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Books

Jonas Eika’s AFTER THE SUN: Weird yet radical literature

Danish writer Jonas Eika’s AFTER THE SUN, remarkably translated by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg and published by Lolli Editions is an extremely wild collection of stories. Reading this title was quite an experience, I must say.

There are utter weird things happening throughout the book like a homoerotic relationship between two strangers, but not in a sexual way but with the bond over technology, a grieving character merging with an extraterrestrial machine, characters turning into animals and various other things.

What I loved about it is that this isn’t weird for the sake of thrill but every one of Eika’s story is a penetrating comment on modern world, capitalism, nature and technology.

Despite being fantastical and having some sci-fi elements to it, these stories surprisingly seem to have a realistic quality to it.

The book is brilliantly translated by capturing all the weirdness and its qualities in an amazing way by not truly seeming like a translated title.

That’s why I think it’s great that it’s important to radicalise literature, there’s so much you can accomplish with unusual perspectives and this author and translator has proven it through weirdness in this title.

AFTER THE SUN – Jonas Eika. Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg. Published by Lolli Editions. A huge thanks to Denise at Lolli for providing a copy for review of this title.

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Books

Arifa Akbar’s CONSUMED: Personal and deeply moving memoir

Arifa Akbar’s 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize longlisted book CONSUMED is a deeply personal memoir about her elder sister Fauzia, who died of tuberculosis in 2016.

Yet the striking thing about this memoir is that it’s not just about one thing. It takes into account the family migration of Arifa’s family from Lahore to London, mental illness, art, grief and sisterhood. Arifa has mixed all these personal themes to create a beautiful and moving book.

Brilliantly structured and beautifully written, Arifa takes us to her sister’s deathbed to her family in Lahore to the resting place of John Keats.

The book makes one bring all ones emotions to understand her sister Fauzia. From the very beginning we know that something’s not right with her life and Arifa writes about her sister’s childhood and adulthood supporting that.

This is not a sugary book sisterhood but author very honestly also showcases the complex relationship between them. In the end I thought it was an incredibly touching memoir about sisterhood.

CONSUMED A Sister’s Story by Arifa Akbar. Published by Sceptre. A huge thanks to Sceptre for providing a review copy of this title.

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Books

Patrick Mackie’s MOZART IN MOTION – Sentences like Sonatas

Patrick Mackie’s title Mozart in Motion, Published by Granta isn’t a traditional biography, where generally you are promised an arc. Mackie here takes a different approach where he focuses on Mozart’s specific period of life that is referenced in his musical pieces. The author did cut all the slack and focused only on essential parts and that is presented brilliantly here.

Divides into three parts, the book is finely structured and at the start of every chapter there’s a musical piece mentioned which is useful. The complex information about the musical piece gets very clearer while listening to it and truly it’s an unusual thing to say but I have read the whole book listening to these pieces and enjoyed it tremendously.

The author very cleverly moves from the personal and intimate life of Mozart and musical journey (from Salzburg to Paris to Vienna) and to broader scope of that time period by showing the values and hardships of art in the Eighteenth century Europe.

The book is very insightful on the European society and their behaviour or perception of music and opera and art in general. Mackie commentates on Mozart’s aberration of the musical art form by pushing the boundaries of music by bringing some controversial themes (for that time period) in the book.

So Mackie with his beautiful gifted hands as a poet gives us a fresh take on Mozart’s work and the world around him which influenced his music.

MOZART IN MOTION His Work and his world in pieces by Patrick Mackie. Published by GRANTA

A huge thanks to Pru Rowlandson at Granta for review copy of this title.

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Books

Zyranna Zateli’s AT TWILIGHT THEY RETURN: Epic Greek Saga

Zyranna Zateli is regarded as one of the best writers in her native Greece. Her novel At twilight they return, translated into English by David Conolly is an extremely ambitious multigenerational family saga combining myth, magic but also taking into consideration history of that period.

The book is structured brilliantly in the form of ten tales. Each tale is an account of the life of particular member of family. The most interesting thing is that these tales are not in chronological order, but in an uneven form.

