Bookface Blog

Archive by tag: Kate KellawayReturn
May 15, 2021

The prize-winning poet on her bond with her giggly late gran, embracing blush-making subject matter and why reading poetry is key to writing

Hollie McNish, 38, grew up in Reading, went on from a comprehensive school to Cambridge and has attracted an online following of millions for performances of her poetry. Winner of the Ted Hughes prize for new work in poetry in 2016, she combines protest and humour with a refreshing lack of self-importance. She is a natural champion of women, an ace inequality spotter – a mum who refuses to keep mum. Her new book, Slug, is in no way sluggish: it frisks, rages and rejoices.

You’ve a highly developed sense of injustice – where from?
It’s from my mum. She’s a nurse and has seen it all in terms of people with illnesses and what they have to face. She’s given me a sense of how lucky I am. I’m in a privileged position to speak out because although my family might be embarrassed by my poems, they’re not going to disown me.

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May 11, 2021

The Zambian-born British poet explores colonial history, the origin of HIV and survivor’s guilt with a quiet power

Kayo Chingonyi’s A Blood Condition has a dignity that honours the past without indulging in any overflow of personal feeling. Dignity is an interesting quality in a writer – it cannot be faked without presenting as pomposity. Chingonyi’s authentic, reined-in passions are stirring. His impressive first collection, Kumukanda (2017), showed a poet who already understood that you do not need to be attention-seeking to deserve attention. In this second collection, he takes quietness further. The “blood condition” remains unnamed, although even the most defective of detectives will know it to be HIV. Eastern and southern Africa have been ravaged by the disease and Chingonyi, born in Zambia, lost both parents to HIV-related illnesses. Many of his poems bless the departed (in the affecting Guy’s and St Thomas’s he cannot dissociate the memory of his mother from hospital buildings where she once worked). But the collection is about loss in a far wider sense and its precise devastations will find echos in this time of Covid.

The opening prose poem, Nyaminyami, is dedicated to the Zambezi River god and the whole collection runs like a river that keeps breaking its own banks. Chingonyi compresses Zambia’s troubled history into its flow. He describes the insult of colonial interventions: the building of a dam, the greed for copper, the indifference to the old stories:

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May 01, 2021

The celebrated author talks about writing to the calendar, our new Dickensian age, and how she once imagined she’d become a refuse collector

Ali Smith, 58, is one of our most mind-stretching, energetic and playful novelists, and her seasonal quartet of novels, which she has described as a “time-sensitive experiment”, is a literary, historical take on our troubled age. Autumn (2016), written pre-Brexit and shortlisted for the Booker, was followed by Winter (2017), then Spring (2019) and Summer (2020) – out now in paperback.

How did you feel as you completed Summer and your phenomenal, four-season marathon?
I felt the usual failure (it always feels like a failure at the end of a book). Knackered. Curious as to whether the book would hold water, and as for the series: no idea. Hope, despair. All these feelings passed in the 30 seconds it takes to toast something that’s done with a single measure of single malt, then I emerged from my room into the very real, visceral confluence of hope and despair happening to us all in life in Covid lockdown.

Did writing to the calendar surprise you?
All four books surprised me – from their unexpected characters to their osmosis structure, in which I had to have a blind faith. They never did what I’d imagined they’d do. They formed their own connections, unearthed their own structures. But I’ve always felt that a book’s already written, whatever it is we’re writing. Our job is to unearth it without breaking it or doing damage in the digging. And meanwhile, they earthed – and unearthed – me through a time when our time shook, from Brexit to Trump to Covid.

Summer has been dubbed “the first coronavirus novel”, but in style you’re the least locked-down of novelists… Was Covid problematic to include?
It surfaced in January as I began the book, so I was writing about it concurrently as its impact grew. The book was also concerned with other lockdowns: internment of “enemy aliens” on the Isle of Man in the 1940s, and internment of refugees here and now in the UK (which opened up, ironically, and temporarily, because of Covid urgency).

How has your lockdown been? What are your strategies for getting through?
I’m very lucky. I live with my partner, Sarah Wood [artist and film-maker], in a small street in Cambridge and we have a garden, and our neighbours are all good pals. These things helped immensely. Winter was toughest. In the long middle of the night what really helped was Airs, an album of ancient Scottish tunes made new by composer Mhairi Hall… meditative, consoling. For the mornings: Boccaccio’s The Decameron; I’ve never laughed out loud as much as at these stories, written in the 1300s and set in a parallel plague lockdown in 1348. And for winter evenings, box sets: Spiral, Call My Agent!, It’s a Sin.

