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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.


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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.

30 review for Learning to Talk

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (2.5) Last year I loved reading Mantel’s collection The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. In comparison, these six first-person stories felt like autobiographical castoffs. (They were individually published in various periodicals between 1987 and 2002 and then collected as a follow-up to her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, an excerpt from which* closes this book.) We get a child’s perspective on village life in the North of England with a lodger, a stepfather and a mean dog. My two favorites were (2.5) Last year I loved reading Mantel’s collection The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. In comparison, these six first-person stories felt like autobiographical castoffs. (They were individually published in various periodicals between 1987 and 2002 and then collected as a follow-up to her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, an excerpt from which* closes this book.) We get a child’s perspective on village life in the North of England with a lodger, a stepfather and a mean dog. My two favorites were the title story, about taking elocution lessons, and “Third Floor Rising,” about an 18-year-old’s first job in a department store. *My favorite line was from this: “The story of my own childhood is a complicated sentence that I am always trying to finish, to finish and put behind me.” Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kirsty

    Read for my last participation in Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon Short stories are always good for a readathon, and when I spotted Mantel's collection in my University library, I just couldn't resist taking it away with me. I really enjoy her writing on the whole, and there are some absolute gems here; indeed, I absolutely loved the first story, and a couple of the later ones almost matched its wonderful pace and intrigue. Some did not quite live up to the brilliance of others, but the thematic elemen Read for my last participation in Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon Short stories are always good for a readathon, and when I spotted Mantel's collection in my University library, I just couldn't resist taking it away with me. I really enjoy her writing on the whole, and there are some absolute gems here; indeed, I absolutely loved the first story, and a couple of the later ones almost matched its wonderful pace and intrigue. Some did not quite live up to the brilliance of others, but the thematic element is strong in that these are all tales of childhood; of finding one's voice, and of finding oneself. A quick read, but a thoughtful and thought-provoking one.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Vicky "phenkos"

    I got the book from the library without realising that this is a companion volume to Giving Up The Ghost. It's possible I would have had a different view of the book had I read both volumes together. As it is, however, I didn't enjoy the short stories at all. I found them too disjointed centred as they were around childhood memories that seemed trivial. The only story that caught my attention was 'Learning to Talk" as this had a clear and relatable theme, namely how 'talking' (accent, delivery, I got the book from the library without realising that this is a companion volume to Giving Up The Ghost. It's possible I would have had a different view of the book had I read both volumes together. As it is, however, I didn't enjoy the short stories at all. I found them too disjointed centred as they were around childhood memories that seemed trivial. The only story that caught my attention was 'Learning to Talk" as this had a clear and relatable theme, namely how 'talking' (accent, delivery, pronunciation) can make or break you in this world of ours where language is authority. But I still could not fathom the meaning of the shoes episode. Why place so much emphasis on the shoes the character was given to wear at her exam? I'm sorry, I don't get it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    these stories are told from the perspective of growing children, children older than their years because their lives, their circumstances, the flawed and fragile people around them, have necessitated it. yet nothing is a trite coming-of-age tale. Hilary Mantel writes prose eloquent, surprising, beautiful - and humorous - and the characters and cultures of Manchester and the English north, also the past, rise eerily to life. oh, and she has so many memorable lines: "Our huddle of stones and slates, these stories are told from the perspective of growing children, children older than their years because their lives, their circumstances, the flawed and fragile people around them, have necessitated it. yet nothing is a trite coming-of-age tale. Hilary Mantel writes prose eloquent, surprising, beautiful - and humorous - and the characters and cultures of Manchester and the English north, also the past, rise eerily to life. oh, and she has so many memorable lines: "Our huddle of stones and slates, scoured by bitter winds and rough gossip tongues, had no claim on rural England, where there is morris dancing and fellowship and olde ale flowing. It was a broken, sterile place, devoid of trees, like a transit camp; and yet with the hopeless permanence that transit camps tend to assume. Snow stood on the hills till April." "Even in mild weather its air was wandering, miasmic, like memories that no one owns." "You had to make categories for the garments that had no name, like the bifurcated items that head office had sent several seasons ago; made of hairy grey-blue tweed, they were some kind of flying suit perhaps, of a kind to be worn by Biggles's nanny." "I didn't want my mother to incur even more rancid female hatred, that would snarl invisible about her ankles, snag her kitten heels when I was long gone and marching through London streets." "...folding away the morning paper with a phrase half read, an ellipsis that would last their lifetimes." "...what sort of family do you expect me to come from? All-singing, all-dancing? You'd just know they'd be tubercular, probably syphilitic, certifiably insane, dyslexic, paralytic, circumcised, circumscribed, victims of bad pickers in identity parades, mangled in industrial machinery, decapitated by forklift trucks, dental cripples, sodomites, sent blind by measles, riddled with asbestosis and domiciled downwind of Chernobyl." "I put my head on the clear, clean plaster of the wall, which was painted in a neutral shade, like thought."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Pamela Scott

