Elizabeth Lowry at The Guardian:
When Hilary Mantel first began to write for the London Review of Books in 1987 she warned the editor that she had “no critical training whatsoever”. “Thank goodness,” you think. What Mantel has instead are much more useful qualities: a researcher’s in-depth grasp of every topic she writes about, fearlessness, originality and robust common sense. Her wide-ranging pieces, spanning three decades, are the best kind of critical writing, rich with recondite knowledge, wearing their learning lightly.
The essays in this collection explore subjects – France’s ancien régime and the revolution, Tudor England and the court of Henry VIII, illness and the body, spiritualism and visionary experience – that the double Booker winner has made her own in her fiction and her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost (2003). What sets Mantel’s novels apart is also what sets her critical writing apart: an unerring eye for the telling detail, the clue that will unlock what she calls “the puzzle of personal identity”.