I’ve always felt that a book’s already written, whatever it is we’re writing

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Apr 13, 2021

The Russian poet’s eloquent writing is caught between a pursuit of the past and the meaninglessness of memorialising

Translated poetry seldom finds its way into this column. It is too high risk: there is the probability the original voice will seem muffled or will not travel. But an exception has to be made for Maria Stepanova, born in Moscow and a leading voice in post-Soviet culture: poet, journalist, publisher and force for press freedom (founding editor of, an online independent site) who has been showered with prizes in Russia but has not, until now, been much known here. She is translated by Sasha Dugdale, a poet herself, whose imaginative instincts serve her tirelessly. Having said this, a sense that we might be playing Russian whispers (I don’t speak the language) cannot be altogether avoided if only because, as Dugdale explains in her introduction, there is much in Stepanova’s challenging writing that does not translate at all. And yet it has been Dugdale’s remarkable project to give Stepanova a parallel life by dextrously furnishing her modernist poems with English examples.

It is essential to read War of the Beasts and the Animals alongside its companion work, the richly absorbing “documentary novel” In Memory of Memory (just nominated for the International Booker prize). Stepanova scrutinises the memorialising drive of writers and artists: Proust, Mandelstam, Susan Sontag, Joseph Cornell, WG Sebald, Charlotte Salomon – the book is, in part, a Jewish history. Yet she has a simultaneous regard for oblivion, for not recording, for the right to vanish definitively. Holocaust photographs, she argues, need protecting from their audiences. Her writing exists on an edge between an avid pursuit of the past and an acknowledgment of the eventual meaninglessness of memorialising. There is a sense that she might, at any point, be tempted into silence. She writes eloquently about modern technology’s influence on memory, about the wantonly comprehensive record digital photography makes possible – its images persisting into an unwanted immortality. By contrast, she salvages piercingly personal material, including letters from “Lyodik”, her grandfather’s cousin, killed in 1942 in the siege of Leningrad.

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Mar 21, 2021

Characteristic humour courses through this emotional illustrated book about the writer’s battle with Covid-19

“Uh-uh! A cave! We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. We’ve got to go through it!” Like the children in his best-known book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen has been through it. With a writer’s ability to extract something from misfortune, he has become Covid-19’s frontline spokesperson, go-to survivor, man who nearly did not make it. It is not a role anyone would gladly choose. He has been interviewed on television, been the subject of Radio 4’s The Reunion, has written newspaper articles and now this book. Even at the beginning of the pandemic, Rosen was interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme in reaction to a tweet in which he protested that older people’s lives were being undervalued. What he did not know then was that he had already contracted Covid-19 himself.

He describes what it is to feel like no one – reduced to a bag of bones, his hearing shot, his left eye not functioning

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Mar 16, 2021

Fathers, mothers and grownup children reflect on leaving home and the ‘dance between closeness and distance’ in an outstanding anthology

This is not, as is the usual rule of this column, a collection but an outstanding anthology in which fathers, mothers and grownup children speak of themselves and, sometimes, to one another. A new form of homesickness is identified in which it is home itself that sickens. In the poem from which the anthology gets its title, Carol Ann Duffy suggests that her house “pines” when her daughter is away. Gabriel Griffin in Alone describes his home’s echoing uncanniness, a “golden hum in the house now they’ve gone”, and Sharon Olds registers a “strange quiet” in her wildcard of a poem Forty-One, Alone, No Gerbil in which even her daughter’s thankless gerbils have died.

A child must be allowed to grow up and leave. Several poems describe a retreating back view, more telling than any organised face of farewell. Cecil Day-Lewis sees this early on in Walking Away, dedicated to his son Sean, whom he describes “walking away from me towards the school/With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free…” Sometimes, it is the parent whose back is turned. In Eavan Boland’s The Necessity for Irony (and what a maestro at understanding family she was), this is a cause of regret. She remembers visiting antique fairs with her flame-haired 12-year-old:

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Feb 16, 2021

The British poet, inspired by the tale of a California couple who shared their home with a migrant, examines the nature of hospitality in this TS Eliot prize-winning book

Bhanu Kapil, poet and performance artist, recently won the TS Eliot prize for How to Wash a Heart. Kapil, born in Britain to Indian parents, recently returned to the UK after years in North America. She explains, in her afterword, how the work was triggered by a news item about a “couple in California who had offered a room in their home to a person with a precarious visa status”. Kapil was unsettled by the photograph of the citizen host in the newspaper, observing “taut muscles around her mouth as she smiled”. She felt “something I could not put words to when I read her ornate way of describing the hospitality she was offering”.

