Monthly Archives: April 2020

Essay: Talk to the Animals

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I emerged from a fug of book deadline stress last month and wrote a fun essay about the quest to talk to animals for Prospect to celebrate. It’s got everything: apes speaking sign language, sex with dolphins and the search for extraterrestrial life.

Full text on the Prospect site here, or after the fold.
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Books on my bedside table: Q4 2019 and Q1 2020

Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light - hardback book cover on floor boards

It’s been a strange few months for reading. I finished the first draft of my new book, Islands of Abandonment, at the start of February, after months of nocturnal living and occasional minor breakdowns. Then – well – the pandemic happened. Suffice to say, I’ve felt my capacity for recreational reading to be lower than normal. Still, somehow I managed to read a fair number of books that I loved and wholeheartedly recommend, so here goes:

Fiction
Outline and Transit // Rachel Cusk: The first two books of the highly-acclaimed Outline trilogy. Each takes the form of a series of conversations – with a colleague, a stranger on a plane, a difficult neighbour, her hairdresser – as the protagonist is largely present as a negative, bar her sharp, analytic comments in response to her interlocutor’s offerings. Despite its cool affect and barely-there plot (or perhaps because of it) the books are spellbinding, and powerful in their own understated manner. So acutely intelligent, so readable.

Weather // Jenny Offill: I came nervously to this, because her last novel Dept. of Speculation is one of my favourite books of all time. Was delighted to find that same unpretentious profundity, that quick wit, that macabre obsession. So easily digestible, in its fragmentary form. I read it in an afternoon, then reread it the next day. Who knew the end days could be so dryly amusing? I didn’t feel it to have the same gut-punch emotional intensity of the previous book, but I loved it nevertheless.

The Plague // Albert Camus: Completely coincidentally, I got onto a ‘plague fiction’ reading jag last year before Covid-19 swept the world. I know Camus’ The Plague to be allegorical, yet I still haven’t been able to get the opening section out of my head: the way the city residents grab at life, filling the bars and restaurants in the early days of the quarantine. How, as boredom sets in, they sit smoking at cafe tables, complaining about their lost loves. And all the time, out of sight, the death toll rises…

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