Books of the Year 2016, Part One

As usual I’m dividing my Books of the Year into two parts. Part Two, coming tomorrow will be fiction published in 2016. Part One is fiction published pre-2016 and 2016 non-fiction. If you click on the pictures of the books they will take you to my full review.

WL PBK FINALWaking Lions – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (translated by Sondra Silverston)

Doctor Etian Green finishes a nineteen hour shift at Soroka Hospital, six of which he spent helping to stabilise road traffic accident victims. In the time it takes for him to walk from the hospital ward to his car, he goes from exhausted to adrenaline-fueled. He decides to drive to ‘a particularly challenging SUV track’ he’s read about. Sprinting along, he hits a man and leaves him for dead. The next morning, Sirkit, the man’s wife, appears at his door along with Etian’s wallet which he dropped at the scene. Sirkit offers him a deal but it’s one that will have serious consequences for his home life and his job. Everything in Waking Lions is grey area. Sharp, thoughtful and challenging.

7016625Push – Sapphire

Claireece Precious Jones – Precious to her friends, Claireece to ‘mutherfuckers I hate’ – 16-years-old, five feet nine or ten, two hundred pounds, is pregnant for the second time to her father. Suspended from school, she goes to Each One Teach One, located on the nineteenth floor of a local hotel. Precious tells the story of her time attending the group, in which she learns to read and write, intertwined with that of her family situation. Push could be an unbearable read: every time you think it couldn’t get any darker, it does, but it’s balanced by Precious’ determination and Sapphire’s rendering of Precious’ voice which is pitch perfect and authentic.

getimage239-669x1024.aspxOne Night, Markovitch – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (translated by Sondra Silverston)

Yaacov Markovitch and Zeev Feinberg go on the run after Feinberg is caught having sex with the wife of Avraham Mandelbaum, the slaughterer. The deputy commander of the Irgun, a friend of Feinberg’s, sends the pair to Europe where they will marry ‘a Jewish girl’ and bring them back to Palestine, thus circumventing the closed gates of Europe. Once the men return, they will divorce and the women will be free to remain. But Markovitch refuses to divorce his wife, the stunning but cold, Bella Zeigerman. The backbone of the story is that of three women: Bella; Feinberg’s wife, Sonya, and Mandelbaum’s wife, Rachel. Gundar-Goshen uses them to explore the ups-and-downs of marriage, parenthood, war, death …basically all of life is here.

51-2bjcqwu2l-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

Maureen kills Robbie O’Donovan when she finds him in her house. As the mother of Cork’s biggest gangster, Jimmy Phelan, she doesn’t need to worry about clearing up her mess. But the mess is bigger than a body and some blood: Robbie’s girlfriend, Georgie, is looking for him and she has problems of her own; Tara Duane, Georgie’s confidant is keen to know everyone’s business and she lives next door to Jimmy’s alcoholic clearer-upper, Tony Cusak. And then there’s Cusak’s son, fifteen-year-old Ryan, who loses his virginity, starts his first long term relationship and begins to step out from the shadow of his alcoholic, violent, widowed father. A bloody entertaining read.

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Ruby – Cynthia Bond

Ruby’s returned to Liberty Township, Texas from New York City. Everyone knows she’s mad: she pees in the street and has sex with many of the men in Liberty, but Ruby’s caught the attention of one man who wants to treat her differently; Ephram Jennings is planning to bring Ruby one of his sister’s white lay angel cakes. Ruby’s tortured by the ghosts which have attached themselves to her. As she gives herself to them, we learn about her childhood and the long-standing relationship she has with Jennings’ family. Bleak but threaded with hope and beautiful writing.

 

9781444775433The Devil in the Marshalsea – Antonia Hodgson

Tom Hawkins, eldest son of a Suffolk gentleman, Oxford graduate, set to join the clergy and inherit his father’s position, finds himself in the Marshalsea for unpaid rent and other debts. He arrives after the widow of Captain Roberts has taken up residence in the debtor’s  prison after Robert’s murder made to look like suicide. Hawkins gets drawn into solving the murder as he deals with his roommate, the despised Samuel Fleet, and the prison’s regime, divided by rich and poor. Intelligent, packed with period detail and plot, bawdy, has a social conscience and some hilarious lines. Entertaining.

