An Experiment in Love: A Novel
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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.
so I wore my pale shower-proof until Bonfire Night, and after that a duffel coat which had been donated to me before I left home by a distant cousin. Sometimes, extracting coins from my purse, I travelled on the tube late at night, going God knows where: Arsenal, Angel, Kentish Town. Later I would have to make up for my time off by sitting under the lamp at the desk I had reserved for myself, writing very fast in black ink. Julianne stayed out all night, every second day. The ponderous front
myself, am I, can I be, she who so lately at the Holy Redeemer wore an air of purpose and expectation, and a prefect’s deep blue gown? So many years of preparation, for what was called adult life: was it for this? Were these meetings as aimless as they appeared, or was I too untutored to see the importance of what was going on, or was I, in some deeper way, missing the point? Yes: that must be it. As the clock ticked away, a fantasy would creep up and possess me: that if you could stay on and on
whole school and the staff, both nuns and lay teachers.’ My finger and thumb squeezed my pencil, rolled it back into my palm and clenched it there. What would I say? I was bound to step out of line, if only because I did not know where the line was: if only because I did not know anything. ‘I’m sorry, Mother Superior. I apologize.’ Would that be enough? Sister Monica approached and stood over us. ‘And if that girl does not speak clearly and distinctly, or employs a poor accent, they will mock
hard palate. I knew these girdles were the kind worn by princesses in distress. They were the kind you used to tether a unicorn, or to throw a lifeline to a gallant knight some ogre had cast from a tower. They were not whalebone, they were not elastic, they were more like ropes or strings, sewn with seed pearls or knitted from your own golden hair. ‘You can really only get white,’ my mother said. ‘Or flesh.’ She sucked her lip. Ankle socks white, winter knee socks grey. Underwear as regulation –
answer. ‘Be sure to eat up every morsel from now on, and if you don’t like it you can offer it up for the holy souls in purgatory.’ The truth was though that I didn’t think of myself, from day to day, as being hungry. I suppose I knew intellectually that I was, but as far as my body was concerned it was a normal feeling; it was only later, at Tonbridge Hall, that I recognized the hollowness and lightness as being perhaps undesirable. I found Niall the year before our O-levels, at our town’s