Books of the Year 2018 / Part Four

Contributors to The Lonely Crowd pick their favourite books of the year.

Valerie Sirr

One of the rewarding outcomes of subscribing to small publishers of books and magazines is the surprise packages that drop through your letterbox from time to time like unexpected gifts. Another source of books this year is an old bookshop with several new and ancient treasures. Hopefully it will manage to keep going.

Favourites from my 2018 subscriptions are:

People in the Room by Norah Lange translated by Charlotte Whittle. Reading this novel is like watching a silent movie, a succession of flickering shadowy scenes. Intensely visual and set in the space between the windows of two houses facing each other, this space and the space in the rooms occupied by young women takes on a compelling energy of its own. The style is restrained, enigmatic, the register heightened and anxious, narrated by a young girl of seventeen who obsessively watches her three female neighbours across the way from her room and ruminates about them constantly, ‘I knew I was far from their window, that anything could happen to them while I was away…I was almost saddened to feel so free while the three faces, as if in persistent, unceasing penance, did not stir from the drawing room’. Yet it’s more than a story about spying, it’s a study of yearning ‘the room and I both longing for something’, physical and psychological space, female experience confined and restricted as the lives of these young women are – both the voyeur and the three figures of her vigil.

Slip of a Fish by Amy Arnold is another interior feminine universe; language obsessed this time, narrated by a woman who obsessively collects words. She holds on to words at times as if without their referencing of it, the structure of reality would collapse. At other times she can’t find anything to hold on to underneath endless, unstoppable words. ‘I wanted full stops. I wanted something to put a stop to it…I was searching for something to hang on to, something to grasp and make everything else fall into place.’

The 16 stories in Tom Vowler’s Dazzing the Gods, three of which I discovered in issues of The Lonely Crowd, range across a wide variety of landscapes both interior and exterior. His authoritative tone lends conviction to these uneasy fictions written with precise arresting language. Stories range from deeply layered to fleetingly episodic. There is much struggle but there is humour and heart as well.

The surprising acknowledgements at the end of the book provide an unusually frank account of some of the people in Vowler’s childhood who ‘helped’ him to become a writer. Amusing footnotes accompany this brief memoir redacting some names for fear of libel, but amusingly confirming others.

The Cartography of Others by Catherine McNamara, again broad in scope, begins with a quotation from John Donne: ‘Thy body is a natural paradise/In whose self, unmanured/ all pleasure lies/Nor needs perfection – John Donne, Letters to Several Personages: Sappho to Philaenis’. A suitable epigraph for a collection of stories about desire written with a confident voice and a haunting accuracy of sensuous detail and setting.

The Lonely Press will publish Valerie Sirr’s debut short story collection in 2019.


John Freeman

Jonathan Edwards’s Gen  carries on where My Family and Other Superheroes left off, and goes further and deeper. There are the family portraits we expect, done with humour, warmth, and new immediacy. There are interactions with popular culture, minor disasters and exuberance, realism modified by a daffy imagination. There is an infectious music on the edge of dance in ‘Sing Song Spring Song’ and the very different ‘Autumn Song’. ‘Newport Talking’ is a substantial portrait of a city with its vitality and desperation, the more touching for being funny. Here and elsewhere Edwards shows a new breadth of vision, and the ability to encompass tragedy. His poems about Aberfan and Tryweryn have the air of instant classics.

Gavin Goodwin’s Blue Rain is spare but beautifully crafted and deeply felt. The theme of oppressive working and living conditions, and their sometimes fatal consequences, runs through most of these poems, emerging as we move among contrasting topics: contemporary jobs picking fruit and cleaning; ancient Roman miners near Aberystwyth; residents in a shoddily constructed high-rise, not Grenfell, 2017, but Ronan Point, 1968. There is a personal engagement also with the mountains and the sea, adding grandeur and lyricism to a gentle but implacably political collection.

Another slim collection that packs a punch is Stephen Keeler’s While You Were Away, combining some of Goodwin’s sparseness and depth with Edwards’s refreshingly unpredictable imagination. ‘Five Things’ and ‘The Museum of Loneliness’ approach indirectly but all the more powerfully the topic of the bereavement which informs the whole collection, and somehow leave the reader lifted up as well as sobered.

