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Vacant Possession [Paperback]

Hilary Mantel
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 15.29 & FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25. Details
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Book Description

Aug. 31 2010
Ten years have passed since Muriel Axon was locked away for society's protection, but psychiatric confinement has only increased her malice and ingenuity. At last free, she sets into motion an intricate plan to exact revenge on those who had her put away. Her former social worker, Isabel, and her old neighbors have moved on, but Muriel, with her talent for disguise, will infiltrate their homes and manipulate their lives, until all her enemies are brought together for a gruesome finale. Hilary Mantel's razor-sharp wit animates every page of this darkly comic tale of retribution.

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From Publishers Weekly

The haunting sequel to Mantel's Every Day Is Mother's Day (see above) offers powerful insight into its precursor. Muriel Axon is the untouchable yet tarnished heroine here, and she selectively reveals her disturbing plans for revenge against all who vaguely knew and despised her. A decade after the close of the first book, Muriel has just been released from the institution where she was housed after her mother's suspicious death, and has since acquired new skills to aid her vengeful mission. Taking on the identity of "Poor Mrs. Wilmot," she rents a room from paranoid Russian landlord Mr. Kowalski and works the night shift as a cleaning lady at St. Matthew Hospital, where, not coincidentally, she assumes an unlikely bedside manner with the elder Mrs. Sidney and her former social worker Isabel Field's bedridden father. Mrs. Sidney's son, Colin; his wife, Sylvia; and their four children have moved into the former Axon home despite its history as a house of violent tragedy. Even after a renovation and the help of a new though odd housekeeper, Lizzie Blank, the house refuses to be maintained. Although Colin ended an affair years ago, the strain of being the breadwinner while being ignored by the civic-minded Sylvia and hassled by his money-grubbing teenagers allows him to entertain the fantasy of finding his lost lover. And he does reconnect, thanks in part to his naive, 18-year-old daughter. Surprise revelations from start to finish mark Mantel as a remarkably clever writer whose second book, paired with her first, makes for wickedly pleasurable reading. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A rundown, and possibly haunted, Victorian house takes center stage in these back-to-back black comedies, written by British novelist Mantel (The Giant, O'Brien) with a distinct Rendellian flavor. In the first story, set in the mid-Seventies, Evelyn Axon, a terrorized, guilt-ridden widow, lives with her dull-witted daughter, Muriel. Into their lives comes the nettlesome social service bureaucracy, primarily in the person of Isabel Field, the last in a long series of social workers assigned to their case. Isabel has problems of her own, though, the main one being a stagnating affair with Colin Sydney, a married man she has met in an evening class on creative writing. Muriel has been encouraged to participate in weekly workshops for the mentally handicapped at the local community center, but she eludes both her mother and her case workers and manages to get herself pregnant. All these lives intersect at the novel's bizarre conclusion, as Evelyn dies, Muriel is institutionalized, and Colin Sydney's family take up residence in the Axons' house. The second novel opens ten years later as Muriel is caught up in the Eighties trend to deinstitutionalize the mentally challenged. Out on the streets once more, she knowingly adopts multiple personas with the misguided intention of exacting revenge on those she believes have wronged her, principally Isabel Field and Colin Sydney. Slowly, all these entangled lives begin to come undone. Like her fellow Brits Rose Tremain and Penelope Fitzgerald, Mantel continually produces novels that chart fresh terrain and derive from a wellspring of creative imagination. These two early novels herald the promise of the rich and varied literary career that followed. Recommended for most public libraries.
-Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Laugh as things fall apart. Dec 26 2001
Format:Paperback
I don't think I've ever known a book with such misleading cover blurb. If anyone can "lie back and laugh yourself silly" while reading this, as the UK edition proclaims, I'd like to meet them. Yes it's a satire that hits all its targets, yes it involves situations and characters that are bigger and more grotesque than would occur in real life, but these characters are so sympathetically drawn that you feel for them deeply in their lives, hamstrung as they are by circumstance, coincidence and those family ties that bind. The book is a abject potrayal of Thoreau's dictum that most men (and women) lead lives of quiet desperation. If you can laugh yourself silly at that, and I don't belive Mantel intends you to, perhaps you can laugh at all human suffering. The intricately laid out plot reels you in like a thriller, giving hints but never spoiling the twists. I found this book immensely satisfying and Mantel is a fine writer (as I also know from 'Fludd' and 'A Change of Climate') whose work I intend to read more of.
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4.0 out of 5 stars black humor at its best July 26 2000
Format:Paperback
One doesn't have to have read Martel's previous novel featuring these unsavory characters to enjoy (?) its successor. What a nasty piece of work is our Muriel Axton! Admittedly, her horrendous upbringing by a lunatic mother gives her meager brain sufficient cause to seek sadistic revenge upon those she sees to be her enemies, but how fortuitous it is that fate so often cooperates with her! Martel is positively brilliant at keeping the convoluted plot going full pace at all times --the reader is never absolutely certain as to just what will happen, but knows that whatever does, it will not be pleasant. The mordant wit is most enjoyable to those of us who appreciate such nice touches! Regardless of the genre she chooses, Martel is a gifted writer and a pleasure to read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Life just arranges itself, usually for the worst and chance is not blind at all." Aug. 31 2010
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In 1980s England, it is ten years after the shocking denouement in Every Day is Mother's Day, the characters having moved on with their lives. (While it isn't necessary to read the prior novel, it adds historical context- and menace- to this one.) No longer beleaguered by the spirits who haunted her mother, Evelyn, a medium, the hulking, crafty Muriel is a product of her environment, properly institutionalized for the last few years. Evelyn's death has seemingly put an end to the disturbing case of a mother and daughter living in isolation, successfully avoiding the social workers assigned to them. The other peripheral characters have moved on with their individual lives, unconcerned with the fate of Muriel Axon, "that reclusive slab of a woman".

