‘Nadine At Forty’ by Hilary Mantel

Nadine At Forty by Hilary Mantel, 1996

The magic trick:

A neat symbol for resisting the aging process

The story takes the form of witticism-punctuated vignettes, so popular at the time of its publication thanks to Lorrie Moore and other such masters of wit. And that’s fine. My lasting memory of this story will be the clocks. It’s a nifty symbol for the central theme, that of the unrelenting passage of time. The protagonist’s lover ends his seasonal visit by screwing with all of the clocks in her house. Stopping time, as it were.

And that’s quite a trick on Mantel’s part.

The selection:

When he left, in the autumn, she discovered that he had tampered with all the clocks. She hurried from room to room, incredulous. Some were running slow. Some had stopped altogether. She had to pack them in straw and take them to the town, where the man in the shop looked at her as if he judged her insane. ‘All of these?’ he asked in careful English. ‘Each one of these requires to be mended?’

‘Each one,’ she said. ‘You can see they all show different times.’

As she left the shop, the man said something to his wife, who was dusting shelves very slowly in the shadows at the back. It was something satirical that she didn’t quite catch. His attitude is ridiculous, she thought. Surely he could understand that there must be one consistent time in every room of a house?

Ah, she thought: an Anglo-Saxon attitude.

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