Nostalgia was like a vine, strangling her, sickly scented

Review: The Flesh of the Peach, by Helen McClorey

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Look at the colour of it

Dear Ali, It takes us only a few paragraphs of Autumn (2016) to recognize your characteristic marks: experimental writing; a collage of literary references; a narrative propelled through voice and voice alone; a narrative that mingles past and present, as if they were one thing, happening at once; and, finally, the creative reframing of contemporary…

She sensed a scream beneath the silence,

Review: The Beautiful Bureaucrat, by Helen Phillips

Dear Helen,

It is difficult to pin down your novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat (2015): a dystopia that reads like a thriller with brief incursions into horror, literary modernism and satire? It’s hard to say. But, by trying too much, and rushing to the tidy end, it might have fallen short of being great in any of these categories.

We are more porous than we know

Dear Emily, Although centred around a murder, your debut novel Idaho (2017) does not revolve around the questions of who might have done it or why; yours is much more a book about atmosphere; a collection of first impressions and lost tracks, crossed through by the motif of loss. In the middle of summer, on…

The girl is a peasant warrior

Dear Xiaolu, Your book Nine Continents (2017, also published in the UK with the title Once Upon A Time in the East: A Story of Growing up) is less a memoir than a collection of your personal myths. And it is a book about the transformative nature of art; about art as a means to escape,…

She sounded like a killing wind

Dear Sarah, In your debut novel See What I Have Done (2017), we are brought inside the dysfunctional household of the Border family, only to be trapped, along with the characters, in a suffocating atmosphere of sweat, sweltering heat, mutilated pigeons, rotten food, a plate of leftovers, and ripening fruit. It’s claustrophobic. It’s salty, dirty,…

From now on I shall only wear white,

Dear Nuala, Sometimes I feel that your novel Miss Emily (2015) is haunted by the ghost of something – a bird? – it distractedly let slip out of its realm of possibilities. It centers around the relationship between the 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson and a fictional Irish housemaid named Ada Concannon. The story is set…

And the book had broken right open

Dear Ali, Your most recent collection of short stories, framed around the massive closures of public libraries in the UK, borrows its core from the very idea of borrowing. Each of the 12 stories in this collection can be read as an exploration of what we borrow from what we read. Each story lends us something –…

This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine

Dear Margaret, You ingeniously managed to fulfill the task of writing a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest – and, most importantly, you did it precisely by escaping from this task, taking it to its limits, with the help of some tricks of theatrical illusion. Hag-Seed (2016) is, at the same time, an attempt at…

Pain never belonged to just one of us

Dear Affinity, As the title of your novel suggests, Mischling (2016) is an hybrid: revenge and forgiveness; horror and wonder; hope and despair – these opposites mingle here, escaping their entrapment in any fixed classification, and become one and the same formless thing. The novel’s background is Josef Mengele’s “Zoo” – Barrack 14 of Camp…