It’s extremely hard to describe the scope of this book because it’s something you can’t describe but have to be immersed in this epic saga full of uncountable characters. It is an incredibly immersive read.

What’s the most strongest part of this novel is it’s narrative voice. The voice of the omniscient narrator is what drives and connects all these tales wonderfully well.

The writing and translation by David Conolly is beautifully lyrical, poetic and clear, irrespective of the fact that the matter covered in this book is incredibly wide, which sometimes happen while translation. The rhythm is equally strong in all these tales throughout the book.

Zyranna Zateli has created characters that get inside your head and story that is remarkably immersive and now I can see why this book is considered masterpiece in Greek literature.

AT TWO THEY RETURN – Zyranna Zateli. Translated from the Greek by David Conolly.

A huge thanks to Yale University Press UK for giving me a copy of this title for review.

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Film

BEST OF CINEMA 2021

If anyone says that 2021 wasn’t a good year in terms of cinema, then that person has definitely not seen films of that year. Because 2021 was a year full of indescribable cinematic talents from remarkable performance, directions and cinematography. Here are my 10 favourite films of 2021 (Ranked)

10. ANNETTE Leos Carax’s intense musical starring remarkable actors Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver with music by Sparks.
9. BENEDETTA Probably the most controversial film of 2021, Paul Verhoeven has great fun with this one while putting commentary on religion, blasphemy, corruption.
8. CODA 2021’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner is a truly moving film about a teenage child in a deaf family with a breakout performance by Emilia Jones.
7. THE POWER OF THE DOG With Jane Campion you expect the most extraordinary work and she delivers. She is a master filmmaker at height of her career.
6. THE LOST DAUGHTER Maggie Gylenhall’s directorial debut is a bold, brilliant take on motherhood from an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel. A remarkable film with stunning performances from an ensemble.
5. BERGMAN ISLAND Mia Hansen Love’s Cannes competition entry is a really interesting film about films itself. Mia Hansen Love is one of the most interesting contemporary French filmmakers working today.
4. SPENCER Pablo Larrain’s Princess Diana biopic with a sensational performance by Kristen Stewart is a masterpiece in my opinion. Every single aspect is perfect from start to finish, from score to costumes to direction to performance.
3. DRIVE MY CAR Japanese Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film is truly the most beautiful slow burning film over 3 hrs which I would have been equally happier if it would have more longer because of its beauty.
2. TITANE Cannes Palm D’Or winner is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Julia Ducorneau’s film is most violent yet moving, gender is incredibly fluid so is the morality. I’m still in awe of how she can shake you and make you laugh and then make you cry at the same time.
1. THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s film about four years in the life of a woman in contemporary Oslo in search of herself is the best film I’ve seen this year. Renate Reinsve’s incredible performance is matched with remarkable direction and screenplay. A breathtakingly stunning piece of art.
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Books

Best of Literature 2021

2021 was a year full of literary adventures full of surprises, writers of tremendous ambition, inventive skills and experimentation with form. Some books created a very deep impact on me and there were many that were good but quite honestly forgettable. So here are the ten books that impressed me the most (in no particular order)

Cal Flyn’s ISLANDS OF ABANDONMENT was my favourite non fiction title of the year which really surprised me with its Optimistic Nature writing.

Daisy Lafarge’s debut PAUL is a beautifully written novel with a dense, deep and visceral account of a young woman’s toxic relationship on a holiday in Southern France.

Both Booker International Prize and Booker Prize winners were truly outstanding and deserving of their work. David Diop’s AT NIGHT ALL BLOOD IS BLACK with the most lyrical and rhythmic translation by Anna Moschovakis is a harrowing portrait of madness in war. Damon Galgut’s THE PROMISE is a master of form and really pushes the form in new ways with a story of a white South African family over a decade.

Sally Rooney returned this year with her incredible new novel BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU, no one can write about contemporary relationships like her.

Nadifa Mohamed’s historical novel THE FORTUNE MEN tells the story of miscarriage of justice in Cardiff, which tackles really important issues of racism and injustice.