Paul Matthews’s This Naked Light has the characteristic charm and profundity of this long-established poet, and makes an affirmation of the spirit against the claims of scientific rationalism. In response to a quotation from Francis Crick, Matthews writes: ‘I want to say: a handshake is a holy place. The genome of a poem might be quickened in that gap between us. I’d be with you in any mission to cast off idols which have stopped revealing, but I can’t hold back the thought that signs of the Desolation prophesied for us are stamped into the loveless words you write.’

A different relationship between science and poetry is offered by Andy Brown’s Bloodlines, which begins in conventional territory with poems about family life, but increasingly incorporates scientific information about the body and its maladies. It then reimagines incidents from history and literaturein the light of modern medical knowledge. The bringing of differing perspectives to bear on a single topic is dizzying and stimulating.

Nathan Leamon’s novel, The Test, is written with inside knowledge of international cricket, but it becomes a meditation on the rewards and privations of a life devoted to excellence in any field. It is about you, reader, even if you don’t care for cricket. If you do, you won’t be able to put it down.

John Freeman’s recent books include What Possessed Me, White Wings and A Suite for Summer.

Durre Shahwar

One of the best books I’ve read this year is Nikita Lalwani’s Gifted (2007). I’m surprised it took me so long to get around to reading, yet I’m somewhat glad it did. Set in 1980s Cardiff, Gifted tells the story of Rumi Vasi, a child maths genius who penutimately has to choose between doing her parents proud and abiding by traditional values, or inhabiting and exploring the world through her own choice. The book depicts the various ways in which Rumi navigates her Indian heritage and her father’s strict study schedules with wanting to do more ‘normal’ teenage girl activities such as have friends over, date, read books of her choice at the library. The emphasis on education and its value for migrant South Asian families is on of the key underlying themes. Social mobility and progression is important for Rumi’s father, Mahesh, who himself is a Mathematician and a lecturer. Even Rumi’s mother, Shreene, is encouraged to visit the local library to keep up her English and dress more ‘Western’ at work. Yet Mahesh’s strict rules and difficult equations leaves Rumi lonely and isolated. That is until she is able to break away from it upon starting her Oxford degree at only the age of 15. Gifted is written beautifully and subtly. And even though many of the themes might feel dated and overdone now a decade later, where there seems to be a shift in diaspora and migration narratives in literature, I still found it quite captivating to read, as many of the core themes of belonging, identity, agency are timeless and relatable.

Durre Shahwar is a writer, creative practitioner, an Associate Editor for Wales Arts Review and the co-founder of Where I’m Coming From.

Matt Rader

“What we cannot know is what we most are.” That line, from Canadian poet Russell Thornton’s latest collection The Broken Face, haunted me all autumn.

It comes from a poem called ‘Teeth’ that has the poet at his grandfather’s deathbed. The grandfather both mistakes and identifies the poet as his son and the poet sees it both as a bequest and a condemnation. It’s a poem of that kind of simultaneous duality in infinite regress. The poem is also entirely weirder than that. It is a poem about teeth—’My teeth! My son’s teeth! The father of fathers who is no one but my son—his adult teeth coming in holding the power of the dead and the living.’ I find it utterly compelling and terrifying.

The whole book—which largely concerns Thornton’s identity as a father and a son and a grandson—is remarkable in its grace and intensity. No one writes like Thornton, yet the poems maintain a familiarity. He bears Eliot’s mark of the true original: ‘the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.’ And not just the poets, but all Thornton’s people, past, present, and future.

Another poet friend of mine texted a few months back to effuse about Thornton as one of the last of the mystic poets. (It’s possible that part of being a mystic is that you’re always one of the last.) Celebrated but still largely unknown even in Canada (his last book was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize; two other books have been shortlisted for Canada’s other major poetry prize, The Governor General’s Award) Russell Thornton is one of a very few living poets (three or four maybe) whose new books are major events for me. Almost no one does more with “what we cannot know” than Thornton; his poems are essential. In The Broken Face he’s at the height of his powers.

Matt Rader’s most recent book is Desecrations. He is also the author of the story collection What I Want to Tell Goes Like This and several chapbooks including I Don’t Want to Die Like Frank O’Hara.