    https://thebookloversboudoir.wordpres... Mantel is one of my favourite writers. This is the last book from her back catalogue I have to read. I enjoyed all of the stories in this collection. They share similar themes as her memoir, Giving up the Ghost which are childhood, illness and memory. The stories are all quite different. The best stories are Destroyed and Third Floor Rising. The other stories are good but these two shone a little brighter. The style of the stories is similar to her novels. https://thebookloversboudoir.wordpres... Mantel is one of my favourite writers. This is the last book from her back catalogue I have to read. I enjoyed all of the stories in this collection. They share similar themes as her memoir, Giving up the Ghost which are childhood, illness and memory. The stories are all quite different. The best stories are Destroyed and Third Floor Rising. The other stories are good but these two shone a little brighter. The style of the stories is similar to her novels.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Naomi

    3.5* Enjoyable stories exploring life in small towns and family issues. Written in Mantel's fantastic prose, these stories are like fractured pieces of the same diamond showing how we are made and shaped by our home environments. I haven't yet read Giving up the Ghost, but definitely plan to read it soon. I think that possibly detracts from the enjoyment of these stories, so I may edit the review when I do. 3.5* Enjoyable stories exploring life in small towns and family issues. Written in Mantel's fantastic prose, these stories are like fractured pieces of the same diamond showing how we are made and shaped by our home environments. I haven't yet read Giving up the Ghost, but definitely plan to read it soon. I think that possibly detracts from the enjoyment of these stories, so I may edit the review when I do.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Diarmaid de Paor

    Beautifully written, wistful and so so sad at the root of it all. This collection of short stories, clearly autobiographical in origin are moving and heart-breaking in the way that only a child's distress and loneliness can be. Beautifully written, wistful and so so sad at the root of it all. This collection of short stories, clearly autobiographical in origin are moving and heart-breaking in the way that only a child's distress and loneliness can be.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Marian

    A bit unrelenting in its bitterness, but the writing, the images, the setting, the characters. Oomph.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Violet

    Made me think of French author Annie Ernaux - stories of class, shame, poverty, etc. These were powerful short stories that I enjoyed reading.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I love her sentences, how they roll and curl, and the unusual words she uses like brobdingnagian ...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    Precise, sort of agonising, beautiful. I think of all the writers I love, Hilary Mantel is the one I would most like to be best friends with.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    Mantel has a superb way with language and her style of writing works well in the short story format. If only there had been one or two more stories in this slim collection. The publisher 'cleverly' presents the text with wide margins, but any reader can tell this small collection is less than a full book's worth, and very few other authors would get the opportunity to present their short fiction in this way. The collection also includes an extract from Mantel's memoir, 'Giving Up the Ghost', and Mantel has a superb way with language and her style of writing works well in the short story format. If only there had been one or two more stories in this slim collection. The publisher 'cleverly' presents the text with wide margins, but any reader can tell this small collection is less than a full book's worth, and very few other authors would get the opportunity to present their short fiction in this way. The collection also includes an extract from Mantel's memoir, 'Giving Up the Ghost', and I found this quite fascinating, so I will look out for it. I'm looking forward to Mantel's forthcoming new short story collection and hope it offers equally interesting stories, and enough to make it a sturdy collection. The stories in this collection are about childhood, specifically childhood experience in northern (past Watford gap) parts of England and in families with working-class roots. I found the stories both vivid and telling. These were stories written to give particular insights and to offer exacting imagery. Again, I have to credit Mantel's writing style; a consistently good collection. Four stars only because I felt one more story would have made it a little more substantial and worth the cover price. I borrowed the book I read from the local library.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anara Guard

    I enjoyed these stories and she certainly knows how to write evocative, literary, emotional scenes. But these "stories" adhere so closely to her autobiography--as evidenced in the final selection in the book, which is essay and not fiction--that I wonder whether or not to regard these as fiction. They seem more like memory pieces. This doesn't take anything away from her writing skills, but I wonder why she insists on defining them as fiction. What's the difference? Well, the overlay of imaginat I enjoyed these stories and she certainly knows how to write evocative, literary, emotional scenes. But these "stories" adhere so closely to her autobiography--as evidenced in the final selection in the book, which is essay and not fiction--that I wonder whether or not to regard these as fiction. They seem more like memory pieces. This doesn't take anything away from her writing skills, but I wonder why she insists on defining them as fiction. What's the difference? Well, the overlay of imagination, for one thing. In fiction, one can start with memory and then create a different outcome, new characters, changed lives. But Ms. Mantel seems not to have chosen that path and I'm left puzzled.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Plum de Gnome