 
9781846689499Pleasantville – Attica Locke

Pleasantville is a neighbourhood in Houston, Texas, built in 1949 “specifically for Negro families of means and class”. As a middle class, politically aware area, it also holds political power, a power which has become legendary over four decades. The story takes place in 1996 in the run-up to Houston’s mayoral election, the results of which might bring Alex Hathorne to office as the city’s first black mayor. As the novel begins the situation is quickly complicated by two events: the first is the abduction of a teenage girl, following a stint distributing campaign leaflets door-to-door in Pleasantville; the second is a break-in at Jay Porter’s office.As the story unravels, all the threads become entwined with the mayoral race at the centre. Locke considers who really runs an election campaign: a matter of business and money – who pays for the campaigns, who dictates strategy – but ultimately, how low people are prepared to go in their desperation for power.

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Negroland – Margo Jefferson

Margo Jefferson grew up in Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s. Born to a paediatrician father and a socialite mother, she experienced a particular type of privilege: that of the well-off, educated, black family. Personal experience is interwoven with the history of those Jefferson identifies as belonging to Negroland: Frances Jackson Coppin and Joseph Willson, for example; and cultural commentary on film, television and the media, discussing those black men and women who did appear on and in those mediums and what they came to represent for black communities. Negroland is a superb book which consider the intersections of race, class and gender. It’s a fascinating read and an insight into an underexplored area of society.

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The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson

The Argonauts charts Nelson’s relationship with the artist Harry Dodge, including the conception and birth of their son, Iggy, and Dodge’s decision to begin taking testosterone and have top surgery. The Argonauts is not straightforward memoir, it is intellectual argument illuminated by personal experience and supported by academic rigour. It explores love – constructing and maintaining a relationship outside of heteronormativity and maternal love as stepmother and mother (the latter from the point of view of adult child and parent as well as the expectant mother/mother of a young child) – and the body – sex, gender fluidity, pregnancy and birth. Rigorous and fascinating.

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The Lonely City – Olivia Laing

Laing examines the idea of being lonely in the busiest place on earth – the city, specifically in her case New York City. Part memoir, part mediation on art, Laing looks at a number of artists who’ve dealt with the theme of loneliness – in their work and often in their private lives too – focusing in on Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz. The Lonely City is a fascinating exploration of what loneliness is; how we attempt to stave it off; why some people are consumed by it, and what its relationship to artistic creation might be.

 

Non-Fiction Round-Up

There are some books that, for a range of reasons, I read but just didn’t get around to reviewing in full this year. Because I’d like to start the new year without a pile of books I haven’t reviewed yet glaring at me I thought I’d do a couple of round-ups instead. Today it’s non-fiction, earlier in the week it was fiction.

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The Lonely City – Olivia Laing

Laing examines the idea of being lonely in the busiest place on earth – the city, specifically in her case New York City. Part memoir, part mediation on art, Laing looks at a number of artists who’ve dealt with the theme of loneliness – in their work and often in their private lives too – focusing in on Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz. The Lonely City is a fascinating exploration of what loneliness is; how we attempt to stave it off; why some people are consumed by it, and what its relationship to artistic creation might be.

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The Pursuit of Happiness – Ruth Whippman

When her husband’s job takes her and their toddler to California, Ruth Whippman decided to take a look at the USA’s happiness industry. What does it consist of? Does it work? On a personal journey that takes in mindfulness, happiness gurus, a cultural project in Las Vegas, parenting, Mormons, Facebook and positive psychology, Whippman discovers what’s simply big business and what might actually be the key to feeling happy. Told from a cynical Brit’s point of view, this cynical Brit found it an interesting and engaging read.

