Readerz.Net / Hilary Mantel / Beyond Black
Beyond Black is a 2005 novel by English writer Hilary Mantel. It was shortlisted for the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction.
The book's central character is a medium named Alison Hart who, along with her assistant/business partner/manager, Colette, takes her one-woman psychic show on the road, travelling to venues around the Home Counties, and providing her audience with a point of contact between this world and the next. On the surface, Alison seems like a happy-go-lucky woman, but this persona is only a mask she wears for her public. In truth, she is deeply traumatised by memories and ghosts from her childhood, and a knowledge that the afterlife is not the wonderful place her clients often perceive it to be. She spends much of the story trying to exorcise her demons, and by the end is ultimately able to overcome them.
On one level, then, it shares the Thelma and Louise genre: two women journeying together through a hostile world with threatening male figures. However, it has layers of meaning that prompt multiple readings. Reality has a down-trodden Dante-esque quality: given the high level of remembered violence (could so much mutilation, exploitation, theft, rape, incest and murder exist in one household in the English underclasses?), Alison's 'childhood' seems a dystopia conjured from the darkest archetypes of the imagination. One of the frissons of the book is that it takes philosophy down to street level at its murkiest and most visceral.
Alison and Colette and almost all the shadowy characters of the book, mostly ghosts, could be read as types for humanity negotiating their own self-hood through ideas of good and evil.