This novel is both horrifying and maliciously funny. Alison –Al- Hart, overweight medium, is making a good living, giving private readings and doing psychic fairs, but is always alone- at least, where living people are concerned. She can never escape from the dead, who follow her and bother her constantly. And here’s the thing: people don’t get any smarter or nicer when they die. They don’t undergo any spiritual awakening. If they were nasty and mean in life, that’s how they are in death. Al, survivor of a horrific childhood of poverty and abuse, finds she has an old childhood tormentor as her spirit guide. He swears, drinks, gropes women, and sits around masturbating. Only Al can see him, but that’s bad enough.
When fate brings bitter, recently divorced Colette her way, Al hires her as a manager/partner. Colette takes charge of Al’s finances and schedule, and they find themselves enjoying a moderate success. Al jumps at her chance to live in a place where no one has lived before, where she hopes she will encounter no spirits. But life cannot be nice for Al; nastiness follows her even into a newly built subdivision (which has its own special brand of horror). Even though she tries to do good things and think good thoughts, she is tainted by her past. She attracts badness to herself; she must come to terms with her past to rid herself of it.
The book is brilliant, and very dark. Mantel’s wit cuts like a knife through the middle class, the lowest of the lower class, the way heavy people are treated, real estate developers and New Age believers. This is not a cheery type of funny book; the title tells us how black the humor is. This is very unlike Mantel’s Cromwell books, and just as good in its own way.