Terry Castle at The New York Times:
Plot — in the ordinary sense — is frequently subordinated to dialogue in Mantel: In fact, as in an Ivy Compton-Burnett novel, the dialogue seems almost to become the plot. Two ill-assorted characters — again, usually a man and woman who have never met before — bicker with each other from within some new and unanticipated intimacy. However obscurely, both seem to want something from the other. Yet the male figure does little but boast and prevaricate and subtly threaten; the woman seems mostly alienated, a bit mad even, and only becomes more so. (It’s not clear, by the way, that eros ever has anything to do with these Beckett-like exchanges.) Conversations thus peter out into muffled strings of cliché and nonsense; loony-bin theories go unchallenged; and, by the story’s end, one fears the worst. Dialogue itself can be suborned, sometimes by death. In “The Long QT” — in which a wife comes unexpectedly into her kitchen during a noisy party to find her husband in a clinch with a buxom and brainless woman named Lorraine (“It’s sad to be called after a quiche”) — instant personal extinction is simply a matter of walking from one room into another.
But, most important, all of Mantel’s stories share a similar design on the reader. One gets the feeling she wants both to frighten us (at times more than a little) and make us laugh. She likes to take us for an eerie spin and then leave us, to grimace and be gay, by the side of a road somewhere.