Learning to Talk is a book that marvels, that makes you infer, come up with connections of your own to Mantel’s memoir. “Giving Up the Ghost”, and finally makes you marvel at how she connected these stories to moments from her childhood, to give us an experience like no other.
The stories in this collection are raw, precise, part memoir, part imagination, and all wonderful with sentences that flow and words that fit seamlessly. This book is about teenagers and children who are odd with their families, neighbours, the school, and the world at large. Each story laced with curiosity, cleverness, and different ways of seeing the world.
Mantel through these stories allows the reader to glimpse into her world and life growing up and yet ensures that there is some distance that is always maintained between how much she wants the reader to know and how much she does not.
Each story is about when a child’s life shifts – what moments define it – when a pet dies, when the child is lost and finds itself eventually, a teenager’s realization about what love is and how adults work in the world, and about how daughters come to view their mothers over a period. Mantel doesn’t let go of any emotion – of each sentence being in the place it must.
And in all this there are times when she draws on history to tell these stories and that’s when each one comes alive with even more exuberance and nuance. There is attention to detail, there is attention to every heartache, melancholy, and the political and personal mingle in all the specifics of time and place.
Learning to Talk is a delightful read that will stay with me for years to come. I may not recall every story but that will then be the perfect time to reread this collection.