3 strong novels reviewed



I'm going to talk about three books the first is about a woman living in a cottage in Ireland the second is about a young woman living in a cottage in Ireland who is depressed and the third is about a young woman who is not living in a cottage in Ireland but is profoundly depressed now there are obviously connections here but the key one is that these three novels we are we are completely inside the heads of the protagonists and we experience their as with the technical technical words the phenomena at their phenomenology how they perceive the world what the world feels like to them how they are how they inhabit the world because of how they feel about the world now the first one Pond by Claire Louise Bennett is the writers English the characters English she lives in Ireland the character lives in Ireland and she is not depressed but she is very much living on her own and what we have when I spoken this about that was before is a writer who has one of the most original voices in literature in a long time and I know one shouldn't use qualifiers around the adjective original but how I just did there are more or less original voices and she is one of the more original voices she's also one of the most charming voices to be with it's interesting I need people who I expect to love this book and they don't and I meet people who I expect to hate this book and they love it and so it's quite odd yoo-hoo-hoo relates to her I'm not not even sure that I did but if you relate to her I just relate to the to the extraordinary prose that was just unpicking how a person conducts themselves in life now the second book which is a lie made by walking by Sarah Baum who did who wrote spill simmer with a fall what I can't remember what it is but anyway which is a wonderful novel about her am and his dog weave on the most brilliantly sustained passage of prose over in a long time that kind of the third section roadtrip this new novel is about a woman he's originally English but grew up in Ireland and she's in this in this novel she's staying in her late grandmother's grandmother's country cottage somewhere in Ireland and she's next art student and she is suffering from a kind of ennui a kind of inability to kind of relate to the world hope to be motivated to find energy it's on the cusp of depression I think rather than depression itself but the I think the key thing for for me about this book is that once again one feels what it's like to have one's emotional life kind of pressed and suppressed and what it's like to kind of live in a kind of narrow emotional corridor and he's done wonderfully and it's done very bravely because there is no attempt to make this a novel with a plot it is merely a novel about expressing what it feels like to be in a particular state all the way through she talks about artworks that she remembers based on those as I said the kind of narrow experience is she having in this depressed state in her mother's in her grandmother's cottage and actually this was the revelation for me and it's in a sense it's a side issue but I've never been fan of installation art conceptual art I've always found that conceptual art installations once you've had the idea and just say I'm gonna do this you kind of done it really you know the execution is pointless the idea is everything but actually she makes a case for conceptual art and installation art to be metaphors for moments in life and now I would say perhaps controversially that art works as metaphors out art art is something else ours is a sort of transcend transcendental expression of a experience in life that becomes uniform now actually that's probably a description of a metaphor but in the end I don't think one can articulate what are what great art is about I think it becomes it becomes this kind of inarticulate expression that somehow talks to us whereas metaphors actually you can draw down from them and finally discover what they're trying to say and kind of go yes I can relate to that I mean if you take a you know if you take a great piece of work ok pieces are let's say Caravaggio's the taking of Christ we are moved in an inarticulate way but can we relate to it I don't think so you know similarly with the abstraction of music we can relate to it but we feel moved by it but we can't relate to it because it's purely abstract it's and it's the same I think that art that great art or art does that whereas this but actually I think this what this does is it says that that that creative work as metaphor is is hugely important when one's in certain places to kind of go actually there are those kind of coordinates that other people are feeling in their ex pressing them this way and on that level I think this is a really really important book about someone who you know many people go to art school she clearly can't she was clearly struggling to make an artwork although she is taking pictures of dead animals she's finding it doesn't amount to very much but she has a kind of writer's block and artists block and actually that what she's feeling is is he's had herself you know narrowed and shrunk because she can't express herself and she may never be able to I'm not sure it's as successful as her previous novel and it feels a bit like a first novel that she's found time to work into a into a infrastructure but it is fascinating and intelligent and brave and clever but maybe not wholly successful but there's a you know if one has inclinations to be an artist and wants to know the the great pitfalls the great emotional barriers and obstacles that one my face in failing to be an artist I think this is an important book and if he's obviously and of course beautifully written and the third book which has spoken about before is by Kate Armstrong it's called the storyteller she's published by a very small Press Pond is published by physical Aldo alive made by walking is published by the brilliant tram press in Ireland and this is published by Holland house this this book is the bravest of the three and at times it is as well written but it it's it takes sorry my son is just calling me okay he's revising for his exams this is a novel about profound depression this isn't about an or a person's personality character being narrowed or shrunken this is about it almost being obliterated this is a person who's suffering almost complete lack of effect can't feel anything exists or they feel like in in a kind of vacuum you know I I have some some sort of some familiarity with depression but I say I imagined such a more like Sarah bounce depression or lack it well then you are lack of effect rather than that the depth of in the character in insert in Kate Kate Armstrong's but I can see it I can feel it and this is prime but partly I think because it might but partly because her prose works to take you there it's it's it's tough it's opaque it's unsentimental it feels like I've said this before it feels like it's just another Irish writer it feels like kind of mid-period John Banville when he he doesn't offer the reader any solace he basically says this is what it feels like this er the sense impressions of this person and this is what K Armstrong does and there are many prolonged episodes where it is like feeling as though one has the world has completely withdrawn and that you have no emotional response to it and you lack complete any of the emotional coordinate in fact it's it's it's being suppressed almost to nothingness but knowing that you have to you know unless you die that you have to move forward in life it's called you know someone called what one says it's kind of ambulatory catatonia you're just walking through life in a kind of catatonic state and she does this with supreme artistry now I think there are issues with the beginning and with the end so I think there are a kind of technical issues that could be you know that would maybe need to be resolved but there's a sustained piece of writing of what it's like to be in the head of someone with depression I think it is it was a real victory and it almost is a paradox because obviously someone who who felt like this could never ride that would be I mean this it's it's almost this a paradox with the Sarah balancing you know she's actually what she's doing or irony of course is that she's she's writing about what it feels like to me to not be able to create work of art but what she has is essentially trying to create a worker well but I think all three of these things and I love all three books I probably love pond most because I love great prose and this is prose of you know just so wonderful and she's so charming and it's funny and it's surprising but the other two are doing something which i think is really important which is it's putting a certain mindset on the page and saying I'm I'm I'm not going to make this easy for you as a reader and you're going to go through this with me and for that reason I think all of these three need to be read you me could almost read them as a triptych and kind of go well you know we may love Claire Louise Bennett's prose and we may love being with her and we may you know but actually she's got the freedom to be as charming as she is because she's not suffering from a kind of you know from depression whereas the other two don't have that luxury and they're not pretending to so it becomes a very powerful experience of mental ill-health while both being very well-written I think that's all I have to say about that thank you very much

8 thoughts on “3 strong novels reviewed

  1. I picked up Pond about 2 weeks ago, it is beautifully written and insightful. Thanks for the other 2 suggestions.

  2. Ah – thanks so much for talking about TS. As it happens, I'm currently part-way through Pond and enjoying it very much. I shall put the Baume on my list.

  3. "The Story Teller" seems heart breaking and amazing , when you said that it shows through the writing style the mental state of the protagonist it just sounds brilliant…As always compelling and thoughtful reviews !!

  4. Art seems to be a very personal thing. It is perceived different/defined different for everyone. I think metaphors are much easier to share and relate to. More of a cultural thing maybe?

    I loved your analysis of these stories! Thank you!

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