Out of all the memoirs Alice Hattrick’s deeply personal memoir ILL FEELINGS about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome stood out, which is remarkably beautifully written.

Danish writer Olga Ravn’s science fiction novel THE EMPLOYEES, translated by Martin Aitken is my favourite discovery of 2021. It’s an incredibly moving novel, truly unlike anything else.

German writer Judith Schalansky’s AN INVENTORY OF LOSSES, amazingly translated by Jackie Smith, is truly a cabinet of curiosities as in a way it looks at loss and change in a very eloquent way.

And finally Rachel Cusk’s novel SECOND PLACE is a masterwork. Her words are unlike anyone else.

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Books

Cal Flyn’s ISLANDS OF ABANDONMENT: Surprisingly Optimistic Nature Writing, The Best Non fiction of 2021?

Author, Journalist and Deputy Editor of Five Books (which I’m a huge fan of) Cal Flyn whose book Islands of Abandonment was very deservedly shortlisted for this year’s Baillie Gifford Prize for nonfiction follows Flyn travelling to 13 different abandoned landscapes all over the Earth and her search for nature in these abandoned spaces.

Firstly this book is so beautifully written and very clearly structured. Secondly this is such a joy to read, I mean it’s such a hopeful and surprisingly optimistic book which is very rare in nature writing.

Flyn takes us to these abandoned sites all over the world from Scotland to Chernobyl to Michigan and many others. She very clearly informs us about the damage happened to these sites due to war, disasters or human exploitation and in the end searches for hope of nature recovery where it seems almost impossible to imagine a life.

The author makes us think very deeply about the current state of environment in an immensely positive and optimistic way rather than declaring that we’re doomed already.

So truly this is one of the most surprisingly beautiful books I’ve read this year.

ISLANDS OF ABANDONMENT Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn. Published by William Collins

A huge thanks to Helen Upton, Publicity Manager, William Collins for the copy of this title.

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Books

Ruth Ozeki’s THE BOOK OF FORM AND EMPTINESS: Best book as a Christmas present this year?

The acclaimed Ruth Ozeki returned a long time after her previous stunning novel A tale for the time being with The book of form and emptiness. Her latest is almost hard to describe but follows a 13 year old Benny Oh and his mother Annabelle coping with the loss of his musician father and there’s a lot of fantastical elements involved here.

Definitely not Ozeki’s best work but it truly is such a pleasure to read. It is beautifully written with such imaginative storytelling. From Talking objects to homeless artists to non binary ferrets to Zen Buddhism, everything is stunningly in play here.

Ozeki’s book is grippingly paced here, you just want to know what happens next and another amazing thing is that the story is so wild and bizarre, you never know what’s gonna happen next and you are ready to be surprised.

Ozeki handles difficult themes of loss, depression and mental health in such an interesting and innovative yet lighthearted way.

I don’t think any better novel than this that would make such a remarkable Christmas gift with its immersive and remarkable storytelling which will illuminate anyone who decides to pick it up and read it.

THE BOOK OF FORM AND EMPTINESS by Ruth Ozeki. Published by Canongate Books.

Thank you so much Canongate for the copy of this title.

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Books

HOW I BECAME A TREE by Sumana Roy: A Dazzlingly Deep meditative personal essays on Trees

If I can summarise Sumana Roy’s brilliant non fiction title HOW I BECAME A TREE it would be – A book that gave voice to trees and changed your outlook on trees. It simply starts with the author’s infatuation with trees. This love throughout the book can be proved through this brilliant line in the book.

A lover does not love because she believes in the ideology of love, whatever that might be, it is because she cannot help loving.

This book is such a pleasure to read, beautifully written about trees, yet so full of happiness, sadness, excitement, every human emotion is given to the trees.

It’s actually really difficult to write non fiction that is interesting. I mean the author grips the reader with brilliant stories, writings by various authors in the past, music, cinema, paintings all about the trees.

Asides from that it also gives a piercing critique of humanity. Roy brilliantly conjures historical myths and the place of trees in them and moreover making a comment on femininity.