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Rain: Four Walks in English Weather – Melissa Harrison

Harrison explores the English countryside in the most British of weathers: the rain. Beginning in the waterlogged Fens before taking the reader through Shropshire and The Darent Valley to Dartmoor, Harrison combines historical fact with a glimpse of memoir and notes on the countryside, making you feel as though you’ve visited each place with her. Interesting enough from your armchair if you’re not a fan of walking in the rain; you can also amuse yourself with the 100 Words Concerning Rain contained in the back of the book and impress your friends with a range of dialectal terms.

 

Thanks to Canongate, Windmill Books and Faber and Faber for the review copies.

In the Media, May 2016, Part Two

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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It seems there’s been a return to traditional topics this fortnight. Having children (or not) and body image are back at the top of the agenda. On the former, Daisy Buchanan wrote, ‘I’m economically infertile, and I’ve made peace with that‘ on The Pool; Stephanie Merritt, ‘Sheryl Sandberg admits she did not get how hard it is to be a single mother‘ on The Pool; Ashley Patronyak, ‘A Slight Risk‘ in Guernica; Jordan Rosenfeld, ‘On Discovering Real Mothers on the Page‘ on Literary Hub; Diana Abu-Jaber, ‘Motherhood vs. Art: There Is No Wrong Choice‘ on Literary Hub; Rivka Galchin, ‘Why Does Literature Hate Babies‘ on Literary Hub; Willa Paskin, ‘Speak, Motherhood‘ on Slate; Jennifer Gilmore,’I’m Glad My Mother Worked‘ on The Cut, and Louise O’Neill, ‘I think I would be a good mother; I just don’t want to be one‘ in The Irish Examiner.

Discussions about body image seems to be around the publication of two new books: Shrill by Lindy West and Dietland by Sarai Walker. West wrote, ‘The ‘perfect body’ is a lie. I believed it for a long time and let it shrink my life‘ in The Guardian. Walker was interviewed in The Bookseller and The Pool. And Mallory Ortberg wrote, ‘“We would have paid her the same if she weighed 500 pounds”: Publishing, Weight, and Writers Who Are “Hard To Look At”‘ in The Toast

And then there was this: the men-only bookclub who only read books about men. LV Anderson at Slate decided to tell us all off for being outraged about it, ‘Feminists Shouldn’t Roll Our Eyes at Men-Only Books Clubs. We Should Applaud Them‘.

This fortnight saw the deaths of Sally Brampton and Geek Love author, Katherine Dunn. Kathryn Flett wrote, ‘Sally Brampton – the woman who made ‘Elle girls’ the new normal‘ in The Guardian and Daisy Buchanan wrote, ‘Depression is not a battle that can be won or lost‘ on The Pool.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

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Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

In the Media: October 2015, Part Two

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

Photograph by Nadya Lev

This fortnight has been dominated by trans issues and feminism. This is largely due (in the UK at least) to the no-platforming of Germaine Greer due to her unpalatable comments about trans women. Sarah Seltzer looks at ‘The Disturbing Trend of Second-Wave Feminist Transphobia‘ on Flavorwire. This coincided with YA author, James Dawson, coming out as a transgender woman in this great piece by Patrick Strudwick on Buzzfeed. I look forward to featuring James and his books on the blog under his yet to be revealed new name and pronoun. Elsewhere, Francesca Mari writes, ‘They Found Love, Then They Found Gender‘ on Matter, Corinne Manning writes about ‘In Defence of the New Censorship‘, discussing the use of singular they on Literary Hub while Laurie Penny explores, ‘How To Be A Genderqueer Feminist‘ on Buzzfeed.

Photograph by Chad Batka

The woman with the most publicity this fortnight is Carrie Brownstein. She’s interviewed in Rolling Stone, Slate, Noisey, The New York Times and The Guardian.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

The interviews:

The regular columnists:

In the Media: 16th November 2014

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

Photo by Wayne Thomas

This week, there’s been lots of discussion on my Twitter timeline about an article by Joanna Walsh, writer and creator of #ReadWomen2014 on ‘Why must the “best new writers” always be under 40?‘ prompted by Buzzfeed’s ‘20 Under 40 Debut Writers You Need to Be Reading‘. Traditionally, these lists have disadvantaged women who, for a number of reasons, often publish their first novel later than many men. So, although it’s arbitrary/silly, this week’s top slot is going to pieces by or about those who published their first book at 40 or over.