Dan Coxon

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

I was disappointed by many of the novels I read this year (my fault, rather than an indicator of 2018’s vintage – I think I just picked up the wrong things), but The Changeling hit me like a sucker punch. (Yes, it was originally published in 2017 in the US, but it only reached the UK in 2018 – and that’s good enough for me.) Streetwise yet fantastical, satirical but with a heart of gold, it wraps you up in its strange little world and drags you along on a heart-wrenching, gut-churning ride. On the surface, it’s a story about second-hand bookseller Apollo Kagwa (and how perfect is it that the protagonist inhabits a world of dusty hand-me-down fictions?), but it quickly enters some far-out places, including a coven of witches hiding off the shore of Manhattan and a troll still dining out on the Scandinavian immigrant community. More importantly, though, it offers one of the wisest, most sensitive, and yet most critical studies of modern fatherhood that I’ve read. Walking side-by-side with Kagwa as he embarks on his neo-Homeric quest, we come to realise the impossibility of keeping our loved ones safe – and that’s the greatest existential horror of all.

Dazzling the Gods by Tom Vowler

Turning to short stories, this collection by Scott Prize winner Vowler stayed with me throughout the year. Published by Unbound so early in January that you can still hear the Hogmanay fireworks crackling between its pages, I haven’t found anything that’s moved me and impressed me as much during the remaining eleven months of the year. (Of course, it’s no coincidence that three of the stories first appeared in The Lonely Crowd…) From the perfectly nuanced ‘The Grandmaster of Gaza’ to the iconoclastic ‘Acknowledgements’ (not, incidentally, the book’s actual Acknowledgements), this is a collection that lives up to its title. Dazzling, entertaining and highly accomplished, Tom Vowler’s second collection showcases modern short fiction at its very best. I can only hope 2019 starts so strongly.

Dan Coxon is the editor of This Dreaming Isle and The Shadow Booth. He is a contributing editor to The Lonely Crowd.

K. S. Moore

Zaffar Kunial’s Us has given me poems to read, reread and treasure. In this startlingly honest debut, roots, memories and family connections are explored, while language is both scrutinized and humanised.  Paths are traced from childhood to adulthood and back again with many fascinating literary references forming a part of the journey.

For me, the stand out poems are: ‘Prayer’ and ‘The Long Causeway’. In ‘Prayer’ language is alive and feeling, as its hurt is ‘hurled . . . at midday, when word had come. Cancer.’  Having lost a parent myself, these words speak to me on the deepest level and that last expression of love and last goodbye, uttered to no visible response, resonates.

By contrast, ‘The Long Causeway’ is a coming out of darkness, a climb towards home in treacherous conditions, made right by the presence of a child and his newly discovered toy.  The toy is a stick that seems to hold some kind of magic as it moves continuously: ‘a wand, delicate and moon-tipped: conducting the snow’s dance . . .’  All at once, the purity of the surroundings and the heart at the centre of this mission become apparent.

I am stunned by the capacity of these poems to move, thrill and provoke similar questioning of self in the reader: the road travelled and the way forward.

Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock reached out to me through a compelling narrative and vividly drawn characters.  Sumptuous and satisfying, down to the smallest detail, the authenticity of the Georgian period is never in doubt, neither is the existence of mermaids.

The featured mermaid has a voice, presented in dedicated chapters, written in enticing italics: ‘We are the lost.  We dart minnow-quick’.  A creature of darkness, the mermaid seems intent on dragging down everyone it comes into contact with, suffusing them in endless gloom.

The light of the novel is in the relationship that develops between the lovely courtesan, Angelica and the plain, but kind merchant, Mr Hancock, who turns out to be an unlikely hero. Their connection reminded me of that between Marianne and Colonel Brandon in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Overall, a well structured, luminous story, fervently told with sensitivity and hope.

K. S. Moore’s poetry has recently appeared in The Lonely Crowd, Southword, The Stinging Fly, The Ogham Stone and Crannog.

