Alice Cottrell, Publisher
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss is a slender novel that packs a big punch. The novel is narrated by seventeen-year-old Silvie, who has joined her parents and a group of students on an Iron-Age reenactment camping trip in the north of England. All the action unfolds over one hot summer week. Ghost Wall is about violence, crossed boundaries and the blurred lines between the past and the present. The writing is masterful.
In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne is an electric debut about a hard and neglected side of London. The book follows three young men living in a housing estate during a weekend of riots and heightened racial tensions. Gunaratne, who writes in idiom and dialect, has an amazing ear for language. The character’s voices leap off the page.
Cher Tan, KYD New Critic
When the world gets bleaker, what’s a person to do? Consume more, I guess. (I don’t mean ‘retail therapy’ though. ) Like how some people look to astrology for guidance, I’ve been looking back to history to try and catch glimpses of a past that may explain how we arrived at the present, or at least to find some kind of salve to assuage what I feel to be the incredibly flattened now. Flat as a pancake, ridges smoothed over.
Which is how I came across Fun (1994), a stylised remake of a true story: two troubled white teenage girls meet and become insanely besotted with each other in a small Californian town. Driven by boredom, unstable minds and the energy of their (repressed) obsessions, they go on a 24-hour delinquent rampage that ends up with the murder of an elderly woman, simply for fun. It’s a raw allegory on queer female friendship and the ways women and girls can unravel if not given space to thrive, themes I haven’t seen very often on the screen.
And words – there’s always words. I’ve just finished Buchi Emecheta’s In The Ditch (as recommended by Lucy Scholes’ wonderful Re-covered series in The Paris Review, on books which haven’t been given the recognition they deserve), a semi-autobiographical novel that shows a depth when it comes to race, class and gender that doesn’t try to be artlessly-PC. It’s clever and sharp, tackling complex intersections with grace and forthrightness, yet never overly explains things for the reader. Published in 1972, it remains as relevant today more than four decades later.
Claire Corbett, ‘Inside the Aquarium’
I was teaching a class on writing experimentally and we began by talking about Proust, Woolf and Joyce as wellsprings of modernism. I started listening to Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (Moncrieff translation), the Naxos recording. A family catastrophe has hit us since I began listening, and now I am grateful for how long and elaborate these books are; they’re not an endurance test but a haven. Only something this complex and absorbing can temporarily drive out rumination, grief and fear. I couldn’t live without audiobooks now because I can’t sleep. Christopher Hitchens said the book is much better appreciated if you’re in mid-life, if you have quite a lot of life experience behind you and I agree, since it’s about time past and reflection. It’s full of striking images, like the sky fitting into a window so that ‘its azure had the effect of being the colour of the windows and its white clouds so many flaws in the glass.’ And just when you’ve had quite enough of Marcel’s appreciation of women’s fashions at seaside regattas he hits you with a pithy and devastating observation like ‘We may talk for a lifetime without doing more than indefinitely repeat the vacuity of a minute.’ I think all of us know at least one person like that, or hope we are not that person.
I’m a scaredy-cat so I watched Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) the other night long after everyone else raved about it and then watched it all over again the next night with my family. It’s brilliant and I love its extension of The Stepford Wives. Even if you don’t like horror, watch it anyway – it’s mostly a thriller and the horror metaphor is perfect, conveying the felt experience of racism with such precision. It’s also a stinging critique of capitalism, how it turns people into zombies, as well as being funny and tense.
By the way, whatever happened to Ira Levin? He was one of the biggest horror/SF writers of the 1960s–70s with Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, The Boys From Brazil and A Kiss Before Dying. It’s fascinating what a proto-feminist writer he is; his critique of how women are dehumanised, literally turned into dolls, robots and incubators in The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby is terrifyingly still relevant.
Anna McShane-Potts, Editorial Intern
I am about halfway through Max Porter’s Lanny (read our review), and it’s so good that I’m trying extremely hard to make it last for as long as possible (it’s very difficult to not just binge in one sitting). The story poetically shows how a child influences those around them, bringing light, love, and worry into lives of everybody they meet. So far in my reading, it is Lanny’s relationship with his art tutor and friend, a man somewhat shunned by the locals, that is the most special. The two individuals teach, learn, and grow alongside one another, promoting acceptance and positivity. Visual and emotive, beautifully written, comfortably itself, and unique without labouring the point, so far in my reading Porter has truly brought forth the simplistic beauty of the everyday.