We have Linda Grant (first novel published at 44) on why she’s hooked on the Serial podcast in The Guardian; Joan Chase (47) in her own words and Amy Weldon on her both on Bloom, a site dedicated to writers whose first major work was published at 40 or over; Ruth Graham tells the true story of Laura Ingalls Wilder (65) on Slate; Alexander Chee looks at Penelope Fitzgerald (59) via Hermione Lee’s biography of her on Slate; there are interviews with Lissa Evans (42) on the One More Page blog, Helen DeWitt (43) in BOMB magazine, Meg Rosoff (48) on Rebecca Mascull’s blog, Katherine Boo (48) on the theatre production of Behind the Beautiful Forevers in the Independent and Donna Douglas (40) on Female First; while Bobbie Ann Mason (42) has a new short story ‘Ready‘ on TNB Fiction and the first chapter of Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye (51) is up to read on One Book Lane; finally, you can find out why middle-aged women are dominated self-publishing according to The Guardian.

At the other end of the spectrum, writer Nikesh Shukla supports young writers in Bristol. They publish online magazine Rife. Here’s Sammy Jones’ ‘The Five Stages of Street Harassment‘ and Jess Connett on ‘Hidden WWI: Teenagers at War‘.

There’s also been more gender discussion. Time magazine added the word ‘feminism’ to a list their readers could vote on to ‘ban’. Roxane Gay responded in The Washington Post; Hannah McGill discussed gender depiction in Sci-Fi in The List; Jess Meacham critiqued Suzanne Moore’s column on selfie’s being anti-feminist and her use of Sylvia Plath’s poetry in ‘The Eyeing of my Scars‘ on her blog, while Non Pratt looked at gender representation in Young Adult books in We Love This Book.

And the woman with the most publicity this week is Amanda Palmer, whose book The Art of Asking was published on Tuesday. She’s in The Guardian following a live web chat; interviewed by Maria Popova of Brainpickings on YouTube; has written an article for The Independent and been interviewed in Billboard.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

This week’s ‘Who is Elena Ferrante?’ piece is by Jane Shilling in the New Statesman

If you want some fiction to read:

Or some non-fiction:

This week’s lists

In the Media: 9th November 2014

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

It’s awards time again this week. Congratulations to Helen Macdonald who won the Samuel Johnson Prize with her stunning memoir H is for Hawk. There’s an article about it and an interview, both in The Guardian. You can also listen to interviews with all the shortlisted writers on BBC Radio 4.

While in France, Lydie Salvayre won the Prix Goncourt with Pas Pleurer.

The Green Carnation shortlist was announced this week and there are four women on the shortlist of six – congratulations to Kerry Hudson, Kirsty Logan, Anneliese Mackintosh and Laurie Penny. Prior to the announcement, Antonia Honeywell wrote her thoughts on the longlist.

The National Book Awards (UK) shortlists were also announced this week. Lots of books by women worth a read on there too.

And the Saltaire Society shortlisted a self-published book for their First Book AwardThe Last Pair of Ears by Mary F. McDonough. The first self-published book to be shortlisted for a Scottish Prize.

That might make you think about Paul Kingsnorth’s novel The Wake which was the first crowd funded novel to be longlisted for The Man Booker Prize earlier this year. Well, Unbound, Kingsnorth’s publishers have announced a Women in Print campaign to try to increase the number of female authors published.

This week has also seen The Bookseller’s report on diversity in publishing – still not good enough, is the overriding conclusion.