Finding the necessary words became Kapil’s project. In her earlier work, she has written about trauma in the south Asian diaspora. Here, trauma is amplified by displacement. There is a deliberately uncomfortable sense of breaking a taboo in being critical of hospitality, of seeing its – in this instance – self-serving complexity and nouveau colonialism. This is an extended song about “host-guest chemistry”, about mutinous dependence. By implication, it establishes that real hospitality should not be merely about food and shelter, let alone about a host’s self-congratulation. It should be about creating the conditions in which a guest can feel free.

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Feb 13, 2021

The Scottish crime writer on working in a newsroom in the 70s, coping with lockdown and the transformation of attitudes to gay couples in her home nation

Val McDermid, 65, is sometimes referred to as the queen of crime, and her triumphantly Scottish oeuvre is dubbed “tartan noir”. She has written four series, the best-known featuring clinical psychologist Dr Tony Hill. She has sold more than 16m novels and been translated into 40 languages. Her latest, Still Life, now out in paperback, is tremendous, an effortlessly gripping read.

Why is it we relish violent crime in fiction that we would be appalled to encounter in real life?
Watching lightning strike in somebody else’s house can be almost talismanic – seeing off the possibility of evil in your own life. It can be comforting reading crime novels where endings offer resolution. I don’t mean that everything gets tied up with a neat little bow as in Agatha Christie novels – there are more flexible, open endings now – but something gets resolved.

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Feb 06, 2021

This fascinating investigation by a psychiatrist examines the intricacies of the human brain, revealing how and why our minds can play tricks on us

Veronica O’Keane is a professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin. Early in her career, while working on a perinatal psychiatric ward at the Bethlem Royal hospital, now part of the Maudsley in south London, she encountered Edith, who was suffering from postpartum psychosis. Edith believed her baby had been replaced by an impostor. She was convinced her husband, too, had been swapped for a substitute. When interviewed, she was locked in, fearful and reluctant to talk to what she saw as an equally suspect medical team. On her way into the hospital, she had spotted, in the local graveyard, a small, tilted gravestone and was certain her baby had been killed and buried there.

Edith’s story was the beginning of O’Keane’s investigation into memory. What fascinated her was that, even after being treated with anti-psychotic medication and being reunited with reason and her living baby, Edith was, on seeing the gravestone again, filled with horror. O’Keane wished to be reassured that Edith understood her psychotic ideas were illusory. “What she said next set me on a long-term pathway of inquiry about the nature of the matter of memory. She looked straight at me and said: ‘Yes… but the memories are real.”’ It was as if memory had a persisting autonomous authority. Memory had a mind of its own.

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Jan 24, 2021

Five young victims of a wartime bomb are resurrected in the Golden Hill novelist’s audacious meditation on life and death

This novel has been greedily anticipated by Francis Spufford’s many fans – I’ve had a copy of it sitting temptingly on my desk like the promise of a treat to come. Yet there is one thing we know about Spufford: you cannot second-guess him. He began as an elegant writer of nonfiction – historical, theological, autobiographical – before producing, aged 52, Golden Hill, a novel of exuberant virtuosity about an English chancer in 18th-century Manhattan. A gorgeous escapade of a read, it was hard to believe it was a first novel. In an interview at the time, Spufford said he had just been waiting to be “on reasonable terms” with his own psyche before turning his hand to fiction. But Golden Hill set the bar so high that I had wondered if he might offer us something unriskily modest with which to sneak past the famously challenging second novel post.

His elegant structure allows time to pass rapidly, imaginatively leaping 15 years at a stretch

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Jan 19, 2021

Moments of passing beauty and monumental losses are handled with equal skill in a comforting book

Christopher Reid’s wonderful, calming new collection The Late Sun is a patchwork of sunlight and shade. The opening poem, Photography, set in a sunny restaurant before lunch, ends contemplatively:

What I can see and am smitten
by is a cool, square depth
of shadow and nuance,
fixed for an instant, an age.

