aspects of this story? Where are the editors of The Millions, n+1, Electric Literature, and others? Are they that wedded to support of the publishing status quo that they won’t touch this matter?


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