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An Experiment in Love [Paperback]

Hilary Mantel
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 15.36 & FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25. Details
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Book Description

June 12 2007
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year
It was the year after Chappaquiddick, and all spring Carmel McBain had watery dreams about the disaster. Now she, Karina, and Julianne were escaping the dreary English countryside for a London University hall of residence. Interspersing accounts of her current position as a university student with recollections of her childhood and an ever difficult relationship with her longtime schoolmate Karina, Carmel reflects on a generation of girls desiring the power of men, but fearful of abandoning what is expected and proper. When these bright but confused young women land in late 1960s London, they are confronted with a slew of new preoccupations--sex, politics, food, and fertility--and a pointless grotesque tragedy of their own.
Hilary Mantel's magnificent novel examines the pressures on women during the early days of contemporary feminism to excel--but not be too successful--in England's complex hierarchy of class and status.

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From Amazon

Hilary Mantel's seventh novel examines the pressures on women during the 1960s to excel--but not be too successful--in England's complex hierarchy of class and status. Pushed by a domineering mother, Carmel McBain climbs her way through the pecking order and ends up at London University as an acquiescent and undernourished teenager, achieving the status so desired by her mother, but too weak to make use of it or pose a threat to anyone. Though this is Carmel's story, it reflects on a generation of girls desiring the power of men, but fearful of abandoning what is expected and proper. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Carmel McBain is a bright Lancashire-Irish child whose mother is fond of telling her, "your father's not just a clerk, you know"-though, in fact, he is. As Carmel grows up, this snobbish tendency metamorphoses into the brutal driving force of the girl's young life. As a teenager, with ambition bullied into her, she alternates between nights spent locked in her room to study and days filled with the "routine sarcasms of nuns." Carmel's move from posh convent to London university is a lonely one; at school, she undergoes a disturbing loss of self-awareness. Between her mother's ruthlessness and the cruelties of the nuns, Carmel's self-worth has been damaged, with near fatal results. Mantel's seventh novel (but only her second to appear here, after A Place of Greater Safety, 1993) is a powerful coming-of-age story that meticulously highlights the patterns of self-inflicted cruelty sometimes taught to young women. It perfectly conveys the confusion of one contemporary Catholic girl, and provides a subtly moving take on the mystery of anorexia nervosa. Despite its grim subject, the writing, replete with sharp humor and evocative details of 1960s England, is never self-indulgent. Irony prevails stoutly over sentimentality, while the finale delivers a surprising twist of horror that will shake readers to the core.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary novel -compelling yet harrowing. June 30 1998
"An experiment in Love" is, ultimately, a novel about the various forms of imprisionment family, society and religion can place uopn the individual.
Carmel McBain is the daughter of a lower class English family. She is imprisioned at home by a domineering mother who makes a point of "doing everything" for her daughter while chiding her for being useless. She is constrained at school by her mother's high, harsh, expectations of academic excellence. She is engulfed in between by the inescapable "friendship" proximity and her mothers desires have forced her into with a neighbor and classmate whom she doesn't care for and with whom she has nothing in common.
Her academic success lands her in a highly regarded local Catholic girls prep school where she is again paired with her "friend" and further buffeted by the expectations, traditions and social constraints cointained within that environment.
Finally, at college in London, her "friend" still in tow, along with another classmate from the prep school, Carmel, though seemingly free of the constraints that dominated her childhood, cannot, in fact, sever those bonds. She is now sufficiently free, however, to analyze her situation, as well as those of her classmates, and can see, if not overcome, the various results that these limitations and expectations have had on her and her various classmates. The effects are often severe: Sexual abandon and the consequences those acts engender in a traditional, paternalistic society; Illness (particularly anorexia); and, in the end, a particular act of revenge/release with very grave effects and consequences.
Although not a book for the faint of heart, this nevertheless stands as a extraordinary piece of storytelling and social/psychological examination of the anomie often engendered within families in our modern society.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars dark Aug. 22 1998
By A Customer
Everyone seems to have a different opinion as to what this book is "about." It is my opinion that "An Experiment in Love" is the story of faith destroyed by intellectualism. I think Carmel's spirituality, when it is given no outlet, literally consumes her. Anyway. I hesitate to say that this book should be required reading for everyone, but I think a particular kind of person would like it very much. I feel that Mantel has told my own story better than I ever could (not the anorexia; the loss of faith). Her voice is stark and bleak and poetic, and it disturbed me-- a seventeen year old girl who is religious by nature, but skeptical by conviction-- for reasons that I do not quite understand.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerfully Stirring Novel March 22 2000
This novel is strongly written and stunningly evocative in exploring the incongruities of young adulthood: the stern ethic youth hold their peers to, and the simultaneous obliviousness of a broader sense of scale. Like adolescence itself, the novel leaves you with a mixture of feelings, ranging from sadness to revulsion. But the themes are valid, and will be familiar to all its readers: the drama of breaking established boundaries, the piercing expression of individuality, and the sudden awareness of physically driven impulses in both love and derision. As most well written books about young adults are, "An Experiment in Love" is a story of horrors, both soft and sharp. I believe anyone who reads the book will find in it some reflection of themselves, as well as the ghosts of who they felt in youthful extremism they might become.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A mastercraftsman at work. June 27 2000
With her consummate story-telling skills, Mantel never lets the reader down here. Superbly talented in creating relentless, razor sharp images of lower middleclass family life, of personally thwarted parents with bigger goals for their children, and of striving and desperately motivated young people, Mantel will, for many readers, succeed in conjuring up some of their own nightmares of youth and school life. Oft recognized by the British with innumerable prizes and awards, Mantel deserves to be considered to be "the novelist of her generation who will achieve lasting greatness" (Literary Review).
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