That’s what intelligent writers do, they create an impression on us. And this beautiful book did the same.

How I became a tree by Sumana Roy. Published by Yale University Press. A massive thanks to Yale University press for the copy of this title.

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Books

Alice Hattrick’s ILL FEELINGS: Profoundly deep read

A remarkable non fiction I’ve read recently is Alice Hattrick’s Ill Feelings, Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. This is a deeply personal debut by Alice Hattrick about their diagnosis with ME or Chronic Illness.

The remarkable thing about this book is that this title Ill feelings doesn’t constitute towards only the author’s life but the author in connection with the search within herself takes us into the lives of so many women in the past like Virginia Woolf, Alice James, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and so many more.

“If my ill feelings are a symptom of the human condition, why do I feel them more, or have a lower tolerance of them? Isn’t everyone in pain? Isn’t that what makes us human? Except, of course, I am not human, I am also gendered”

The writing is sublime and the subject was an eye opener for me, about which we know very little about.

The author dips their head into the past while being stuck in the present whilst uncovering every information they can and clearing every misunderstanding or assumptions about the illness till present Covid 19 pandemic.

So I think this is a book that truly had to written and there could not have been a perfect time to read this brilliant book.

Ill feelings by Alice Hattrick. Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. A huge thanks to Fitzcarraldo Editions for the copy.

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Books

THE EMPLOYEES by Olga Ravn, translated by Martin Aitken : The Best book of 2021?

Olga Ravn’s absolutely remarkable title, most deservedly shortlisted for 2021 International Booker prize, beautifully translated by Martin Aitken from Danish follows a series of statements of the employees of a spaceship (Six Thousand Ship), in relation to their behaviour regarding taking some strange objects from the planet New Discovery.

The whole book is structured in these statements not in chronological order from all the employees as it progresses it becomes clear that some of these are from humans and some from humanoids.

The main essence of the book is the deep questioning of humanity and geneneration of feelings from both humans and humanoids alike.

It’s really interesting how all the statements are jigsaw puzzled like a mosaic, very skilfully done, like reading one statement you are utterly moved, then by another quite puzzled, then there’s humor, then sadness, then anger and everything in between.

How the writer and translator creates this sense of hypnotic momentum in these 136 pages is masterful.

The Employees A workplace novel of 22nd century – Olga Ravn, translated from Danish by Martin Aitken. Published by Lolli editions

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Books

THE PROMISE by Damon Galgut : Four Funerals and one promise

Third time Booker shortlisted South African writer Damon Galgut’s The promise is structured in 4 parts, each concerning the funeral of a member of a white South African family outside Pretoria. The title the promise is the dying wish of the mother of the family of giving a house to a black family caretaker.

What’s most intriguing about this novel is it’s narration. Truly the style of the book is unlike I’ve encountered recently. The narrative shifts constantly through various perspectives giving a deep look at every member of this family.

Galgut’s prose filled with dark humour and sometimes quite surprises makes the reader gripped.

But the most extraordinary thing about this novel is it’s depiction of the four decades in the history of South Africa. What’s amazing about this is that it’s not doing at its central pin, like lecturing us about the political timeline of that period but it shows the history through the prism of family dynamics of a one South African white family.

The promise – Damon Galgut Published by Chatto & Windus, Penguin random house Uk

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Books

THE FORTUNE MEN by Nadifa Mohamed: A gripping and important book

Nadifa Mohamed’s absolutely remarkable 2021 Booker shortlisted The fortune men (would be a deserving winner) follows the story of Mahmood Mattan, a Somali seafarer wrongfully accused of murder of a shopkeeper in 1950s Tiger Bay, Cardiff.

First thing about this magnificent book is that it’s utterly gripping. With the subject matter and the context you would expect something slow burning but it’s a page turner which is quite rare in historical novels.

The novel has an extraordinary sense of place, 1950s Cardiff is brought to life magnificently to life with it’s different populations and descriptions.

Mohamed has managed to treat every character with compassion and a vivid glimpse into their everyday life and their past.

