Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Giving up the Holy Ghost

Hilary Mantel's autobiography 'Giving up the Ghost' is one of the most interesting books I have read for a long time. This is possibly one of the more mundane bits, but I have lots of friends I think will appreciate it. 

" 'When the last tear, the forerunner of my dissolution, shall drop from mine eyes, receive it as a sacrifice of expiation for my sins; grant that I may expire the victim of penance, and in that dreadful moment, Merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.' 

Note that excellent semicolon. People ask how I learned to write. That's where I learned it." 

Mantel was born in 1952; I was born in 1965, and like her brought up as a Catholic: I went to a Catholic comprehensive for my secondary years. But by that time, post-Vatican II, there was no poetry in the religion at all. I don't think I ever heard a phrase that captured my imagination. 

Possibly the beginning of John's gospel, but I remember my father (C of E) talking to our priest and being very appreciative that he'd read the older translation in mass, because the new version was so awful. At the last church service I went to, at Christmas (C of E: I was there to sing), it was misquoted, and I came home to check I'd got it right: I had. 

Even if it I'd been born early enough for the Catholic services all to be in Latin, I doubt I'd have been seduced for very long: words have always been the thing I care most about, and you can't care about words without caring about their meaning. 

I was an agnostic by thirteen years old, and an atheist by fifteen. But it would have been good to have got something out of the experience other than a huge burden of guilt. It was only a few years ago, learning about Buddhism, that I realised what a foul black stain it leaves. 

As for me, I learned my semi-colons from H G Wells, along with a hefty dose of science.

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