Giving Up The Ghost

Sunday Blog 104 – 1st October 2023

While I was away on holiday, I took two actual physical books. One of them was a copy of Hilary Mantel’s Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir, which details her struggle with endometriosis. I was too mean to lend it to my husband after he finished his one and only book, and I was rewarded with my selfishness by leaving it behind in one of my hotel rooms – possibly in Ljubljana. I had to buy the kindle version as I need to have a copy about me. It’s a slim book by her standards, but packs such a punch. 

Just like last year’s European trip, I thought of Hilary often. In 2022, I was obsessed by her writer’s advice on finding just Two Golden Hours every day (see image). It was my daily writing holiday mantra. And then, just like that, she died. The Two Golden Hours became an important tribute to this author, who clearly had many more books in her. The least I could do was to tap away for two hours while I still can.

Hilary was the very first author I saw appear on Zoom rather than in person at a writers festival. This was well before Covid, when online appearances were unusual, especially for keynote speakers. At the time, I was slightly miffed, but got lost in the richness of her responses in the interview and felt she was in the room. Her health status was mentioned as a reason for not putting herself through the long haul flight ordeal to come to Perth in person. Reading her beautiful memoir, it’s clear life handed her an exhausting laundry list of health issues which she eventually succumbed to at only seventy. 

Giving Up the Ghost made me think of all the women who struggle with this hideous, often misdiagnosed ailment. As she says;

Endometriosis is a gynaecological condition with a dazzling variety of systemic effects. It is not rare, though mercifully it is rare for the disease to run on, unrecognised, for as long as it did in me…It is always hard to diagnose, for a doctor who doesn’t listen and doesn’t look. It is comparatively easy if you are the patient, and get into your hands good textbook with a comprehensive account of its effects.

Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir, page 145.

Today is one year on from Hilary’s death, and I wanted to write a little blog in tribute to her, and to plug this wonderfully sensitive memoir.

The ghost she’s giving up on is the daughter Catriona who she would never have due to endometriosis-induced infertility. Here’s to her Two Golden Hours she made such good use of-and a toast to Catriona, the daughter she never got to have.

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