Kevin Cahill

Celebrating its 21stanniversary in 2018, my book of the year is Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. This book, like most books that claim to bear ‘God’s thumbprint’, is an antagonism to our sensibilities: a mantra of admittedly sharply edited, but ultimately standard ‘spiritual’ tropes, that fulfil the promise of its title – that most visible of its clichés – and delivers nothing of any real originality. And yet, upon patient reading, I found its contents were indeed all quite original. For although it follows the traditional paradigm of the mystical text: the dark night of the soul, the epiphany – the realisation that we are not our egos, and the subsequent elevation to guru-status following enlightenment, the book delivered on its purported cathartic powers. For as someone managing, or more often than not, being unravelled by a chronic anxiety disorder, I found the rehashed motifs helpful expedients towards greater inner peace: an oxygen-mask dropping into the compression chamber of the modern world

Guided into letting my mind figuratively hover above my body, I was there, somewhere near the ceiling, looking down on the suffering person below: all the incessant thinking was there, the yoke of doing rather than being, the pitting of my discrete personality against all others in a world more akin to a war-zone. I found myself peering down upon it all, and now, not identifying with any of it, I just stood back, placidly, and watched it, just observed it. The proposition, always smacking of the stupendous, is of course that we are all one Being, but more importantly, that the past and the future do not exist, that only the present moment possesses any solid reality. By freeing ourselves of the past and the future we find that unfathomable condition known as joy.

For two years after his breakthrough, Tolle tells us how he would sit on a bench in his local park, and do nothing. He would sit, and listen to the silence. In a world where almost everything is monetized, and operated according to clock-time, this practise of ‘no-mind’ was genuinely quite radical. Imagine doing it? The book, against all odds, fits into the real architecture of our lives, and bears prescriptions at least as potent as anything in our medicine-cabinets. For here we have a book of overused slogans that are genuinely worth repeating, a didactic playback happening over and over again, but to good effect…the snake must eat its tail in every generation! And so although a rather po-faced tone dominates the pages, and the message is draped in appropriate solemnity, the book has humour too: for when asked, in the question-and-answer style of the narration, whether he had ever met a bodhisattva, Tolle assured the questioner that indeed he had, ‘I have lived with several Zen masters,’ he bragged, ‘and all of them were cats.’

Kevin Cahill’s poetry has appeared on both sides of the Atlantic, in journals that include The Lonely Crowd, The London Magazine, Berkeley Poetry Review, Southword, The Stinging Fly, gorse and Crannóg.

Grahame Williams

Small Fry Lisa Brennan-Jobs

My books of the year both made me feel closer to my parents when I’ve not been able to be physically close to them.

I came to Small Fry looking for examples of what not to do as a father, expecting a variation on the standard Steve Jobs biography, and didn’t give any thought to the quality of writing I’d encounter. I was taken completely by surprise. It’s a classy read, skilfully constructed with some of the finest passages I’ve read in years, many of which could be turned into stories in their own right (I’m jealous of the material in this regard). Brennan-Jobs is finely tuned to the unpredictable twists and turns of family life, the destructive nature of her relationship with her own father, the casual cruelty of both her father and mother.

‘Later my mother said it was the dips in his worldly success that made him come and find us. […] when he failed at work, when he lost something in the public sphere, he remembered us, started dropping by, wanted a relationship with me.’

I read Small Fry across as many devices as you can think of: iPhone, Kindle, laptop, desktop (I didn’t buy a physical copy). I needed to get to it however I could, whenever I could.

I’ve wanted to give a copy to my own dad but the timing hasn’t been right, still isn’t right. I hope a day comes when I can give it to him and say, ‘thank you for not being that guy’.

Indifferent Cresses Holly Corfield Carr

It’s of course important to hold some books in your hand while you let them into your heart. Indifferent Cresses, produced in conjunction with the National Trust, is a physical wonder that demands to be seen, held, felt, used as well as read. The pages come some stained, some shining, with spaces between poems for pressing flowers.

“Written in the woods […] this book of pressings, poems and pockets takes its title from Hannah Moore’s complaint that women’s writing has so often been dismissed as uneffortful or unwitting […] garnering as much praise as a salad.”

The poems themselves are adventurous on the page, delicate and unruly at times, accompanied by wandering field notes that can take a while to get your head around. It’s beautifully unique.

I gave a copy to my mum back in October. She loves plants, flowers, gardens and reading and it’s been a hard year. I was happy to give her something that glowed.

Grahame Williams’s work has appeared in the Stinging Fly, the Letters Page and in 2014/15 he received an Arvon/Jerwood Mentorship for fiction writing.