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Jan 03, 2021

Father and son combine poetry with photography to elegant effect, locating our inner turbulence in nocturnal seas

This book belongs in a category of its own. It is an unusual collaboration between the poet David Harsent and his photographer son, Simon – not a poetry collection in an ordinary sense, but a startling and beautiful double act about the moon on the sea at night. Through a glass darkly, we see the sea – never the shore – in a sequence of black-and-white photographs. The stills are never still. The moon keeps changing and the water’s texture changes too: feathers, fur, oil paint. Stippled and amniotic, it is suggestive of an ultrasound scan and tempts one into fancifully seeing this book as a birth of sorts – of an exceptional and elegant hardback.

What briefly promises to be a bird’s eye view becomes the dizzying consciousness of a sightless bird – a blind vision

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Nov 23, 2020

Dedicated to her partner, Atwood’s first poetry collection in more than 10 years is wry and entertaining

Margaret Atwood does not do nostalgia. This collection of poems, her first in over 10 years, is a reckoning with the past that comes from a place of wisdom and control. Now 81, she harnesses the experience of a lifetime to assume a wry distance from her subjects – as if, in an astounding world, nothing could throw her off balance. This mastery, even at her most subversively fantastical, is part of what makes her an outstanding novelist. But poetry is different. Atwood is an undeceived poet and, even though the collection is full of pleasures, reading her work makes one consider the extent to which poetry is not only about truth but about the importance of being, at times, mercifully deceived – what Robert Lowell dubbed the “sanity of self-deception”.

The title poem is about words threatened with extinction.

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Oct 27, 2020

From postwar London and empty afternoons to a perfect love affair, this masterly new collection is rich in beautiful phrases

Sean O’Brien, although familiar as one of our most garlanded poets (winner of the TS Eliot prize and, three times, of the Forward), is still in no way – to his credit – a known quantity. His masterly new collection, It Says Here, is partly about unknown quantities. In the title poem, he writes:

That the sky is a page where with a flourish
The birds write the truth in invisible ink
And the eye is too slow to be certain
That this word and that word are never to meet

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Oct 03, 2020

Hermione Lee’s masterly biography of the playwright argues that emotion is as vital to his writing as ‘mental acrobatics’

“I simply don’t like revealing myself,” Tom Stoppard once said. “I am a very private sort of person.” It takes a persistent, unflappable and penetrating biographer to take him on. Hermione Lee is perfect casting and Stoppard himself was, it turns out, casting director, inviting her to write this biography in what was, presumably, a judiciously pre-emptive strike to see off less capable contenders. Lee is celebrated for her biographies of Edith Wharton, Penelope Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf (a writer Stoppard thought overrated). But her task is daunting because it is not only about his life that Stoppard has been retiring. He has tended to see scrutiny of his work as futile. His image has been of the critic as customs officer and himself as “duped” smuggler: “I have to admit the stuff is there but I can’t for the life of me remember packing it.” Lee is calm, unofficious and benign in her scrutiny of the contraband. But will she let Stoppard, one of our greatest contemporary playwrights, through?

He was born Tomáš Straüssler, in 1937, in Zlín, Czechoslovakia – and Lee traces an arc to his narrative: beginning with his detachment from his Czech roots and incomplete awareness of his Jewishness – he did not know, until 1993, that his three aunts, four grandparents and great grandmother had died in concentration camps – to the eventual embracing of both (which led to his magnificent play Leopoldstadt at the beginning of this year). Stoppard’s father, Eugen, was doctor for the Bata shoe company, a man with a “first-class brain, great modesty and total integrity”. Like father, like son, one thinks (though he appears too early for Lee to make the point herself).

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Sep 29, 2020

Natalie Diaz’s second collection plunges the reader into Native American culture and bold takes on sexual love

Natalie Diaz was born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California. She grew up on the banks of the Colorado river and water is her element. Her second collection, nominated for the Forward prize, is authoritative, original and sinuous. It is a fascinating plunge into Diaz’s culture, especially in The First Water Is the Body, a long, defiant, breathtaking poem in which she shares the way she sees river and person as one: “The river runs through the middle of my body.” Water and its fate are also fused with the treatment of Native American people as “exhibits from The American Water Museum” states plainly:

Let me tell you a story about water:
Once upon a time there was us.
America’s thirst tried to drink us away.
And here we still are.

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Sep 13, 2020

The inventor of the beloved puzzle on what life and his Cube have taught him – and how fast he can solve it

Ernó Rubik, 76, is the Hungarian creator of the Rubik’s Cube. The idea came to him almost out of nowhere: he simply asked himself if it might be interesting to put small cubes together so that they remained joined but could move individually. A professor of architecture, he has written an idiosyncratic and gripping memoir about his life and the indomitable career of the Cube, which has been handled (although not solved) by one in seven people worldwide.

