the short story project

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

Nir Baram On:

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

Two things stand out in Hilary Mantel’s intriguing story that describes the moment before the assassination of Margaret Thatcher (belonging to the alternate history genre whose more grandiose examples include novels like The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick that envisages a world in which the Nazis have won). First, the attitude towards Thatcher. It is, on one side, imbued with the familiar and somewhat condescending hatred the Left has for her – the daughter of a shopkeeper, a supposed “class traitor” who became w worshiper of the rich; “The way she boasts about her dad the grocer… but you know she would change it all if she could, and be born to rich people”. On the other side, it involves an adoration of Thatcher’s power, of her manner; the allure of a bitter enemy who we secretly want to get close to, whom we obsess about. Second, the use of violence. The contradiction between the story’s measured movement, the descriptions and long dialogues, and the political question at its core – the question of violence in the democratic game – are what give the story its force. For the violence is not actually present in the book. Instead, it hovers above it as a future moment that will take place, charging every political dialogue with explosive power. The deliberations are not the main thing. Why? Because actions are what count. The decision to use violence has already been made. And this is the story’s real strength: it confronts the reader with people who have already made a choice. This is not another story about anguished moral predicaments but about characters that have selected violence as a political option. The journey with them in light of this recognition becomes more and more fascinating as the story evolves, the reader gradually realizing that he’s the only one holding the political-hypothetical debate, as it doesn’t especially interest the characters. This fact significantly weakens the familiar deliberation, making it almost ludicrous and eventually nullifying it when conflicted with the power of action – the story’s true protagonist – a move which bestows the story with its full strength.