Cath Barton

We live in dark days, and dystopia feels ever closer. I find that, more and more, I look to fiction to make sense of ‘real’ life. This year, Rebecca Ley’s debut novel Sweet Fruit, Sour Land was the book that did this for me most powerfully, with its vivid evocation of the ways in which there can still be hope and possibility, even in the worst of times.

In a world where everything has gone bad or been destroyed, a post-Thatcherite / Theresa May-like leader in the UK (if indeed it is still the UK), Mrs P (aka Auntie), holds male politicians in thrall. While the people go hungry, the rich elite hold extravagant parties, and it is at one of these that Mathilde and Jaminder meet. Both are exiles, there merely for the entertainment of the wealthy.

In the entwined stories of the two women hunger is a constant, and the tastes of foods once (or maybe not) known is fugitive, oral mirage. Peaches, avocados, myrtilles cooked in a tart are emblematic of happier, carefree times. Rebecca Ley weaves in expressions in Mathilde’s native tongue of French which seem to be about food but actually refer to the end of things – ‘c’est la fin des haricots’, ‘les carottes sont cuites’ and so on. Hunger for food and power co-exist in the book, colliding viscerally in a scene in which the politician George forces Mathilde to eat an obscene amount of chocolate cake for his own gratification.

Until almost the last, the seductive-repulsive George pins down everyone – including both Mathilde and Jaminder – where he wants them, facilitated in this by Auntie’s requirement of women that they procreate. Sweet Land, Sour Fruit is, however, ultimately about women’s self-determination in this post-apocalyptic future, and about the persistence of hope for both women and men. Mathilde and Jaminder name their baby son after Victor Hugo, because he wrote about love and compassion, and the possibility of change, and as the child grows so does their optimism:

‘He smiled, and he learnt it from no-one. We realised that some things were innate and couldn’t be taught, and that made us love people all over again.’

As a judge for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize 2018, which was won by Sweet Fruit, Sour Land, I read this book twice, and found it to be one which greatly rewards time and attention. For me it is a beautiful meditation on memory, that ‘gap between the imaginary and the real’ where people, places and experiences we once knew still exist. I found it, and the more so on the second reading, a slow burn to a very moving ending.

Cath Barton’s debut novella, The Plankton Collector, was published by New Welsh Review in September 2018.

Jackie Gorman

Chernobyl Prayer Svetlana Alexievich 

In an amazing piece of research Svetlana Alexievich interviewed a huge amount of survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident. This includes people who lived in the area, fire fighters, clean up workers, officials and the widows of those who died. In this book, each interview is presented as a monologue which runs to a few pages and this form is a particularly hypnotic device. The cumulative effect of the stories is devastating and her pieces of prose which provide background are affecting and effective. The stories in this book are so vivid and the author is hardly there, she does comment though on the impact that the Chernobyl accident has had.. “We cannot go on believing, like characters in a Chekhov play, that in a hundred years’ time mankind will be thriving … what lingers most in my memory of Chernobyl is life afterwards: the possessions without owners, the landscapes without people. The roads going nowhere, the cables leading nowhere … It sometimes felt to me as if I were recording the future.” She has journeyed to an extraordinary place herself, a poisoned landscape, where she has allowed the voices of many forgotten people to tell the story of what happened. 

There Are Monsters In This House James O’Leary 

This chapbook by James O’Leary is part of the New Irish Voices series, which is published by Southword Editions. This work reveals a poet that is not afraid of facing up to complex issues in relationships and addiction. These are big issues to tackle in poetry and he doesn’t shy away from the more difficult parts of the challenge he has set himself. He deals with the themes he raises with a strong and distinct poetic voice, which is imbued with compassion, humour and wisdom. This is a book to savour and to read again. It shows that we all live in different grey areas, which we must learn to navigate through language. He has described the book himself as being melancholy, intimate and hopeful and it’s easy to see why he says this. He has accomplished very skilfully holding difficult human experiences in a very seamless way; he makes what he has done look easy. In fact, it is a very hard thing to do – to hold the complexity of the most difficult human experiences in words, in the crucible of a poem and he has done so with grace and precision. 

Half-Open Door James Finnegan 

This debut collection by James Finnegan is published by Eyewear and it takes its title from a Tomas Tranströmer poem ‘The Half-Finished Heaven’ – ‘…. Every person is a half-open door leading to a room for everyone….’ James Finnegan leads the reader to a variety of places with his poems, childhood, love and many other human experiences. It is no surprise that he is a mathematician by background; he is methodical in his use of form and the use of the white space on the page to speak as part of his poems. There is strength, integrity and attention to detail in these poems that make this collection one to read again and again. 