    Muy bien escritas si nos limitamos a valorar el estilo, la capacidad para poner una palabra detrás de otra, una frase detrás de otra de manera hermosa, pero de efecto absolutamente nulo en lo que a mi respecta, las seis historias que componen el libro están unidas por un planteamiento muy similar que sí, las relaciona de manera natural, pero que también las hace reiterativas, cansinas, intercambiables. Hilary Mantel tiene una reputación excelente como escritora pero, una de dos, o estas historia Muy bien escritas si nos limitamos a valorar el estilo, la capacidad para poner una palabra detrás de otra, una frase detrás de otra de manera hermosa, pero de efecto absolutamente nulo en lo que a mi respecta, las seis historias que componen el libro están unidas por un planteamiento muy similar que sí, las relaciona de manera natural, pero que también las hace reiterativas, cansinas, intercambiables. Hilary Mantel tiene una reputación excelente como escritora pero, una de dos, o estas historias no son la carta de presentación adecuada, o simplemente no está hecha esta miel para mi boca de asno.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kate Lindsay

    I think Hilary Mantel is an extremely talented and surprising writer, but on its own, I imagine this book could be confusing and ultimately disappointing. While Mantel's talent remains, it is almost necessary to read this and Giving Up The Ghost as companion pieces--otherwise I think Learning To Talk would come across as disjointed, random and confusing. What was most compelling about this book was the retreading and retelling of familiar themes through a fictionalized universe, but they do not I think Hilary Mantel is an extremely talented and surprising writer, but on its own, I imagine this book could be confusing and ultimately disappointing. While Mantel's talent remains, it is almost necessary to read this and Giving Up The Ghost as companion pieces--otherwise I think Learning To Talk would come across as disjointed, random and confusing. What was most compelling about this book was the retreading and retelling of familiar themes through a fictionalized universe, but they do not function independently, and better act as supplementary material rather than their own book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christine Grinling

    Hilary Mantel manages to set the scene of the grim north with excellent prose and descriptions but I didn't feel compelled or empathetic towards the characters. It did feel to me as if I was a very distant observer, but perhaps this is the down side of short story compilations. I read alongside JD Salinger's collection of short stories and enjoyed these much more because of the plot so brilliantly unfolding in just a few pages. Hilary Mantel manages to set the scene of the grim north with excellent prose and descriptions but I didn't feel compelled or empathetic towards the characters. It did feel to me as if I was a very distant observer, but perhaps this is the down side of short story compilations. I read alongside JD Salinger's collection of short stories and enjoyed these much more because of the plot so brilliantly unfolding in just a few pages.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Helen Stanton

    Forgot my book when leaving the house AGAIN!!! Bought these by Queen Hilary of England to keep me going ........and they are really very good !!!! I loved these stories . Only read Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies before......delightfully light, lots of memories of Manchester ....and very poignant

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Gates

    The language is beautiful - you see, hear, taste, touch, smell every relevant detail. Mantel also captures the heart-breaking bewilderment of the clever and poorly-educated child. A glimpse of auto-biography that leads you to want more.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sue Shone

    Fabulously written short stories, all except the last one which just didn't work for me as a short story and was more like an introduction to longer novel, Fabulously written short stories, all except the last one which just didn't work for me as a short story and was more like an introduction to longer novel,

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jo Marchant

    I loved these stories and really did not know what to expect as Hilary's writings are so far reaching. I loved these and will continue to scour her back catalogue for gems. I loved these stories and really did not know what to expect as Hilary's writings are so far reaching. I loved these and will continue to scour her back catalogue for gems.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brooks

    Dreadful - never want to read another one of her books. Pointless stories - although well written.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Oanh

    Lovely. Must read more Mantel.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Grandmaz

    Brilliant book - beautifully and descriptively written. Not one superfluous word. Funny and touching Loved it. Also have the audio version which I'll listen to many many times Brilliant book - beautifully and descriptively written. Not one superfluous word. Funny and touching Loved it. Also have the audio version which I'll listen to many many times

  24. 4 out of 5

    Santosh

    The book is a collection of short stories , one of which Learning to talk.The stories are funny and some have a little suspense in them.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nick Saunders

  26. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Grant

  27. 4 out of 5

    Juliet Gordon

  28. 5 out of 5

    Frances Heneghan

  29. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bernadette

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