The world probably doesn’t need another review of Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney by now, but you’re going to get one anyway. Rooney’s much anticipated third novel tells the story of Alice and her friend Eileen, both approaching 30 and living in Ireland, having met as roommates at university. Alice is a successful novelist who meets warehouse worker Felix through a dating app. Eileen is getting over a break-up by flirting with a man called Simon who she has known since childhood. Rather than getting in touch via texts or calls, Alice and Eileen continue their long-distance friendship by having lengthy earnest conversations via email about capitalism. On balance, I found this epistolary device too convenient and less convincing than the instant messaging chats in Conversations with Friends which remains my favourite of her three novels to date. Nevertheless, ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’ further cements Rooney’s signature narrative style, which is more about pacing than plot and achieved very skilfully, and she remains particularly good at portraying power dynamics through dialogue and writing endings which are open yet not frustratingly so.
Tag Archives: Sarah Moss
I have read two books recently which were top of my wish list for this year’s Booker Prize longlist but sadly didn’t make the cut. The omission of Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell has surprised a lot of people although it has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. O’Farrell’s eighth novel and her first foray into historical fiction is a reimagining of the short life of William Shakespeare’s son Hamnet in Warwickshire in the late sixteenth century. The playwright himself only has a background part in this story which is told from the point of view of his wife Agnes (more commonly known as Anne Hathaway, O’Farrell uses the name given in her father’s will) who is the mother of their daughter Susanna followed by twins Hamnet and Judith. The novel focuses on events before and after Hamnet’s early death at the age of 11 in 1596, the true cause of which is unknown but is presented as bubonic plague here. Continue reading
‘Ghost Wall’ is Sarah Moss’s sixth novel which tells the story of Silvie, a teenage girl spending her summer in a remote area of Northumberland taking part in an “experiential” archaeological experiment in which the participants attempt to recreate the exact living conditions of the original Iron Age occupants of the site. However, this is not a gentle comedy in the style of the BBC series ‘Detectorists’. Silvie’s father, Bill, is a bus driver and amateur historian who has obsessive ideas about the “purity” of ancient Britons and his domineering personality and prejudices begin to take over the trip led by archaeology professor Jim Slade accompanied by three of his students, Molly, Dan and Pete. Continue reading
I have really enjoyed all of the books by Sarah Moss I have read to date and I recently read her 2009 debut novel ‘Cold Earth’. It follows a team of six archaeologists and academics who travel to western Greenland for a three week dig excavating the remains of a Viking settlement. They leave behind their homes in the United States and Europe just as a deadly flu-like virus has started to spread rapidly across the world. Archaeologists Catriona, Ben, Jim and Ruth are joined by team leader Yianni and his friend Nina, the only non-archaeologist in the group whose academic research is vaguely linked to Norse literature. However, Nina experiences night terrors and becomes convinced that the supernatural events are the result of ghosts disturbed by the group’s dig at their resting place. Continue reading
The Wellcome Book Prize is awarded to a fiction or non-fiction book about health or medicine. Since its launch in 2009, there has been a shortlist of six books but this year, there is a longlist of twelve books for the very first time. The nominated books which were announced today are:
- How to Survive a Plague by David France
- Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
- Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal (translated from the French by Jessica Moore)
- The Golden Age by Joan London
- Cure by Jo Marchant
- The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss
- The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
- The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
- A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford
- Miss Jane by Brad Watson
- I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong
‘The Tidal Zone’ by Sarah Moss tells the story of Adam Goldschmidt, a stay-at-home dad and part-time academic, married to overworked GP Emma. Their eldest daughter fifteen-year-old Miriam suddenly collapses on a school playing field and nearly dies after going into anaphylactic cardiac arrest. In the aftermath of the incident, the family must find a way to move on and return to some form of normality whilst coming to terms with the possibility that Miriam’s condition could be genetic and may happen again at any time. Continue reading
I really enjoyed reading Night Waking by Sarah Moss which told the story of Dr Anna Bennett, an academic living on the Scottish island of Colsay with her husband and young children, who sets out to uncover the mystery behind how the bones of an infant came to be buried in her garden. Her narrative is interspersed with letters written by May Moberley, a maternity nurse sent to the island to investigate the high infant mortality rate during the 1870s. ‘Bodies of Light’ is a very loose sequel which picks up the historical strand of the story focusing on other members of the Moberley family living in Manchester during the 1860s and 1870s. The novel is a coming-of-age tale of May’s older sister Ally who becomes one the first female students to read medicine in London. However, while their mother Elizabeth is a progressive social campaigner devoted to helping the destitute in the slums of Manchester, she is also a deeply repressed woman who offers no warmth at all towards her husband Alfred or her daughters. Continue reading
Yesterday, I went to an event at the Wellcome Collection in London to hear the six authors nominated for this year’s Wellcome Book Prize discuss their shortlisted books. The annual award is open to works of fiction and non-fiction which engage with some aspect of health, illness or medicine, or “the ultimate human subject” as chair Anne Karpf said in her introduction.
The books on this year’s shortlist are:
- Signs for Lost Children by Sarah Moss
- The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink
- NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman
- Playthings by Alex Pheby
- It’s All in Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan
- The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
I don’t have time to write full-length reviews of everything I read but here are some thoughts on other books I’ve read and (mostly) enjoyed over the last few months of 2015.
Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty
While I enjoyed reading Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty last year, I’m less sure of how I feel about ‘Whatever You Love’. Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award in 2010, it tells the story of Laura whose nine-year-old daughter Willow is killed in a hit-and-run accident on her way to an after-school club. The majority of the novel is a relatively straightforward account of the acrimonious breakdown of Laura’s marriage to her husband David and the aftermath of Willow’s death but it has the kind of shocking and rather implausible ending which changed my whole perception of the book. The last book I read which made me feel like this was Disclaimer by Renee Knight but probably more so with this one. While ‘Apple Tree Yard’ has a similarly unsettling conclusion, I felt it was executed much more successfully compared to ‘Whatever You Love’. Doughty’s latest novel ‘Black Water’ is out next year.
‘Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland’ is Sarah Moss’s account of living in Reykjavik for a year between 2009 and 2010. Moss first visited Iceland as a child and later with a friend when she was nineteen during a university summer holiday. Some fifteen years later and now married with two young sons, she applied for a job at the University of Iceland teaching Romantic poetry and creative writing as a visiting lecturer and fulfilled a childhood dream of moving to the country with her family. Continue reading