To Kill The Iron Lady


A brilliant – and rather transgressive – collection of short stories from the double Man Booker Prize-winning author of ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’. (The Guardian)

The only new, unpublished story in Hilary Mantel’s new book is its  titular short story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: August 6th 1983. It was published online by the Guardian, immediately noticed and stirred up some passions. Disdain and outrage, mostly. UK politicians were especially verbal. In that very spirit, The Daily Telegraph, having bought exclusive rights for a hefty penny, wisely or otherwise, decided against publishing it. 

Tory MP Conor Burns told the Sunday Times that the story represented a grave offence to the victims of the IRA. “I also never cease to be amazed by the disordered psyche of some on the left,” he said, and more:

“Mantel’s contribution is peculiarly damaging because, while she appears so mild-mannered, her message is interpretable as a deadly one. If you don’t like your democratically elected leaders, who operate within the rule of law, you can always think about assassinating them.”

Lord Timothy Bell, a friend and former PR adviser to Thatcher, told the Sunday Times, “This is in unquestionably bad taste.” He has condemned The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher and called for the police to investigate.

What was so “damaging” in Mantel’s story that appalled the MP? Was the distinguished and indisputably clever writer so obvious and straightforward in creating her tidbit of alternative history to call for such reaction?

hilary mantelWas she?  Mantel’s story transports us back in time — although not quite as far back as her Thomas Cromwell novels — to the year 1983, August 6. In her Windsor apartment, a woman is expecting a plumber. Disguised as one, an Irish assassin shows up. He is cool and presentable. Calmly, he sets up his implements of assassination at the apartment’s window — a perfect spot to carry out his mission: to kill the Iron Lady. The view from the window overlooks the hospital entrance. Margaret Thatcher is expected to appear shortly for a minor eye surgery. Rifle on his lap, the IRA assassin waits. A woman-narrator, now a hostage, engages her intruder in conversation about politics.

Eventually, Thatcher emerges: “The bag on the arm, slung like a shield. The tailored suit… the glittering helmet of hair… like a gold coin in a gutter.”

Mantel’s protagonists become unlikely allies conspiring to kill the prime minister. The writer succeeds where terrorists failed.

Iron Lady

Hilary Mantel admitted that her story was inspired by a fantasy, a wicked reverie: At noon on Saturday, August 6, 1983, she caught a glimpse of Margaret Thatcher near her Windsor apartment, similar to the one in the story. The former Prime Minister  wandered into her view, unguarded. Mantel described how she used her finger and thumb to form a gun.  ‘Immediately your eye measures the distance, I thought, “if I wasn’t me, if I was someone else, she’d be dead”.

Hilary Mantel never had any warm feelings toward the Iron Lady, and it shows in her writing.

I thought, there’s not a tear in her… Not for the mother in the rain at the bus stop, or the sailor burning in the sea. She sleeps four hours a night. She lives on the fumes of whisky and the iron in the blood of her prey.

In an interview with The Guardian, she said Baroness Thatcher was an anti-feminist and ‘psychological transvestite’, who did ‘long-standing damage’ to the country.

Critics and readers alike agree that the remove between the story’s protagonist and the author in this narrative is all but disappears.

When asked about the backlash on BBC Radio Mantel said:

I think it would be unconscionable to say this is too dark we can’t examine it. We can’t be running away from history. We have to face it head on, because the repercussions of Mrs Thatcher’s reign have fed the nation. It is still resonating.

The writer admits that the former Prime Minister was a ‘fantastic’ character to write about about and that ‘as a citizen, I suffered from her but as a writer, I benefited.’


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