Photograph by Murdo MacLeod for The Guardian
Hilary Mantel hits back at critics of her Thatcher assassination short story
Author says it would be ‘unconscionable’ to regard such a fictional account as off-limits, as some Tory MPs and rightwing commentators suggest
Monday 22 September 2014 11.39 BST
The author Hilary Mantel has delivered a defiant response to criticism from Tory MPs and rightwing commentators of her imagined account of the killing of Margaret Thatcher by an IRA sniper.
Mantel’s new short story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983, prompted outrage after it was published online by the Guardian on Friday.
Mantel, who had anticipated a backlash against the story, said on Monday it would be “unconscionable” to regard such a fictional account as off-limits, as her critics have suggested.
The Daily Telegraph had refused to publish the story even after it paid a substantial sum to secure the exclusive rights.
Tory MP Conor Burns told the Sunday Times that the story represented a grave offence to the victims of the IRA. “I also never cease to be amazed by the disordered psyche of some on the left,” he said.
Fellow Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries told the Daily Mail she was “gutted”because she was such a fan of Mantel’s writing. “It is shocking as it is so close [to Margaret Thatcher’s death] and she still has living family and children. It is about a character whose demise is so recent,” she said.
Mail columnist Stephen Glover dismissed the story as “dangerous nonsense”. Writing on Monday he said: “What I object to is not Hilary Mantel’s detestation of Thatcher, warped though I believe it to be. It is the suggestion that she could, and should, have been bumped off as though she were some deranged South American dictator …
“Mantel’s contribution is peculiarly damaging because, while she appears so mild-mannered, her message is interpretable as a deadly one. If you don’t like your democratically elected leaders, who operate within the rule of law, you can always think about assassinating them.”
Mantel was asked about the criticism on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week programme on Monday. She said: “I think it would be unconscionable to say this is too dark we can’t examine it. We can’t be running away from history. We have to face it head on, because the repercussions of Mrs Thatcher’s reign have fed the nation. It is still resonating.
“Whatever your view of her she was a shaper of history.”
Mantel said her story was an examination of why Thatcher “aroused such visceral passion in so many people”.
She added: “The two people [in the story] who are looking down at her from the window both agree on the desirability and propriety of the desirability of shooting her there and then, but they have to argue about the reason for doing it while taking tea together. I did want to examine that interface between politics and personality which is so marked in her case. She is a marvellous person to put into fiction because of the contradictions that run straight through her personality. You always feel she was a walking argument.”
The row comes after Mantel was criticised last year in similar sections of the press for describing the Duchess of Cambridge as a “plastic princess born to breed” in a lecture on “Royal Bodies”.