What was your favourite toy growing up in Budapest – and what sort of a boy were you?
I was a solitary child and loved toys. I’d find toys in books and make models of them. The more difficult, the better. I hope I’m much the same now– although I was cleverer back then.

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Sep 01, 2020

A mixed-race poet raised by white supremacists addresses his country – and his president

Shane McCrae is a mixed-race American poet, who, at the age of three, was taken to Texas by his grandparents – who were white supremacists – away from his black father who had, until then, been bringing him up. It was an unhappy childhood and he stopped paying attention at school until he discovered poetry (responding, as many unhappy teenagers do, to Sylvia Plath’s work). His faith that he would one day become a poet was unswerving – even after dropping out of formal education. And perhaps it was as simple as this: he knew he would become a poet because he was one. Now, he is a teacher at Columbia. That is the potted biography ­– but there is nothing potted about his unusual and unbridled poetry.

Many poems in The Gilded Auction Block address the US directly, alongside its president. The idea is in a great tradition (think of Allen Ginsberg’s America, Danez Smith’s Dear White America or even, in its less embattled way, Walt Whitman’s One Song, America, Before I Go). The collection opens with The President Visits the Storm, demonstrating Trump’s imperviousness towards the victims of Hurricane Harvey. A few pages in, Everything I Know About Blackness I Learned from Donald Trump almost does not need the poem to unpack its title. The sense, throughout, is of an America with selective hearing and Trump as a complacently grotesque Goliath, against whom a poet must aim a particularly sharp stone.

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Aug 30, 2020

A mystery woman woos a prisoner on day release in a well-observed novel about shame and desire

Lottie Moggach’s talent is her own, yet it is impossible not to speculate
– if you have read Deborah Moggach’s fiction – about the possibility of a narrative gene passed down within families. For the Moggachs, mother and daughter, know how to tell a story. Their plotting evolves naturally. Many people write well but a fluent narrative gift is rarer, tougher to learn and often underrated. Lottie’s debut novel, Kiss Me First, was about a young woman seduced by an online community into taking on a dangerously assumed identity. It was a page-turner of a performance and deservedly attracted notice (nominated for the Guardian first book award). Under the Sun, her second, was another gripping tale, about a solitary woman caught up in a claustrophobic expat community in Spain whose life starts to slide out of control as she gets caught up with a sinister local businessman. The third, Brixton Hill, shares the confident sheen of its predecessors and offers her most accomplished plot yet. Once again, the story involves false identity as a woman named Steph gives herself the slip.

It reminds us that it is possible to be in a prison of life’s devising even when apparently surviving on the outside

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Aug 22, 2020

The don of nature writing on the lure of the world underground, staycations with his family, and the planet’s prospects for the future

Robert Macfarlane, 44, writer and Cambridge University professor, made his name as a revelatory close reader of landscapes and language. His eighth book, Underland – considering underworlds actual and mythical – has been hailed as his most remarkable achievement yet.

In what ways has your scrutiny of “underlands” changed the way you see life above ground?
Above all, it has confirmed my sense of human ignorance and of wonder. We know so little of the worlds beneath our feet. It’s only in the past quarter-century that science has confirmed what many indigenous cultures have known for millennia; that trees are connected into intercommunicating forests by a subterranean “wood-wide web”. In Yorkshire, I watched an astrophysicist search for “dark matter” a kilometre below the fields; in northern Norway, I made a winter journey to a sea cave where bronze age people painted red, dancing figures on to the cave wall. Again and again, I met versions of humans across history drawn down into darkness in search of visions and knowledge. My first book, Mountains of the Mind (2003), tried to explain why people were attracted to the summits of mountains. Now I know this urge to get high is only a few hundred years old; the urge to go low dates as long as we have been human.

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Aug 11, 2020

A journalist’s attempt to reconstruct the life of the Parisian artist and muse through an old address book glitters but lacks real curiosity

Brigitte Benkemoun, a high-achieving French journalist, gets her story off to an intriguing start. She explains that after her husband lost his small Hermès diary, she managed to find a replacement on eBay, listed under “small vintage leather goods”. The diary arrived, almost a twin to the original, with the “same smooth leather, but redder, softer with a well-used sheen”. And there was another difference. In the address section, Benkemoun found telephone numbers, written in brown ink, for Breton, Brassaï, Braque, Balthus, Cocteau, Éluard… “the greatest postwar artists listed in alphabetical order”.