It wouldn’t be an average week these days without a Lena Dunham story. Accused by a right-wing journalist of sexually molesting her younger sister following a confessional passage in her book, discussion ensued from Emily Gould, Katie McDonough, Mary Elizabeth Williams and Carolyn Edgar on Salon; Sarah Seltzer on Flavorwire; Emma Gannon on The Debrief; Grace Dent in The Independent. To cheer you up after that, here are 37 Funny and Inspired Thoughts from her book tour on Buzzfeed.

In more cheering news about prominent females, Mallory Ortberg, founder of The Toast, had her book Texts for Jane Eyre published in America this week. In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sarah Mesle wrote a stunning essay/review about the book’s feminist credentials. She’s interviewed on Entertainment Weekly, The Huffington Post and The Guardian. And you can read an extract, 7 Brutal Literary Breakup Texts on Buzzfeed.

And the Amy Poehler stories are still going. The woman herself answers the Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair. Here’s 5 Unexpected Things Marie Claire learned from Poehler’s book. Jessica Valenti has (mis?) read the book and declared ‘bitchiness’ the secret to Poehler’s success in The Guardian. Also in The Guardian, Hadley Freeman told us ‘Why Amy Poehler is the Ultimate Role Model for British Women‘.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

In translation:

  • Jenny Erpenbeck (tr. Susan Bernofsky) ‘Homesick for Sadness’ on the fall of the Berlin Wall in The Paris Review
  • Julie Winters Carpenter interviewed about translating Japanese poetry on the Asymptote Blog

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

And the 13 (I tried to keep it to 10 but it’s been a very good week) best things I’ve seen this week:

In the Media: 5th October 2014

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought-provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

Is anyone else aware there’s a film version of Gone Girl out this week? Love it or loathe it, you certainly can’t miss it. Gillian Flynn’s been interviewed by Emma Brockes in The Guardian and told Vulture about 21 Things that Influenced her books. Erin Kelly wrote in the Telegraph about Why we are all in the grip of suburban noir, while Stylist ran some Words of Wisdom from History’s Greatest Female Crime Writers and Vulture ran a list of Seven Books to Scratch Your Gone Girl Itch which are not what you might expect (I’ve reviewed four and have two of the remaining three on my TBR).

Also having a moment is Jane Eyre and her creator Charlotte Brontë partly due to The Secret Life of Books episode dedicated to the book last week. Presenter of that episode, Bidisha, wrote a piece telling us Beware Your Classic Heroines as they might not be all you thought they were. Pam McIlroy wrote Is Jane Eyre passive or strong? in reaction to the programme. While Claire Hayes wrote about rereading and rethinking Jane Eyre as part of the Massive Open Online Course she’s taking. And if you can’t stand Jane Eyre (just me?), here’s Lucy Hughes-Hallet’s piece from earlier in the year about Why Villette is better.

Lots this week about gender parity or, more specifically, the lack of it. Anne Boyd Rioux wrote on her blog about the Challenge to a (Woman) Writer’s Credibility following the Washington Post’s review of Karen Abbott’s Liar Temptress Soldier Spy and on The Millions asked Is There No Gender Equity in Nonfiction? (I don’t need to remind you not to read the comments on that one, do I?) Rebecca Winson from For Books’ Sake wrote in the TES about their Balance the Books campaign, to challenge the gender divide on the new UK GCSE specifications. While Elisabeth Donnelly wrote on Flavorwire about the difference between Lena Dunham and Aziz Ansari’s Million Dollar Book Deals.

(Portrait by Jay Grabiec )

Talking of Lena Dunham (and other current high profile feminists), she’s still big news this week following the publication of her book. Roxane Gay interviewed her on Vulture and posted the outtakes. While the New York Times ran a piece on how she was turning her book tour into ‘a Literary Circus’. While the LA Times linked her with Laurie Penny to discuss how they are ‘rewriting womanhood for the 21st Century‘. Standard Issue interviewed Penny while the TLS ran a piece discussing Penny’s book alongside Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism and The Vagenda titled ‘Modern Sexism‘. And as I’ve mentioned Gay, I’m very excited by the news that The Toast have hired her to run their new sister site ‘The Butter’.

