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Instead of celebrating the mystical side of "sensitives," the people who travel England's contemporary psychic "fayre" circuit, Mantel (A Change of Climate, etc.) concentrates on the potential banality of spiritualism in her latest novel, a no-nonsense exploration of the world of public and private clairvoyance. Colette is a down-on-her-luck event planner fresh from a divorce when she attends a two-day Psychic Extravaganza, her "introduction to the metaphorical side of life." There, Alison, a true clairvoyant, "reads" Colette, sees her need for a new life—as well as her potential—and hires her as a Girl Friday. As Colette's responsibilities grow, and the line between the professional and the personal blurs, Colette takes over Alison's marketing, builds her Web site, plans for a book and buys a house with her. Colette also serves as a sort of buffer between Alison and the multitude of spirits who beleaguer her. (Alison's spirit guide, Morris, "a little bouncing circus clown," proves especially troublesome.) Mantel's portraits of the two leading characters as well as those of the supporting cast—both on and off this mortal coil—are sharply drawn. This witty, matter-of-fact look at the psychic milieu reveals a supernatural world that can be as mundane as the world of carpet salesmen and shopkeepers. (May)
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Fans of Mantel's 2003 memoir, Giving Up the Ghost (2003), will recognize aspects of the author in the sympathetic heroine of her tenth book, a darkly funny novel about the odd relationships formed among the living and the dead. Alison Hart, nearing 40, overweight and happily single, is a spiritual seer by trade. She reads palms and tarot cards; in villages throughout England, she performs in front of packed crowds, her stage act a combination of fortune-telling and "communications" with the other side. In an age of celebrity deaths and terrorist attacks, Alison's authentic spiritual gifts are highly prized, but her personal life is in shambles, physically, emotionally, and financially. Help arrives in the form of Colette, a recently divorced, no-nonsense professional, who sees Alison's predicament as an opportunity to reinvent both women's lives. Obstacles to Colette's ambitious plans include nosy neighbors, competing psychics, even adversaries from beyond--especially a gang of menacing thugs from Alison's childhood. A contemporary ghost story told with humor and heart, this novel is sure to conjure up new readers for Mantel. James Klise
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.