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How Shall I Know You?

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год

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      How Shall I Know You?
Hilary Mantel

An unforgettable, unnerving short story about a writer’s life from one of today’s greatest writers – extracted from her upcoming collection, THE ASSASSINATION OF MARGARET THATCHER.“One summer at the fag-end of the nineties, I had to go out of London to talk to a literary society, of the sort that must have been old-fashioned when the previous century closed. When the day came, I wondered why I’d agreed to it; but yes is easier than no, and of course when you make a promise you think the time will never arrive …”‘How Shall I Know You’ is as unsettling and hauntingly written as we have come to expect from Hilary Mantel, one of Britain’s most accomplished, acclaimed and garlanded writers. It invites us into the usually hidden recesses of a writer’s life, into her hotel rooms, handbags, frustrations, desires, and darkest imaginings.This story is also available in the collection ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’.


Copyright (#u5aecaeec-f09c-5552-b19c-14babd4e89a9)

This eBook single first published in Great Britain in 2014 by

Fourth Estate

An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers

77–85 Fulham Palace Road,

Hammersmith, London W6 8JB

4thestate.co.uk (http://4thestate.co.uk)

Copyright © Tertius Enterprises 2014

The right of Hilary Mantel to be identified as the author

of this work has been asseted by her in accordance

with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988

A catalogue record of this book is

available from the British Library

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

Ebook Edition © August 2014 ISBN: 9780008113445

Also available as part of a collection in HB ISBN: 9780007580972

and eBook ISBN: 9780007580989

Version 2014-08-06


Cover (#u876428ae-0801-5dfe-9bda-da2fbdffa7f8)

Title Page (#u04c16c04-8a62-5505-876d-30018a1275dd)

Copyright (#ulink_fe0f73c0-99ed-537d-8e9f-8c83bca33f9a)

How Shall I Know You? (#ulink_82c91b1d-ada4-5409-ad80-433a8075b50d)

A Note on the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

Read On (#litres_trial_promo)

Also by Hilary Mantel (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)

How Shall I Know You? (#u5aecaeec-f09c-5552-b19c-14babd4e89a9)

One summer at the fag-end of the nineties, I had to go out of London to talk to a literary society, of the sort that must have been old-fashioned when the previous century closed. When the day came, I wondered why I’d agreed to it; but yes is easier than no, and of course when you make a promise you think the time will never arrive: that there will be a nuclear holocaust, or something else diverting. Besides, I had a sentimental yearning for the days of self-improvement; they were founded, these reading clubs, by master drapers and their shop-girl wives; by poetasting engineers, and uxorious physicians with long winter evenings to pass. Who keeps them going these days?

I was leading at the time an itinerant life, struggling with the biography of a subject I’d come to dislike. For two or three years I’d been trapped into a thankless cycle of picking up after myself, gathering in what I’d already gathered, feeding it on to computer disks which periodically erased themselves in the night. And I was for ever on the move with my card indexes and my paperclips, and my cheap notebooks with their porous, blotchy pages. It was easy to lose these books, and I left them in black cabs or in the overhead racks of trains, or swept them away with bundles of unread newspapers from the weekends. Sometimes it seemed I’d be for ever compelled to retrace my own steps, between Euston Road and the newspaper collections, which in those days were still in Colindale; between the rain-soaked Dublin suburb where my subject had first seen the light and the northern manufacturing town where – ten years after he ceased to be use or ornament – he cut his throat in a bathroom of a railway hotel. ‘Accident’, the coroner said, but there’s a strong suspicion of a cover-up; for a man with a full beard, he must have been shaving very energetically.

I was lost and drifting that year, I don’t deny it. And as my bag was always packed, there was no reason to turn down the literary society. They would ask me, they said, to give their members a snappy summary of my researches, to refer briefly to my three short early novels, and then answer questions from the floor: after which, they said, there would be a Vote of Thanks. (I found the capitals unsettling.) They would offer a modest fee – they said it – and lodge me for bed and breakfast at Rosemount, which was quietly situated, and of which, they said enticingly, I would find a photograph enclosed.

