‘Winter Break’ by Hilary Mantel

The sheer literal weight of the Wolf Hall trilogy can sometimes obscure the fact that Hilary Mantel was equally at home writing punchy, short fiction such as this story. What a loss her recent death was.

‘Winter Break’ is a brisk story of a childless couple visiting an unnamed country – probably Greece, given the name of the hotel they eventually arrive at. On the way there in a taxi, they bicker and moan about each other in the way that long-term couples do, and I just want to pick out one fantastic phrase here that says so much about their relationship:

She could feel Phil’s opinions banking up behind his teeth: now that won’t do the gearbox any good, will it?

Then something very bad happens and being in a foreign country, they either don’t understand what has happened, or they do and choose to ignore it. Either way, they leave everything to their driver to deal with and as a result they are now complicit, with the final image revealing the true horror of what they have been involved in.

First published in the Guardian Review in 2010 and available to read here. Collected in Best British Short Stories 2011, Salt, 2012 and The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Fourth Estate 2014