In translated literature news, there’s a great portrait of Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya in The New Yorker and a piece on Chinese Women Writers by Chialin Yu on Women Writers, Women’s Books. Still the Elena Ferrante pieces continue: there’s a podcast on The New Yorker about her mysterious power and Kat Stoeffel has a girl-crush on her on The Cut. While there’s an extract of Catherine Bessonart’s forthcoming novel And if, at Notre Dame, by nighttranslated by Louise LaLaurie on French Culture. All the more interesting for having the original text alongside the translation. And finally, Sal Robinson at Melville House commented on the possibility of a Women in Translation prize.

I never mention poetry. It’s not because I don’t enjoy it, more that I don’t feel even vaguely qualified to talk about it. However, I’m changing that as of this week (talking about it, that is). Poet of the moment, Kate Tempest is in The Guardian talking about how rapping changed her life. This fantastic poem, Leak by Lauren Levin in The Brooklyn Rail is well worth a read. While Patience Agbabi performs the Prologue from her reworking of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

If you prefer prose, Lionel Shriver emerged as the winner of the BBC National Short Story Award, you can read ‘Kilifi Creek‘ on The Guardian site; Hilary Mantel’s ‘The Long QT‘ from The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher; the opening of Marilynne Robinson’s new novel ‘Lila’ on the Virago Books, or Bidisha’s new novel-length fiction work Esha Ex on her blog.

The best of the rest articles:

And the interviews:

This week’s lists:

And my favourite pieces this week:

The Trip to Echo Spring – Olivia Laing

Laing’s book begins with an epigraph from the Handbook of Medical Psychiatry:

When alcoholics do drink, most eventually become intoxicated, and it is this recurrent intoxication that eventually brings their lives down in ruins…Yet despite these consequences the alcoholic continues to drink…Previously upstanding individuals may find themselves lying, cheating, stealing, and engaging in all manner of deceit to protect or cover up their drinking…Many alcoholics appear quite grandiose, yet on closer inspection one sees that their self-esteem has slipped away from them.

In The Trip to Echo Spring (a title taken from a line Brick says in the Tennessee Williams’ play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Laing examines the lives of six American male writers and alcoholics – John Cheever, Raymond Carver, Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and John Berryman. What drove them to drink and how did it affect their writing?

Laing decides to do this while travelling through America herself, visiting places important to these writers – …through New York, New Orleans and Key West, and then north-west, via St. Paul…and on to the rivers and creeks of Port Angeles…. She uses the connections between the places and the people to provide a loose structure to her work. I say loose because the book meanders from the writers and their relationships to key pieces of their work to what it means to be an alcoholic to Laing’s journey to Laing’s own family background and the affect alcoholism had on them. Some readers will dislike this structure, I’m sure, but  (particularly as a fan of Sebald) it worked wonderfully for me. Rather than investigate an area or a writer wholly in one section, you get pieces of information like this:

In 1980, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders dropped the term ‘alcoholism’ entirely, replacing it with two interrelated disorders: alcohol abuse (defined as ‘repeated use despite recurrent adverse consequences’) and alcohol dependence (defined as ‘alcohol abuse combined with tolerance, withdrawl and an uncontrollable drive to drink’).

alongside descriptions like this:

The city impressed itself on me by way of a repeating currency of images, a coinage of yellow cabs and fire escapes, brownstones hung with wreaths of conifer and ornamental cabbage tied up with tartan ribbon. Delis stocked with smoked pigs’ legs and wheels of giant cheese. Plums and mangoes stacked in crates. Fish on ice, heaped in delicate, slippery piles of coral, silver, flint and grey.

which makes The Trip to Echo Spring a thoroughly absorbing read. But, be warned, this book comes with two adverse side effects: one, the descriptions of the effect that even the smallest amount of alcohol has on your body will put you off drinking (temporarily, at least) and two, Laing’s critiques of the six writers’ work will have you rushing to buy all the ones you don’t already own.

Thanks to Canongate for the review copy.