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Little Deaths, Emma Flint

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2017

Set in the summer of 1965, Little Deaths is an exploration of motherhood, femininity and guilt wrapped up in the disappearance of two angelic children and the suspicions the police have over their young, beautiful and wild mother. Flint’s debut novel opens with a stark contrast; a description of the woman of before, and the woman of after. All the while the reader is furiously gripped by Flint’s careful and considered use of language, trying to figure out for themselves exactly what happened to the children, but knowing that their mother, Ruth Malone, will end up in prison, as revealed in the opening chapter.

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The Sacred Combe, Thomas Maloney

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2017

Combe: Noun. A short valley or hollow on a hillside or coastline, especially in southern England.

This is the word that I learned from reading this novel, so it seemed a good place to start. This novel, the first from Thomas Maloney, is one that is perennially concerned with place. From the title onwards, the reader is always aware of the space that the narrator, the young, distant and bespectacled Sam Browne, finds himself. The chapters deal out a series of snapshots of the narrator’s life, defined by where he was at the time: London is a grey town of loss, the Yorkshire Dales are wild and (naturally enough) unable to provide solace, the titular combe is a hermitage of life and growth.

And it’s never just the setting – the narrator repeatedly sets the scene through the weather too, providing the reader with a Great British tour of weather, throughout the bitter Winter onwards. Just as with place, the weather is a constant companion to the reader, and there’s never a point where they don’t know what it’s doing outside. Read the rest of this entry »

Ithaca, Alan McMonagle

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2017

Joseph O’Connor is right about this book: the opening sentence truly is remarkable. First lines are tricky things – they set the tone for the rest of the book, and Alan McMonagle has managed to write a triumph: “I am the cancer-ridden only son of a dangerous driver who has thoughts about turning herself into a man”.

See what I mean?

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The Transition, Luke Kennard

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

When watching shows like Black Mirror, you are often thrust into immediate alienation from the setting. Perhaps this distance, this immediate self-differentiation, makes such shows easier to digest, despite their clear commentary on today’s society. Luke Kennard’s ‘The Transition’, on the other hand, begins quite the opposite. The protagonist Kyle seems relatively normal – relatable even, to a ‘millennial’ audience. But at some, unidentifiable point things begin to shift, reminding us exactly why dystopian fiction can be so powerful.

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Harmless Like You, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2017

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s debut novel ‘Harmless Like You’ is both subtle and striking. It tells the story of a Japanese-born aspiring artist growing up in New York between 1968 and 1983, and that of a newly married art dealer across late 2016. The narrative is set almost entirely in New York State, with a brief though critical exchange taking place in Berlin. We are presented with Yuki’s time in New York between the ages of about 10 and 30, having lived there for all of her re-collectable life after her parents emigrated from Japan, and where she remains long after her family’s return. We also hear the story of Jay, a recently married art dealer who is struggling with the recent death of his father, and his abandonment by his mother – Yuki – as a young child. These accounts are presented in tandem, the narrative alternating between them despite their separation in time. Each faces similar questions of both past – Yuki’s relationship with her Japanese heritage, Jay’s developing response to his abandonment – and future – the idea of parental responsibility, with Jay having recently become a father.

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