Benkemoun describes herself as an “obsessive” sleuth and discovers that the 1951 diary belonged to Dora Maar, photographer, artist and Picasso’s mistress and model (subject of Weeping Woman). She decides to tell Maar’s story through her notable addressees and even includes, charmingly, Maar’s plumber (he installed a bathtub for Picasso).

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Aug 04, 2020

The novelist teaches lessons in miniature in this deft and entertaining collection

Whenever a novelist takes flight into poetry, one has, however unreasonably, misgivings – based on a received, under-examined idea of poetry as an exclusive vocation. And with a novelist of Kingsolver’s stature, the last thing one wants is to see her as an impostor. I had imagined myself putting How to Fly quietly aside, but instead – only a few poems in – found it to be irresistible, the purest pleasure to read. In an age where almost no one writes letters, this collection is a stand-in for a personal, entertaining and generous correspondence. Is this a way of saying Kingsolver is not a poet? Absolutely not. As a novelist, she is a smart craftswoman, at ease with the grand scale, and here proves herself a committed miniaturist, innovative with the shape of poems, at home with a villanelle and with a particular flair for last lines that concisely turn the tables.

Kingsolver’s wisdom and wit are always proportionate – she never misses the bigger picture

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Jul 19, 2020

The late writer’s singular qualities shine through in these brilliant columns for the London Review of Books

When the novelist Jenny Diski was diagnosed with cancer, she wrote in an essay in the London Review of Books (A Diagnosis) that her first feeling was of embarrassment: she did not want to join the herd who had already written about cancer; and yet she recognised that, as a writer, she could not avoid the subject.

If you knew nothing of her, you might assume this to have been the disdainful shunning of what she seemed to see as a cancer club, but it was more that apartness was key to the way she wrote. Debating in another essay (The Natural Death Centre) a friend’s proposal that they jointly buy a plot in Highgate cemetery, she envisaged her possible headstone: “Jenny Diski lies here. But tells the truth over there.” Solitude being her thing, she decided against the grave share, but her DIY epitaph remains appropriate. For in these brilliant, singular, posthumously published columns from the LRB, she writes in an adjacent way: the truth is “over there”.

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Jul 07, 2020

An NHS nurse pines for her native Philippines in her captivating debut as a poet

Romalyn Ante is a nurse who came to the UK from the Philippines when she was 16 and is now based in Wolverhampton. This collection, her captivating debut, gives insight into her life: the everyday labour of working for the NHS – with its emergencies – offset by memories of the country she misses (the antiemetic of the title being a drug used to treat sickness and nausea). The opening poem, Half-Empty, begins with a quotation from Prince Philip: “The Philippines must be half empty - you’re all here running the NHS.”

His remark, balanced between compliment and insult, throws down a gauntlet (or a hospital glove). Ante is more playful than angry but in this moving, witty and agile book, there is more than one full-hearted poem of prince-shaming potential.

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Apr 19, 2020

The prize-winning poet’s new collection, inspired by The Twilight Zone, is a witty, wily hall of mirrors

There is a scene in the black-and-white sci-fi TV programme The Twilight Zone, created by Rod Serling, where a character is unmasked only to reveal a second mask beneath the first. Don Paterson’s new collection, partly inspired by the 1959-1960 first series of the show, is rather like this. In its opening pages, he issues a teasing warning. He writes that readers should not be deceived by what might be assumed to be his confessional tone: “It isn’t, except on those occasions when it is.” The first thing one has to feel comfortable with is the knowledge that Paterson will not wear his heart on his sleeve, that he is more likely to borrow a sleeve than to let us know, directly, what it is he is feeling and that any emotional authenticity – or the fleeting confessions to which he alludes – are to be dispensed via a fantastical autobiographical hybrid, a mix of disclosure and disguise.

The idea of the collection – which sounds barmy at first – is of the midlife crisis as a permanent state of mind, akin to being marooned on some godawful planet where your other half is likely, at least some of the time, to be an alien. This, I thought, after taking a brief look at the poems, has to be self-indulgent baloney. But as soon as I settled down to read these poems properly, I felt different: I love the collection’s minutely wrought originality and the way that even dismaying subjects – loneliness, insecurity, botched relationships – have hilarious side-effects. The book made me laugh aloud. It is bracing to see Paterson – a dab hand at form (40 Sonnets won the 2015 Costa poetry prize) – returning with eloquence and vim to rhythms of speech. And it is worth adding that, although The Twilight Zone is brilliant, you need not be acquainted with it to enjoy the poems: they speak for themselves.

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