Colette and Alison are unlikely cohorts: one a shy, drab beanpole of an assistant, the other a charismatic, corpulent psychic whose connection to the spiritual world torments her. When they meet at a fair, Alison invites Colette at once to join her on the road as her personal assistant and companion. Troubles spiral out of control when the pair moves to a suburban wasteland in what was once the English countryside. It is not long before the place beyond black threatens to uproot their lives forever. This is Hilary Mantel at her finestinsightful, darkly comic, unorthodox, and thrilling to read.
Related collections and offers
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.61(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.74(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Travelling: 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 be coaxed and they won't be coerced. But the public has paid its money and it wants results.
A sea-green sky: lamps blossoming white. This is marginal land: fields of strung wire, of treadless tyres in ditches, fridges dead on their backs, and starving ponies cropping the mud. It is a landscape running with outcasts and escapees, with Afghans, Turks and Kurds: with scapegoats, scarred with bottle and burn marks, limping from the cities with broken ribs. The life forms here are rejects, or anomalies: the cats tipped from speeding cars, and the Heathrow sheep, their fleece clotted with the stench of aviation fuel.
Beside her, in profile against the fogged window, the driver's face is set. In the back seat, something dead stirs, and begins to grunt and breathe. The car flees across the junctions, and the space the road encloses is the space insideher: the arena of combat, the wasteland, the place of civil strife behind her ribs. A heart beats, taillights wink. Dim lights shine from tower blocks, from passing helicopters, from fixed stars. Night closes in on the perjured ministers and burnt-out pedophiles, on the unloved viaducts and graffitied bridges, on ditches beneath mouldering hedgerows and railings never warmed by human touch.
Night and winter: but in the rotten nests and empty setts, she can feel the signs of growth, intimations of spring. This is the time of Le Pendu, the Hanged Man, swinging by his foot from the living tree. It is a time of suspension, of hesitation, of the indrawn breath. It is a time to let go of expectation, yet not abandon hope; to anticipate the turn of the Wheel of Fortune. This is our life and we have to lead it. Think of the alternative.
A static cloud bank, like an ink smudge. Darkening air.
It's no good asking me whether I'd choose to be like this, because I've never had a choice. I don't know about anything else. I've never been any other way.
And darker still. Colour has run out from the land. Only form is left: the clumped treetops like a dragon's back. The sky deepens to midnight blue. The orange of the streetlights is blotted to a fondant cerise; in pastureland, the pylons lift their skirts in a ferrous gavotte.
Copyright © 2005 by Hilary Mantel
Reading Group Guide
1. Beyond Black is set in contemporary England, a world of internet, suburbs, and commuting. Why do you think Hilary Mantel chose this period in time? How would the novel be different had she set it in a different time period? What does Mantel seem to be saying about contemporary English life?
2. Describe Alison's relationship with Colette. What do the characters offer one another? How does their relationship change as time passes? How do think their histories and appearances (Alison being extremely overweight, Colette being thin and drawn) affects the way in which they deal with one another and why?
3. Describe Alison's connection with those on the other side. How different are the living from those "beyond black"? How would you describe Morris? Has his behavior changed since he was living? If so, in what way? Do any characters, dead or living, seem happy or healthy?
4. How does Princess Diana's death play a key part in the book? How do you feel about the way Mantel handled the fictional representation of a real person? Why did Mantel choose to draw her in this particular way and is it different from the Princess Diana you imagined?
5. Alison's terrible childhood is revealed gradually in the novel, through flashbacks and Morris, her despicable spirit guide. Why did Mantel choose to do this? How would the novel and your opinions of the characters have changed had Alison's childhood been revealed sooner?
6. Beyond Black is a dark and often disturbing novel. Did Mantel's use of humor and wit make the story more digestible? Had Mantel addressed the themes of the book in a more serious fashion, how would the reading experience have been different? Where is the light in Beyond Black?
7. By the end of the book, did you feel as though Alison had found some redemption? What do you see in Alison's future, beyond the end of the story?
8. Mantel presents the life of a psychic as banal and ordinary. Why do you think Alison is portrayed simply as a woman doing a job? Why do you think Mantel presents the supernatural world to be as mundane as everyday life? Did the story make you reconsider your thoughts and feelings about the supernatural?
9. Alison has extrasensory powers, but can only vaguely recall her childhood. Did you find this ironic? What does Mantel seem to be saying?
10. Do you see a difference between the way Alison deals with clients and audience members when talking about their pasts and futures and the way in which she deals with her own? How is her language and tone different?
11. Alison knows whatever she says to her audience members or personal clients will be accepted, though she may, on occasion, have to tweak and hone. What assumptions does Alison make about the types of people who seek her services?
12. How are the jobs of novelist and clairvoyant similar? How are they different? What advantages did Mantel, an accomplished novelist, have in the telling of this story?
13. Morris's mates start to show up just as Alison begins dictating her autobiography. Is this coincidence? Is it metaphor?
14. Did you believe Alison was truly seeing or hearing all of the supernatural events? Did it matter to you?
15. Have you had any experiences with psychics or clairvoyants either in person or on television, for instance America's John Edwards? Was the experience similar to what's portrayed in Beyond Black?
16. Many novels (from Dante Alighieri's The Devine Comedy to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones) and movies (The Sixth Sense and Ghost) have depicted the afterlife. How is Mantel's depiction different from those? In what ways is it similar?