BOOKS | Reviews
PHILOSOPHY BARBARA EHRENREICH Living With a Wild God (Granta) ●●●●●
‘I will never write an autobiography,’ Barbara Ehrenreich claims, in the foreword to a book that comes closer to self-revelation than many more conventional memoirs. One of America’s most socially engaged journalists, Ehrenreich’s subject here is not so much herself, but the formative experience of her life. The eldest daughter in a
dysfunctional family, Ehrenreich was well practiced at ‘disassociating’, tuning out from reality in a way that made it seem more heightened and mysterious. When, as an adolescent, this turns into a full-blown ‘mystical experience’, she is presented with an aspect of reality that seems inimical to her rational, scientific beliefs.
A challenging read, it lingers too long on the purely autobiographical, not leaving enough space for analysis of what she thinks might have happened to her. But her conclusions are by no means what you might expect. She avoids any easy answers, whether spiritual or material, which turn out to be disturbing and profound in equal measure. (Richard W Strachan)
54 THE LIST 15 May–12 Jun 2014
SHORT STORIES ANNELIESE MACKINTOSH Any Other Mouth (Freight) ●●●●●
Jagged pieces of a woman’s life gradually coalesce into a narrative in an unnerving debut that sits at the intersection between short story collection, novel and memoir. With the tantalising promise that 68% of the story she tells us is true, Mackintosh presents us with fragments of what may or may not be her life – a whirl of sex and death, of fucking up your PhD and realising that your parents are both fallible and mortal in a dizzying, non-linear selection of beautifully crafted snapshots.
In the nuclear fallout of her father’s death, narrator
Gretchen revisits moments of her life through interlinked short stories that are bawdy, tragic and mundane by turns. Jumping back and forth between adult grief, childhood drama and a university career laced with industrial rock and dubious sexual choices, Mackintosh manages the impressive feat of laying bare her broken heart, dysfunctional family and insecurities in a way that seduces rather than invites pity, a vein of wry humour running through even the darkest moments. She tells her story piecemeal in a jumbled way that intrigues
rather than frustrates, leading us on a twisting path through half-truths, reminding us that memory is subjective and hindsight is never as perfect as we think it is.
Accurately described as one of the UK’s most exciting new voices, Mackintosh presents a hybrid medium that is the perfect vehicle for her talent, fashioning a claustrophobically intimate but compelling sequence of stories from painfully raw material. (Kaite Welsh)
FICTION EMMA HEALEY Elizabeth is Missing (Viking) ●●●●● FICTION SIMON SYLVESTER The Visitors (Quercus) ●●●●●
82-year-old Maud has dementia – and it’s progressing fast. So when her friend Elizabeth goes missing, she does everything she can to remember that she has to find her. But in searching for Elizabeth, she uncovers memories from her girlhood, leading to a much older and darker mystery: the unexplained disappearance of her sister Sukey in 1946. Emma Healey’s debut – subject of a publishing bidding war – is a gripping story, part thriller, part family drama. Headlines may warn of the oncoming dementia epidemic but Healey takes us right to the heart of the condition, the book’s sometimes frustratingly stop-start pace emulating the looping actions of Maud’s daily life. Through her repetitive interchanges, we see her daughter’s simultaneous love and exasperation, and the careless way strangers react to her illness. Healey balances this social
commentary and the unfolding historic mystery with ease. Elizabeth is Missing is a lovely debut: a warm, funny and sometimes truly chilling tale from a promising storyteller. (Yasmin Sulaiman)
Flo sits on the headland of her island home, watching her new neighbours boat their belongings over the water to a rundown islet shack. She can’t quite put her finger on it but there is something strange about the pair of them; of course, what with all the disappearances lately, strange is fast becoming the norm on Bancree . . . Ostensibly a missing-person mystery, The Visitors is anything but a standard thriller. Refreshingly character-driven, it is as much about growing up, the need for companionship and the power of all-consuming love. It is also a celebration of the oral tradition. Scottish folklore is weaved throughout, and it’s intoxicating; as the shennachie on the beach tells Flo his tales of the selkies, you can almost hear the campfire spark.
FICTION JOSEPH O’CONNOR The Thrill of it All (Harvill Secker) ●●●●●
It’s intriguing to read an artist’s well-documented life from their point of view, especially one whose career ended in controversy. Joseph O’Connor has created his own reality in Robert Goulding, the underdog of a fictional rock band called The Ships. Now broke, divorced and living
without music, Goulding details his youth and friendship with Fran Mulvey, the superstar who was bigger than his band, seeking rock’n’roll salvation. O’Connor avoids the genre’s typical pitfalls: awful band names, superstardom clichés, no integration in musical history. His reference points create a colourful picture of each era, enhanced by details through cleverly placed interview snippets, press clippings and diary entries.
Simon Sylvester is no mean The Thrill of it All deals with the
storyteller himself. Having honed his skills on Twitter, where he now has over a thousand 140-character stories to his name, his debut novel proves him equally at home with an unlimited word count. At its best, The Visitors is as dark, sad and enchanting as any fireside folk tale. (Ally Nicholl) dark times and hard graft needed to get somewhere, not just the soaring highs of success. As it fast-forwards to the present day, showing how time changes things, it’s easy for the reader to be drawn into tales of teenage dreams, friendship and a real love of music. (Heather McDaid)