The story is of Mattan is told in a very moving and beautiful way and she brilliantly depicts the injustice being carried out and as readers we are completely immersed and furious about this and there’s nothing you can do till the end and it brilliantly shows an extraordinary example of injustice being carried on an individual and for that reason it makes for a very powerful read.

The fortune men by Nadifa Mohamed Published by Penguin Viking

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Books

A GHOST IN THE THROAT by Doireann Ní Ghríofa : A Deep and powerful feminine voice

Poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s genre bending book follows her on a quest of finding details about Eibhlin Dubh Ní Chonaill’s life after being obsessed with her poem (in which the poet drinks her murdered husbands blood).

The book surprised me in the best possible way, when I started reading the text, honestly speaking I didn’t get the obsession at all but as I went further ahead, I just knew that Eibhlin’s life had to be tracked and was holding the author’s hand along the way.

The style of the book is unlike anything. Beautiful poetic language, with poetry and translation along the way, the book creates its own form as it goes along.

I also found it to be very deep and personal portrait of motherhood and the author’s life along with her willingness to know the truth about a woman centuries apart, yet united in terms of similarities.

At the end what it does is asks us the question, where are women’s voices from centuries ago? I found this book to be a very strong take on women hood and place of women.

A Ghost in the throat – Doireann Ní Ghriofa Published by Tramp press

A huge thanks to Tramp press for the review copy of this title.

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Books

Paul by Daisy Lafarge : A deep and visceral examination of toxicity in a young woman’s life

Poet Daisy Lafarge’s absolutely brilliant debut follows Francis, a young English woman spending her summer in Southern France, escaping a scandal in Paris and falling for Paul, the owner of the eco-farm where she stays.

Beautifully structured in three parts, the novel takes deeper and deeper into the mind of its protagonist, Francis.

The tone of writing and the imagery really stands out here. The imagery regarding nature is beautifully captured by Lafarge through her clear and poetic prose and you feel like you are present there yourself.

Lafarge through her rhythmic writing follows a young woman trying to find words that could make up for her mind which his constantly in question regarding the outcome of the past and her search for solace.

But this search for solace is clearly destroyed by Paul, and the hold he has on Francis which is so cleverly rendered throughout the three parts with the doubts and questions in the protagonist’s and readers mind alike.

There are quite a many novels on toxicity of relationships but Lafarge’s take on it is really fresh and nuanced and which makes its impact slowly and deeply in readers mind. Thus result is a form of absolute brilliance in writing and one of the strongest debut I’ve encountered this year.

An absolute stunning novel.

PAUL – Daisy Lafarge. Published by GRANTA. A huge thanks to George Stamp at GRANTA for review copy of this title.

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Books

AN ISLAND by Karen Jennings – A little gem of a novel

Karen Jennings’ short 2021 Booker Longlisted novel follows Samuel, an old man living on an island in an unknown African country and one day his routine is abruptly disturbed by a body of a refugee being washed up on the shore of the island.

This is a powerful little novel by a small independent press ( Holland House Books). The book definitely is not pitied by Booker judges due to its small publication but is selected because it’s an absolutely marvellous novel by a writer who has something important to say.

It’s remarkable how Jennings in such a small novel conveys so much about the post colonial perspective and rebellion against dictatorship in an African country but leaves much room for interpretation. I loved how she is touching political themes, environmental themes but not going into the depth of it, but just touching a surface level.

The book is a great portrait of loneliness and trauma of past difficult times. Past memories floods constantly in Samuel’s mind, about his childhood when his families ancestral lands were confiscated during dictatorship, his shift into city and life in prison and most difficult time after getting out of prison.

The author remarkably shows how a person’s mind is affected after suffering so much cruelty and injustice.

I think it’s a very powerful and a very strong contender for this year’s Booker prize.

AN ISLAND – Karen Jennings. Published by Holland house books. A big thank you to Holland House books for review copy of this book.

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Books

GREAT CIRCLE – Delightful Storytelling

Maggie Shipstead’s extraordinarily 600 page ambitious and epic novel longlisted for 2021 Booker prize follows two stories in parallel, one of an obsessive aviatrix name Marian Graves and her journey spanning a long time and another of an Hollywood actress Hadley Baxter portraying her in the biopic that’s in development.

