Eat, Pray, Analyse: Elizabeth Gilbert on Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and writing historical fiction that is not “Dickensian”

GilbertBased on the theory that good writers are interested in, and knowledgeable about,  other good writers and writing, The Wall Street Journal has started a new book club where a different author will each month analyse the work of a fellow-writer. This month, Elizabeth Gilbert, famous for her Eat, Pray, Love,  says that her big fear when writing her recent historical novel, The Signature of All Things, about a 19th century botanist,  was that it would feel “candlesticky.” Below she reveals what she would ask Hilary Mantel, whose Bring Up the Bodies and Wolf Hall have made her one of the world’s most admired writer of historical fiction, if she had the chance.

She’s got one foot with the fairies. This is a woman who I know pulls up an empty chair next to her and speaks to her imaginary characters and asks them to speak to her. This is a woman who has seen ghosts. This is a woman who is clearly very comfortable with the idea that there’s a world beyond this world, and she may very well have had imaginary conversations with Thomas Cromwell, but there is nothing in “Wolf Hall” that reads of the mystical or hippie dippy or froufrou. That is a book with its boots in the mud. I’m curious about that dichotomy of her being halfway on earth and halfway in the netherworld, that she can still write something that’s so ferociously of this earth. And I’d like to talk to her about those conversations she has with her characters, because I do that too.

Follow Gilbert’s in-depth analysis of Mantel’s style and narrative structure.


  1. Nellie Blliss

    Haven’t read Eat Pray Love but the film was the worst I have seen in a very long time.
    Not worth blinking.

  2. Interesting questions, I wonder if she ever gets the chance she will actually ask those. And tell us what she learned! The Signature of All Things is a world away from Eat, Pray, Love. An excellent novel in my opinion, well-researched and a compelling, informative read, that leaves the reader thinking.


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