This photograph came in the secretary’s first letter, double-spaced on small blue paper, produced by a typewriter with a jumping ‘h’. I took Rosemount to the light and looked at it. There was a suspicion of a Tudor gable, a bay window, a Virginia creeper – but the overall impression was of blurring, a running of pigment and a greasiness at the edges, as if Rosemount might be one of those ghost-houses which sometimes appear at a bend in the road, only to melt away as the traveller limps up the path.

So I was not surprised when another blue letter came, hiccupping in the same way, to say that Rosemount was closing for refurbishments and they would be obliged to use Eccles House, convenient for the venue and they understood quite reputable. Again, they enclosed a photograph: Eccles House was part of a long white terrace, four storeys high, with two surprised attic windows. I was touched that they felt they ought to illustrate the accommodation in this way. I never cared where I stayed as long as it was clean and warm. I had often, of course, stayed in places that were neither. The winter before there had been a guesthouse in a suburb of Leicester, with a smell so repellent that when I woke at dawn I was unable to stay in my room for longer than it took me to dress, and I found myself, long before anyone else was awake, setting my booted feet on the slick wet pavements, tramping mile after mile down rows of semi-detached houses of blackening pebbledash, where the dustbins had wheels but the cars were stacked on bricks; where I turned at the end of each street, and crossed, and retrod my tracks, while behind thin curtains East Midlanders turned and muttered in their sleep, a hundred and a hundred then a hundred couples more.

In Madrid, by contrast, my publishers had put me in a hotel suite, which consisted of four small dark panelled rooms. They had sent me an opulent, unwieldy, scented bouquet, great wheels of flowers with woody stems. The concierge brought me heavy vases of a greyish glass, slippery in my hands, and I edged them freighted with blooms on to every polished surface; I stumbled from room to room, coffined against the brown panelling, forlorn, strange, under a pall of pollen, like a person trying to break out from her own funeral. And in Berlin, the desk clerk had handed me a key with the words ‘I hope your nerves are strong.’

The week before the engagement, my health was not good. There was a continuous airy shimmer in my field of vision, just to the left of my head, as if an angel were trying to appear. My appetite failed, and my dreams took me to strange waterfronts and ships’ bridges, on queasy currents and strange washes of the tide. As a biographer I was more than usually inefficient; in untangling my subject’s accursed genealogy I mixed up Aunt Virginie with the one who married the Mexican, and spent a whole hour with a churning stomach, thinking that all my dates were wrong and believing that my whole Chapter Two would have to be reworked. The day before I was due to travel east I simply gave up on the whole enterprise, and lay on my bed with my eyes shut tight. I felt – not so much a melancholy, as a kind of general insufficiency. I seemed to be pining for those three short early novels, and their brittle personnel. I felt a wish to be fictionalised.

My journey was uneventful. Mr Simister, the secretary, met me at the station. How shall I know you? he had said on the telephone. Do you look like the photograph on your book jackets? Authors, I find, seldom do. He giggled after saying this, as if it were edgy wit of a high order. I had considered: a short pause on the line had made him ask, Still there? I am the same, I said. They are not a bad likeness, only I am older now, of course, thinner in the face, my hair is much shorter and a different colour, and I seldom smile in quite that way. I see, he said.

‘Mr Simister,’ I asked, ‘how shall I know you?’

I knew him by his harassed frown, and the copy of my first novel, A Spoiler at Noonday, which he held across his heart. He was buttoned into an overcoat; we were in June, and it had turned wintry. I had expected him to hiccup, like his typewriter.

‘I think we shall have a wet one of it,’ he said, as he led me to his car. It took me a little time to work my way through this syntactical oddity. Meanwhile he creaked and ratcheted car seats, tossed a soiled evening newspaper on to the dog blanket in the back, and vaguely flapped his hand over the passenger seat as if to remove lint and dog hairs by a magic pass. ‘Don’t your members go out in the rain?’ I said, grasping his meaning at last.

‘Never know, never know,’ he replied, slamming the door and shutting me in. My head turned back, automatically, the way I had come. As, these days, my head tends to do.
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