#Bookreview: Burntcoat by Sarah Hall

I am aware that I sound like a broken record but once again I apologise for taking longer than I would have like to review this captivating book. Huge thanks to Kate Burton for my early copy of Burntcoat by Sarah Hall.

Given what we have all been through these past two years there is going to be an inevitable rise in ‘Pandemic Stories’. It is inescapable and unrealistic to expect that artists of all kinds won’t want to record and respond to these world changing events. We are after all, living through history.

But as you would expected from established and talented Cumbrian author Sarah Hall her approach to this telling is unique, heartbreaking and painfully beautiful.

Hers is the story of Edith, talented sculptor and her lover Halit. Immediately but newly connected when the first lockdown begins, the pair hide from the world in her huge studio, Burntcoat. Their world is one of fear but also of love, of discovering each other and building a new and strengthening relationship.

This part of the novel captures beautifully the intensity and unreality of those initial lockdown days. The writing is sensual, vital and pulls at the edges of a collective experience.

Edith’s story is largely told in retrospect. When we meet her she is preparing for her death. Her work, waiting in the studio below is her testament, but it is her love for Halit and the short time of their togetherness that she returns to again and again.

Sarah Hall is unique in her story telling. Her boundaries are wide but her edges are sharp. This story cuts through experience and turns the collective experience of the pandemic on it’s head.

This one is going down in history.

Rachel x

Welcome to a Triple Decker Review!

Life at the moment in our household feels a bit crazy. There has been work stuff, exam stuff, self isolation stuff. A whole lot of stuff going on!

I have been reading to escape the world and I seem to have accumulated quite a backlog of reviews. I have read some cracking stuff recently and so I don’t want to miss anything out when time is short so…

I though I would have a go at my first Triple Decker Review!

Which is a fancy way of saying ‘three reviews’ in one blog post!

The three books in question are all different in subject matter but definitely all have some deliciously dark themes and over tones.

So, first up is Come Closer by Sara Gran. First published in 2003, it became a cult classic and was rereleased in the UK by Faber and Faber on 1st July this year. Huge thanks to Josh Smith for my review copy.

It is easy to see why this book became a classic. From the off you are grabbed by the throat and pulled into the world of Amanda and the strange things that are happening to her. Married, with a good job and a busy life, Amanda suddenly finds herself plagued by a strange tapping in her apartment. But this is just the beginning…

Amanda herself begins to change. The way she dresses, the choices she makes, the thoughts she has and the things she says.; they all begin to morph into something quite removed from her original character. It seems that Amanda may have been possessed.

This novel is short, dark and terrifying. It’s like a ride that you can’t get off and the horror film you can’t look away from. It leaves you with a hundred questions and the answers are not as obvious as they seem. Devoured in 24 hours, I loved it!

Next up, The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson. Thanks you Jordon Taylor-Jones at Dead Ink for sending me a copy.

Continuing the theme of dark, let’s step into the dystopian world so skilfully created within this book. Where AI robots are embedded into society and divides between those who are born and those who are created have begun to threaten stability and peace.

Our narrator is Sylv.ie, a humanoid pleasure doll, created to serve her husband and her husband alone. But Sylv.ie’s systems are advanced and complex and the lines between human and machine are already becoming blurred. When Sylv.ie over steps the line in her home she find she has no choice but to leave. And a whole new world is revealed.

This is a complex and fascinating read which raises a whole host of questions. Questions that range from what makes us human, to considerations about the future of AI and the ethics around it’s use in society. This is one that will provoke any number of discussions and deserves to become both a feminist and dystopian classic.

And finally, continuing the dystopian theme let me intro you to Accidental Flowers by Lily Peters. A novel written in a series of short stories, it was published last month the wonderful Arachne Press. I jumped at the chance when offered a copy by Sara Aspinall and I am so glad I did.

Set in the near future this is book with a heavy emphasis on the impact of Climate Change. Told in four sections the author begins with the subtle but deadly changes that occur in the UK environment , moving onto what the world looks like after the sea levels have risen and the rains have fallen.

This is a world of displaced people, where only a chosen few are safe, living in the great towers that dominate the skyline. Places in The Towers are awarded both by perceived usefulness and lottery, but life within them is strange and run by a series of complex rules.

It is world where those living outside the Towers are forced to scavenge and loot and the time before is but a distant and devastating memory.

This novel is a warning. It is filled with fragments of lives torn apart and people displaced, trying to come to terms with a reality they refused to believe in and ignored for too long. It’s familiar North East setting makes it all the more relatable and unsettling, forcing the reader to think the unthinkable.

It is a powerful collection of humanity and prose. Possibly not an easy read but I would say essential.

So there ends my first Triple Decker! Huge thanks to all the authors, publishers and publicists who have kindly shared their work with me. I am forever grateful.

Rachel x