Social worker Isabel Field, traumatized by her short but violent involvement with the Axon's, has married, but is still plagued by self-doubt and depression, unable to give her husband a child. The brief distraction of her affair with married schoolteacher Colin Sidney in the `70s met a predictable end with the pregnancy of Colin's wife, Sylvia, the social worker just another victim of the folly of loving a married man. Currently, Isabel derives more comfort from the bottle than her husband. For his part, Colin clings to the memories of his affair with Isabel as a respite from Sylvia's incessant carping about their unruly children and the career she might have had. With the impending arrival of their fourth child, the Sidney's have moved house, snapping up the Axon residence as a bargain, next door to Colin's unmarried sister, Florence.

Muriel is the star of the piece, an enigmatic creature whose cunning enables her to escape the tangled bureaucracy of the social welfare system. Ingenious in reentering the world without the taint of her past, Muriel is set on revenge with very specific targets in mind. Her personality forged by a crippling childhood and hostile mother, this single-minded gorgon embodies the dark side of human nature, her stunted emotional growth disguised by an ungainly body, unexpectedly delighted at the coincidences that abet her mission. And while family entanglements baffle both Isabel and the Sidney's, each character plays a part in the final drama, the outcome turning on the erratic behaviors of those who exist on society's margins and the odd coincidence.

Mantel brilliantly contrasts middle-class life and the deceits born of mental illness and chronic institutionalization, from Muriel's crafty assault on the past to Isabel Field's descent into alcoholism, Colin's chronic ineptitude and Sylvia's escalating demands for attention. Although Every Day is Mother's Day and Vacant Possession are separate novels, I imagine them combined into one chilling tale, a seamless narrative of dysfunction and retribution, where "blind chance... could catch you a painful blow with her white cane". Luan Gaines/2010.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Laugh as things fall apart. Dec 26 2001
By Phil Moores - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I don't think I've ever known a book with such misleading cover blurb. If anyone can "lie back and laugh yourself silly" while reading this, as the UK edition proclaims, I'd like to meet them. Yes it's a satire that hits all its targets, yes it involves situations and characters that are bigger and more grotesque than would occur in real life, but these characters are so sympathetically drawn that you feel for them deeply in their lives, hamstrung as they are by circumstance, coincidence and those family ties that bind. The book is a abject potrayal of Thoreau's dictum that most men (and women) lead lives of quiet desperation. If you can laugh yourself silly at that, and I don't belive Mantel intends you to, perhaps you can laugh at all human suffering. The intricately laid out plot reels you in like a thriller, giving hints but never spoiling the twists. I found this book immensely satisfying and Mantel is a fine writer (as I also know from 'Fludd' and 'A Change of Climate') whose work I intend to read more of.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars black humor at its best July 26 2000
By Judith Bradley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
One doesn't have to have read Martel's previous novel featuring these unsavory characters to enjoy (?) its successor. What a nasty piece of work is our Muriel Axton! Admittedly, her horrendous upbringing by a lunatic mother gives her meager brain sufficient cause to seek sadistic revenge upon those she sees to be her enemies, but how fortuitous it is that fate so often cooperates with her! Martel is positively brilliant at keeping the convoluted plot going full pace at all times --the reader is never absolutely certain as to just what will happen, but knows that whatever does, it will not be pleasant. The mordant wit is most enjoyable to those of us who appreciate such nice touches! Regardless of the genre she chooses, Martel is a gifted writer and a pleasure to read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Into to Mantel Nov. 11 2012
By Maryann Kowalczyk - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Hilary Mantel is an amazing writer. No more proof needed than "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies", both of which got her the Man Booker Prize. I decided to read all of her earlier work and this was where I started. One of the things is that, if you can manage it, read her books aloud. Or maybe purchase audio editions, because the vocabulary sings and her work has a pace that is mesmerising. I recommend.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Vacant Possession Sept. 10 2013
By Judy Correllus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Book and delivery from Amazon was, as usual, spot on. The Book, however was confusing and dark. I have read some of her other books and did not find them boring. Will try more of her others.
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