Jul 01, 2022
An investigation into sibling dynamics, mental illness and intergenerational trauma, written with unusual clarity and wit
Rebecca Wait’s new novel invites inevitable comparisons to Meg Mason’s runaway success Sorrow and Bliss. Both are about a pair of sisters; both grapple with madness, mad women and intergenerational trauma. Both are actively funny – because of, rather than in spite of, their subject matter. And both are sharp and wry, written with a clever and unusual clarity. To fail to make the connection would be to miss the obvious – and yet both books rather suffer in the comparison. To dwell too hard on the similarities renders them a blur of high emotions and waspish comments, one a little more composed, the other a little more immediate, demanding a favourite where no favourites need be played. Much, you could say, like sisters.
At the opening of I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, Alice and Hanna are twins in their early 20s whose mother, Celia, has spent her life in the kind of seriously troubled mental state that can pass under the radar of everyone but her children. They are all attending the funeral of Celia’s older sister, whose schizophrenia dominated Celia’s early life. This funeral functions as a family reunion: Hanna has not spoken to Celia, Alice or their brother Michael in several years. Some kind of dramatic rift has occurred between them, and it is this, and the healing of it – or not – that drives the plot. Continue reading...
Apr 12, 2022
The poet’s fiction debut vividly explores heartbreak, paranoia and the difficult work of being human
If it’s true that in order to create something universal, you must pay very great attention to the specific, then with his fiction debut poet Keiran Goddard has written something like the universal love story. Written entirely in a kind of verse – by which I mean, a line break between almost every sentence – the three-part narrative goes like this: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets over it. Sort of. Both characters are unnamed.
The narrator, a sometime essayist working a series of dead-end jobs, meets an editor. She has written four slim publications about Restoration drama (“smart people call short books slim books”). They fall in love; and she, at least, falls out of it. The plot is everyone’s plot, at some time or another – and that in itself is the heartbreaking thing about heartbreak. No pain is unique, and all pain is unique. This is the paradox that powers Hourglass. I have rarely read a book that captures so succinctly the way that all lovers must (at least a little bit) believe they are the only people to ever feel this feeling, and the way that that is (at least a little bit) true. Continue reading...
Jun 24, 2021
The power of storytelling is explored in this finely crafted tale of three generations of women
Esther Freud’s ninth novel is about mothers, daughters and secrets, telling the story of three generations of women: the men they love and the choices they make. There’s Aoife, in contemporary Cork, who relates to her dying husband Cashel the story of their long marriage; pregnant Rosaleen in 60s London, in love with bohemian sculptor Felix; Kate, an artist 30 years later, with a difficult partner, a small daughter and a desperate desire to know where she has come from.
“Detach with love,” someone advises Kate, late on, which is a necessary counterweight in this novel about attachments. Kate is adopted, and it is her adoption that drives the narrative. Though written in three timelines – each mostly compelling in their own right – this is Kate’s story. But to what extent are our stories ever our own? Continue reading...
Feb 27, 2021
The end may now be in sight, but there are still frustrating months ahead. From new recipes to letter writing and Lego, writers including Matt Haig and Philippa Perry share their strategies
I always think it is interesting that arguably the most hopeful song of the 20th century – “Over the Rainbow” – arrived in arguably its darkest year. The Wizard of Oz, adapted from L Frank Baum’s novel, opened in cinemas on 25 August 1939, the day Hitler sent a telegram to Mussolini to tell him he was about to invade Poland. Within a week, the second world war was under way in Europe. Continue reading...