With a misleading title and having the distinction of being the winner of the 1996 Hawthornden Prize, An Experiment in Love is a novel by Hilary Mantel that is nothing what I expected it to be. Promising romance tales and an experience in love like none other (judging by the title), the only aspect of love I could find while reading the book was in the companionship that the girls displayed in their hostel.

First published in 1995, the novel felt a bit auto-biographical. Written in a first person narrative, it tells the story of Carmel McBain who comes from a poor Catholic family in northern England – just like Mantel. She has come to attend a law college in London- another similarity between the protagonist and the author. Even the year in which the character attended college – 1970 – is the same time when Mantel did.

Carmel is being pushed into academic success by her mother and is forced to study law. This single sentence speaks a lot about her personality: ”I wanted to separate myself from the common fate of girls who are called Carmel,” she tells us, ”and identify myself with girls with casual names, names which their parents didn’t think about too hard.”There she meets Karina and Julianne, two friends who she’d grow close to while staying at the residence. The story begins with hope and happiness, but as it progresses one can detect many shades of tragedy and several instances of growing up.

Pages within this book have flashes of feminism, social satire, protests and sprinkles of religion here and there. Despite all this, I was left with several unanswered questions at the end of the read. What happened to Carmel and Karina after the horrible incident? …and that bugged me to no end. However, I realized that the ending was left for us to imagine and revel in. This was the first book by Hilary Mantel that I have read and was a fine read for me. The plot held little interest for me, but the fact that I could identify myself with the situations at hand in the book made it worth my time.


Author: Hilary Mantel|  Format: Paperback |Published by: Picador