Hilary Mantel, distinguished novelist and critic, had both a tough childhood and a serious illness, but her memoir does not reassure. It scalds. Mantel does not believe suffering ennobles. She believes it has done her irreparable physical and psychological damage ... This is the Book of Job without the purposeful deity but instead the bleak contingencies of period, place, poverty and gender. It is also a magnificent denunciation of cant ... What is unnerving is that this dark tale of extravagant consequences and loathed transformations could have been scripted by Mantel herself. She is the novelist of unease, expert at unleashing the terror that lurks within the mundane.
For Mantel, childhood is a state of war and, within that, a place of siege. All around are the barbarians - teachers, especially, but other children too - who attempt to get a purchase on 'Ilary's inner world ... She is unsparing about the horrible oddness of spending the first 25 years of her life as a sylph and the next 25 obliged to wear floating tents to cover her galloping fatness ... She muses on the temptation to use charm to make herself lovely and works hard at the problem of how to inhabit the mind of a child as well as an older self without lurching clumsily between the two. She is wise, too, to the expectations of the genre, balking at those points when her life does not quite fit the template.
...a highly unorthodox account of what is essentially unsayable about the inward uncharted life ... Giving Up the Ghost has the somewhat improvised feel of several memoirist projects fitted together into a thematic yet not an emotional unity, undertaken after the death of the author’s stepfather, Jack, whose role in the memoir turns out to be neither sympathetic nor major, and symbolically begun at the time of the author’s fiftieth birthday ... Mantel’s sufflated language is best appreciated as the memoirist’s effort at evoking a mythic child-self that makes no concession to literal, but only symbolic, credibility ... Most of the remainder of Giving Up the Ghost is a harrowing account to set beside such classics as Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”