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…

I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus

Dear Ottessa, The protagonist of your novel Eileen (2015) is one of the strangest yet most endearing literary misfits who have crossed my reading paths in recent years. The story is told in first-person narration, by the eponymous narrator, Eileen Dunlop, who is telling us, from the point of view of 50 years in the…

She looks at him and feels happy, but the happiness is heavy

Dear Mary, Each of the women who inhabit your new collection of stories, Always Happy Hour (2017), is different in her own small way – and yet all of them seem to merge into each other in the end. Most of the stories are told in first-person narration by a woman in her late-twenties or…

There you go again, narrating through a prism of pain

Dear Tatiana, Your novel The House in Smyrna (tr. Alison Entrekin, 2015; originally published in Portuguese in 2007) was a puzzling read for me. And not a confortable one – which, I may add, I generally take as a good reading experience, like a cup of strong coffee, served without sugar and very hot, and drunk…

wade/ through black jade/of the crow-blue mussel-shells

Dear Adriana, As in your previous books, Crow Blue (2013, tr. Alison Entrekin, originally published in Portuguese in 2010) also depicts  a journey, through which the protagonists – unable to move beyond painful events in the past – are led to undertake some kind of personal rite of passage. After losing her mother at the age…

Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition

Dear Anne, I was unsure whether I should read Vinegar Girl (2016), the latest book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series. “The Taming of the Shrew” is a challenging play, and retelling it in the 21st century could either be an invigorating endeavor or, most probably, a pitiful trap. In Shakespeare’s play, a wealthy Italian man,  Baptista…

Calling into empty rooms

Dear Emma, Your most recent novel, Modern Lovers (2016), peopled with aging hipsters and angsty teenagers, makes for a breezy summer read. The novel is set in Brooklyn and centers around two middle age couples and their teenage kids’ summer affair. Back in the 80’s, when Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe were at university, they formed…

There was so much to destroy

Dear Emma, Your fictionalization of the Manson murders, “The Girls” (2016), is a quite strong debut novel about coming of age within a structure of gender exploitation and neglect. The story is told in retrospect by Evie Boyd, now a middle-aged woman who is out of work, living in her friend’s house. When Julian, the…

The line of light marking the bottom of the locked door

Dear Lori, Your short-story collection The Bigness of the World (2009, 2016) followed me throughout a very pleasant trip by bike I made last May.  I confess it was somewhat strange to be reading about your wandering characters, while I was myself wandering through some small towns in Germany. There is a pervasive melancholy in each…