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Archive by tag: Lamorna AshReturn
May 19, 2022

Set over one day in Dublin, this gentle, empathetic debut explores love and loss through the stories of two women

As a young woman, Virginia Woolf’s Clarissa Dalloway established a theory about the problem of knowing other people. In each interaction we have, she believed, some trace of who we are is left behind; and so to know someone, “one must seek out the people who completed them; even the places”. Perhaps we should consider their encounters with culture, too: which aspects of themselves they find (and therefore we find) within works of art, music, literature.

Pen, the teenage protagonist of Emilie Pine’s debut novel, Ruth & Pen, describes Mrs Dalloway this way: “When she’d read that book by Virginia Woolf last summer, about the man with shell shock, Pen had understood why he had jumped from the window, and she had also understood how hard it was for his wife, who could not help him.” What Pen takes from Woolf’s fourth novel is equally instructive about her own character: the fact that she alights on Septimus Warren Smith, the traumatised first world war veteran, as the text’s fulcral figure. In Septimus’s sensitivity and vulnerability, Pen sees something of herself. School can be challenging for a young person with autism: she has few friends, and requires regular timeouts from class to cope with the sensory shock that each day presents.

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Jan 06, 2022

With its highly fragmented form, this is a poignant evocation of a woman adrift in the wake of tragedy

Each page of Sara Freeman’s debut novel holds a slim paragraph, two at most. And if there are two paragraphs on one page, then these are divided by the symbol of a crescent moon, so that at no point is any section of text close to touching another. At all moments, the writing in Tides has to contend with an expanse of vacant space. The experience of reading such a novel is like travelling through a series of expertly designed studio flats. You marvel at every interior you come to: a whole unto itself, not a foot wrong in the design. But then you turn the page and enter yet another four walls, the last beginning to fade from your mind. Only at the end are you able to conceive of all these paragraphs at once, imagine a whole tower block of crafted text.

Prior to the novel’s start, Mara, the main character, underwent the tragedy of a stillbirth. After that, she could no longer endure any of the relationships that bordered that terrible experience – not with her husband, nor her brother, his wife and their new baby, who lived on the floor below her apartment, “their joy so firmly lodged beneath her grief”. And so she boards a bus that will take her far away, to an American seaside town: 2,353 inhabitants, a few shops, hostels, then the bay and the water beyond that. For much of the novel, she drifts from place to place, staying at various hostels, spending nights passed out blind drunk on the beach or with strange men – before she finds more permanent residence in the disused attic of a wine shop, where she has got herself a temporary job.

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May 14, 2021

A sensitive investigation challenges our understanding of what it means to be missing, and how it feels for those left behind

Every year in the UK 176,000 people go missing. These are the known missing. Some will make the papers, some of their faces shared so widely we feel we know them. Others, the public never hears about. Perhaps they are not young enough, white enough, photogenic enough in the eyes of the press, perhaps they have mental health issues, or are children in care. Then there are the unknown missing, those who voluntarily abscond from their lives, those who are homeless, undocumented immigrants, young people who disappear for weeks at a time while ferrying drugs across county lines. In short, those whose passing out of sight never gets reported.

Such examples create a rupture in our understanding of what it means to be missing: is a person still missing if no one is looking for them, if they go missing more than once (a third of all missing person cases are repeat incidents), if they want to remain gone? At once, the term becomes less clear cut. This is journalist Francisco Garcia’s intention: to interrogate our conception of missing persons, hoping that, by its end, they will no longer be considered “an abstraction” but an inevitable part of contemporary society, operating at the peripheries of all our lives.

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Apr 01, 2021

A prizewinning teacher makes clear how little government understands about what goes on in schools

At the start of March Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, called for a “transformative” reform of the schools system in the wake of the pandemic, involving the introduction of a five-term year and longer days to ensure children catch up with their studies. Williamson compared the scope of his “radical” reform to RA Butler’s Education Act of 1944, which had the ambitious aim of abolishing childhood inequality by providing free secondary education for all. Butler’s introduction of the 11-plus exam and tripartite system of secondary schools – grammar, secondary modern and technical – proved controversial. Williamson’s proposals are equally problematic; head teachers have labelled them “chaotic and confusing”.

Of the 49 individuals in government who have had control over the English schools system since 1900, only four previously taught in schools themselves. As Andria Zafirakou, the winner of the 2018 Global Teacher prize, expresses it: “The people who sit in 10 Downing Street are like gods to us teachers.” That’s to say, they seem so remote, their actions so unintelligible to those who actually work within schools that they might as well be gazing down from Mount Olympus, arbitrarily firing lightning bolts on to asphalt playgrounds.

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