“In Hilary Mantel's macabre and darkly entertaining spook story, the afterlife is no "Far Better Place". It's just like life, only the banality never ends, and the Dead are just as trivial, brutal, stupid and cruel as they were when they were alive. They wander the earth, carping about old grievances, a ghostly version of the Homeless, and Alison, Mantel's extremely sympathetic heroine, hasn't a moment's peace. For she happens to be an authentic psychic medium: kind-hearted, obese, scarred inside and out, eking out a living doing readings at psychic fairs, and (quite literally) haunted by personal demons. As we follow Alison’s nomadic life traveling from venue to seedy venue in the bleak wasteland of English suburbia, we gradually become aware that there is no real difference between life and the beyond – there is only Nowhere, and both the living and the dead inhabit it.
The spectral gang of criminal low-lifes who bedevil Alison day and night are so vividly drawn, so crackling with verbal energy, Cockney humor and malignant evil, that the Living pale in comparison, and they threaten to purloin the novel itself. Mantel’s weird mixture of the tedium of day-to-day existence with the goose-fleshy thrill of the uncanny is completely convincing, but risky: the novel feels a bit lacking in narrative drive, meandering into some extremely interesting places but with only the vaguest sense of direction. Still, the author is up to something wonderfully original, and as Alison finally struggles to free herself from the ghosts of her horrific childhood, Mantel cleverly manages to transform that cliché into a metaphor rich and strange. It’s creepy fun of an extremely dark variety.