Learning to Talk : Short Stories, Paperback
3 out of 5 (1 rating)


A companion piece to the captivating memoir GIVING UP THE GHOST by the Man Booker-winning author, this collection of loosely autobiographical stories locates the transforming moments of a haunted childhood.

This sharp, funny collection of stories drawn from life begins in the 1950s in an insular northern village 'scoured by bitter winds and rough gossip tongues.' For the child narrator, the only way to survive is to get up, get on, get out.

In 'King Billy is a Gentleman', the child must come to terms with the loss of a father and the puzzle of a fading Irish heritage. 'Curved Is the Line of Beauty' is a story of friendship, faith and a near-disaster in a scrap-yard.

The title story sees our narrator ironing out her northern vowels with the help of an ex-actress with one lung and a Manchester accent.

In 'Third Floor Rising', she watches, dazzled, as her mother carves out a stylish new identity.

With a deceptively light touch, Mantel locates the transforming moments of a haunted childhood.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 176 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Anthologies (non-poetry)
  • ISBN: 9780007166442



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This short collection of five stories is, sad to say, somewhat lackluster. In fact, the best past of the book was the last section, a preview of Mantel's memoir, <i>Giving Up the Ghost</i>, which I look forward to reading in full. The stories all depict episodes in the lives of children growing up in dreary villages in the north of England in the 1950s. They struggle with class barriers defined by their vowels, names, broken families, and aspirations. Apparently, Mantel was following the mantra of creative writing instructors everywhere: write what you know. She's much better, I think, as a historical novelist. The stories do have their moments of originality and humor, but I found them fairly bleak for the most part.

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