Constellations is one of those non-fiction books whose phrasing is so eloquent you feel like you’ve fallen into the consciousness of the writer in a way that most often happens in fiction. We can inhabit the world of Sinéad Gleeson in the same way we might inhabit a Marie Darrieussecq character or Madame Bovary. This kind of writing feels as if it crosses over with the trend for autofiction, grips in a way that Machado’s In The Dream House does. It feels fresh, honest and erudite.
The title reflects the telling of Gleeson’s life. We are treated to different essays that map out different aspects of her experience as she explores illness and pain, love, motherhood, grief and more. There is a clear feminism, a politics that she herself seems surprised is there, reminding us of how our bodies define the way we move through the world.
Sisters opens with a return to an old house owned and rented out by an aunt. The family only seem to go to this house when something is wrong, when they need to retreat from the world and something significant did happen in March, in Oxford. We’re just not sure what.
As the narrative progresses we feel a growing sense of unease. September, the older sister, is manipulative, just like her father had been. He died long ago but he was born in this house and his presence remains, lingering in the sight of his abandoned binoculars.
I opened this novel looking for light relief. Ah, Jasper Fforde is funny, I thought. This will be a space to escape from the crazy days we’re living in. And yes, in some ways, it is. Imagining a world in which spontaneous Events create anthropomorphised animals – elephants in Africa, kangaroos in Australia, foxes, weasels, and crucially rabbits in the UK. The animals tend to grow into more humanoid physical forms and be able to communicate in human languages as well as their own.
After one such event in England, the United Kingdom now lives in a state of political turmoil due to the rapidly growing rabbit population. With such fast breeding times, an entirely different religious and social system, the rabbits, once miracles, are now seen as a threat and treated as invaders who steal jobs, land, and traditional values. The UK Anti-Rabbit Party is the main government party and there is a special Rabbit Compliance Taskforce. Sound familiar?
Although the novel brings us to the brink of the Millennium, The Vanishing Half feels like a mythical tale. Two identical pale twins of African-American heritage live in a town called Mallard in Louisiana. Mallard is a town established and built only for those African-Americans with the fairest of skins. They don’t want anyone darker skinned living in their town or marrying into their families.
The pale twins, Desiree and Stella watch their father being lynched and killed by white men when they are still only very young. This violence, without them realising it, seems to push them in different directions and whilst they flee Mallard together they do it for very different reasons.