Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt

Salesman Joe wants to be a success. He’s sold encyclopaedias and he starts to sell vacuum cleaners, but all he manages to get are slices of pie rather than sales so he holes up in his trailer and spends the day fantasising about having sex with a woman who is only naked from the waist down. As she continues to appear unaffected from the front, going about her daily business, Joe pounds away from behind, her face a mask of propriety, the hidden parts of her body given over to his desire. Continue reading

The Complex by Michael Walters


The most compelling thing about The Complex is the atmosphere it creates: it’s as if the characters have been placed in a magical patch of land cut off from the world by a thick blanket of fog. The Hunter family, husband Leo, mother Gabrielle and son Stefan, have been invited to stay at a remote house as a kind of spring retreat by Gabrielle’s new client Art Fisher who will also have his family with him. The house is a modernised stately home with a swimming pool, huge glass walls, a lush garden whose produce is unseasonably ripe, a maze, a surrounding forest, and an underground network of rooms that hold not only a vast library, but something darker, some deeper concrete bunker like network that feels both real and surreal as its architecture is mapped onto a virtual reality game Art’s daughter, Fleur, thinks she is developing without her father’s knowledge. Continue reading

Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz

I deliberately read this novel slowly. Easily devoured in a few hours, if this is the kind of writing you like, you don’t want it to end. Reading Die, My Love was like finding a voice you’ve heard calling at a distance out walking somewhere, in woods or at a crowded beach. It’s a voice that feels both deeply familiar and painfully new. It’s raw and wild and angry and filled with a passion and desire that is both recognisable and selfish. It is a voice that speaks what many dare not. Continue reading

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

The fact that I’ve long wanted to read this novel and have always been a fan of stream of consciousness literature, Woolf, Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake, river run, on and, the water cycle, doesn’t detract from the fact that reading it takes a lot more concentration than the thinking it represents, brand, identity, big concept, Heinz, Booker, Baileys, drinking, drunk on listening to the sound of the thoughts of the housewife who survived cancer and now makes pies, missing her children, especially her little boy whose chubby toddler phase was lost to her, to her illness, to the cancer, the cells splitting and reproducing in naughty, naughty ways like her DNA was having a tantrum ♪We plough the fields and scatter♪ shows the fact that I, like her, am no longer in the prime of life, no longer as actively angry and filled with belief that I can change anything, the fact that I want a book that not only tangles and mesmerises me with its words, with its poetry, Darrieusecq, why are the Europeans so much better at that kind of fiction? Ariana Harwicz, but also picks me up and lifts me on a journey that I can slip in and out of as I leave the house on the school run or answer an email so the fact that I am reading at all becomes a miracle of time management, of priorities, and the incredibly long sentences of this very clever and diverting book with their interrupting sections about the story of a mountain lion are hard to read piecemeal, regardless of its cleverness, regardless of the messages it wishes to send about the way we live and think today, makes for a novel that I don’t find easy to read but the fact that I appreciate it anyway and am glad such literature has a place among the modern shelf makes this wonderful flood of thought a novel to celebrate ♪the good seed on the land♪ and work hard to harvest the fruit of journeying into another mind added to the fact that it was rejected by the establishment and published by an independent press, the wonderful independent Galley Beggar Press.

I’m reviewing Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz next. Can’t wait to review that one. I won’t be doing it in the style of the novel though, unlike this one (just too hard to resist, even though it’s been done before).

The Faculty of Indifference by Guy Ware

Robert Exley works at the Faculty, a counter-terrorism branch of government in which his father also served. His wife, once a member of the Faculty herself and a supposedly more promising one, is dead. She was hit by a bus years ago and Robert lives with their son, Stephen, who asks him every night how his day was – ‘If I told you I’d have to kill you’ being the standard response – and who writes a diary in code on his mother’s old typewriter, leaving the pages temptingly on display for Robert to decode. This diary is the only way in which Stephen ever fully communicates with his father – assuming he wanted his father to read it all along, for the novel makes it clear, nothing should be assumed.

Divided into two halves, the four or five years before he meets a prisoner in the basement, and four or five years later when he does, the novel is also divided into before Stephen goes to university and when he returns. In the first section we hear Stephen’s imagined telling of his grandfather’s life as a beacon keeper. For his diary morphs into a fictionalised biography rather than a daily account of his life. This telling is somehow implicated in a particular case Robert is handed by a colleague that leads to the incarceration of that prisoner in the basement. Continue reading

Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth

The third novel from the author of the critically acclaimed novel and film, Animals, I came to the novel through chatter on twitter. Oh, I thought, people are saying some great things about this book, I’d love to read it. 

I haven’t read Animals or seen the film so I’m probably quite a rare reader of this novel, coming with fresh eyes, though I suspect, from reading a review of the film, that Animals has a similar approach to Adults, one that looks at its female characters not in terms of likeability but in terms of verisimilitude, warts and all. Continue reading

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Alongside many, I was eagerly awaiting The Testaments. I had it on pre-order and dragged it from the packaging with delight. How was Margaret Atwood going to take The Handmaid’s Tale further? Would it reference the television programme that extended the original novel? What more could be said by June?

Once again, Margaret Atwood showed what a fantastic storyteller she is by choosing a story that could be read on many levels. You could read The Testaments without reading The Handmaid’s Tale; I suspect it would stand as a novel on its own. Similarly you could definitely read The Testaments without having seen the television series. However, there is a greater richness to the story when you can hold them all together. There is something very interesting about this idea of using multiple media to expand and enhance a world. It is not new, of course, but it does provoke interesting opportunities for the writer whose skills are pushed in new directions. It can’t have been possible to write this novel in isolation from the response to the original novel and then the television series. How do you write something new on a subject so many see themselves as being experts in? Continue reading

Sealed by Naomi Booth

Everything I’ve read about Sealed doesn’t really do it justice. Though the story is horrifying and gory with a great deal of menace; though there is an interest in what it means to be a parent when facing difficult times; it is also more than a young parent’s ecological horror story. This is more than the usual gore of birth, toil, poverty and death. It’s about things turning on themselves, about judgements and decisions that come in the face of a world changed by our use of it. Not only a world changed, but our bodies changed.

Cutis, a skin disease where our largest organ grows more than it needs to, sealing over the important orifices like mouths, nostrils, ear canals and anuses, is spreading. Thin stretchy white tendrils seem to form overnight, suffocating, poisoning, deafening, maiming. A disease only the richest can afford to fix, a disease whose spread governments are keen to conceal, where ‘natural causes’ like heart-attack (from panic), or obstructed bowel etc. hide the spread of cutis, leaves Alice, a pregnant housing officer whose mother has recently died from cutis, obsessed by the reality of the disease. Though Alice and her partner Pete attempt to escape Alice’s fears of this disease by moving out into the country, way out to a remote mountain house near the forest, the sense of menace never leaves them and all Alice’s promises to put her obsession behind her are forgotten in the face of an epidemic that no one seems able to escape. Continue reading