This book surprised me in a lot of ways, I didn’t expect to be so moved by this. The book is so immersive and so interesting and is written so cleverly that I literally couldn’t put this down.

The book is remarkably structured and really amazingly researched concerning different time periods.

I mean, the characters are beautifully drawn, not just Marian and Hadley but the supporting cast of characters are given great space for their development.

I was really by how Shipstead’s ability to write and create such deep characters and storyline, because it’s so immersive that you feel that you get to know these characters so deeply over the course of the novel and I think that’s a great feat of writing.

Yes this novel is traditional storytelling ( many novels on the longlist this year) but Maggie Shipstead has captured something special here.

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. Published by Doubleday books

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Books

No one is talking about this : Ambitious debut

Patricia Lockwoods’s extremely innovative Booker 2021 longlisted title is divided into two parts, first half is a series of extremely funny series of Twitter-esque style of prose about being on the internet today and second half is a story of extremely personal story of grief in a real world.

What is extremely interesting about this book and the reason it’s divisive is fragmented writing. The whole novel is written in fragments reminiscent of Twitter here referred to the world as portal.

I think this is the only experimental writing I’ve encountered on the longlist so far, Lockwood has taken a huge risk here and I personally think the result an absolutely ambitious piece of fiction.

I was absolutely bowled over the book. It doesn’t take itself seriously and shows that we live in a age where we are obsessed with internet and information online and what Lockwood has done so magnificently here is combining this element of living in the internet world today and living a real life so cleverly and the result is a work of savage brilliance.

No one is talking about this – Patricia Lockwood. Published by Bloomsbury circus

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Books

THE SWEETNESS OF WATER: Interesting debut

Nathan Harris’ Booker longlisted debut follows newly freed brothers Landry and Prentiss during the end of the Civil war forced to hide in the woods of George Walker, who recently lost his son in the war.

The storytelling here is traditional, simple prose with deep interest in characterisation, but it’s done quite well here.

Reading this reminded me a little of Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End which I didn’t like at all, but I really enjoyed Harris’ storytelling due to its simplicity.

The novel is set in an interesting time period during the immediate aftermath of Civil War, which is quite a rare timeline in storytelling.

The novel handles hidden sexualities, race, violence, grief in small fictional town in Georgia in a very interesting way due to great characters.

One of the strongest emphasis by the writer is on the characters. They are extremely well developed and the dialogue as well as relationships between these characters is done in an impressive way.

The Sweetness of Water- Nathan Harris Published by Tinder Press Thanks to Hachette India for copy of this novel.

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Books

SECOND PLACE – Rachel Cusk : A masterwork

In Rachel Cusk’s 2021 Booker longlisted Second Place a woman invites a famed artist to a coastal landscape where she lives so that his vision may penetrate the mystery of her life.

Cusk is an extraordinary writer, her prose truly is masterful, there wasn’t a single sentence that was displaced in the book. Her prose is remarkably deep and psychologically very strong and sentence to sentence, it’s the most beautiful thing and if you return to it and read it again, there’s a lot more depth and layers in her writing.

There are many themes running through it but at the centre of it is freedom. Cusk constantly through her narrator points out what freedom is? What does it feel to be free? There’s a line in the novel: “That’s all I’ve managed as far as freedom is concerned, to get rid of people and things I don’t like

Freedom through art is touched by Cusk here that whether art can free or save you (as it did M, the narrator when she saw the landscape painting of L, the artist in Paris) and can it destroy you ( which it also did as we learn in the book)

These themes including the theme of motherhood is tackled so remarkably well.

There is a lot of buffoonery going on in the novel that is quite comical and sometimes uncomfortable and that leads to the aspect of social observation in the book. The cast of characters stuck in the marsh, their behaviour, their acts, everything is done so well by Cusk here.

Truly, a masterful book but yeah it might divide people.

Second place- Rachel Cusk. Published by Faber & Faber