Did You Put The Weasels Out? Niall Burke 

This collection by Niall Burke is surreal and playful and it is imbued with so much wit, humour and absurdity that you accept that you are going on a journey with the poet, a journey through language. This includes the appendices and the index. There is so much energy, music and ideas in this collection that you are re-energized from reading it. The collection is a kind of mythology which takes place in every small town. It’s written in the form of an Onegin sonnet and Niall Bourke makes forceful use of this form. He has a keen eye for the neuroses of people and in this playful powerful collection he celebrates being alive, including the neuroses which being alive can bring. 

Becoming Belle Nuala O’Connor 

As well as her skills as a writer and storyteller, Nuala O’Connor has a superb eye for detail and this is what brings the world of Becoming Belle alive. Food and fashion, the stuff of life is described in glorious detail, bringing us back to the world of Isabel Bilton. The book describes her ascent in London society and creates a feminist hero who can be admired for her tenacity and grit to succeed. This is a book to enjoy for its amazing prose and dialogue, of which Nuala O’Connor is a master. She clearly has a strong ear for how people speak and the innate ability to bring those words alive on the page. This is dramatic, moving, sensual and witty book which is engrossing and entertaining. 

Jackie Gorman’s The Wounded Stork will be published by Onslaught Press in 2019.

Neil Campbell

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden Denis Johnson

The title story of this, Johnson’s second and final collection of short stories, is a series of flash fictions put together, and as with the collection as a whole it is about aftermaths, fragments, interesting things that happened and damaged people physically and / or mentally. A soldier back from Afghanistan wants a woman to kiss the remainder of the leg.

In another story, a character is talking to a dead man’s wife through a peep show window. Later in this story we get Johnson in a nutshell: ‘Then, as sometimes happens in a San Diego café – more often than you’d think – we were interrupted by a woman selling roses.’ Poetry in the presence of death, or put another way, Johnson’s vision of life itself, his take on the world as a writer, what Johnson’s teacher Raymond Carver called the writer’s ‘unique way of looking at things’. If Flannery O’Connor said short stories were about the ‘mystery of existence’ then Johnson’s stories are about the magic in that mystery. The magic of dreams, hallucinations, long walks late at night.

In ‘Starlight on Idaho’ what seems a cheesy title turns on its head when you realize The Starlight is an addiction recovery centre – typical Johnson. The character writes a series of letters to people in his past, and the epistolary form is used to grand effect. This is a great short story, a classic, one for the anthologies. To take just one sentence as example: ‘Last week here in Number 8 I had a train-jumper wino roommate with slashed-up shoes and a tattoo on his arm that said Eat Fuck Kill.’ Not many writers are capable of sentences like that, especially those that have just come through the education system and not lived a life.

The theme of doubles recurs throughout this collection of five long stories. ‘Triumph Over the Grave’ is perhaps the weakest story in the collection, a rambling tale about the decline of old writers, but the prophetic final line brings a lump to the throat.

The ‘doubles’ theme is most fully manifest in the final story ‘Doppelganger, Poltergeist’. There’s also a startling moment when we end up in the midst of 9/11 and Johnson’s narrator writes, ‘Cop cars and ambulances heaped with dust and chunks of concrete came at us out of the south. I started walking that direction, I don’t know why, but I soon realized I was the only person heading downtown, and then the tide of panic pressing towards me was too heavy to go against, and I turned around and let it take me north.’

Johnson headed downtown and pulled back from the brink, and wrote about that brink with luminous, lingering grace. When a writer dies and leaves us with a book like this, there’s nothing to be sad about. From the sublime ‘Starlight on Idaho’: ‘I’m not the type to trudge along, I’m the type to come shooting off the block, get twenty yards ahead of everybody else, and go stumbling and sprawling off onto the sidelines with a collapsed lung.’ God love you Denis Johnson.

Note: This is an edited version of a review that originally appeared on Storgy.

Neil Campbell’s most recent books include In the Gemini Café, Sky Hooks and Zero Hours.

Daniel Carpenter 

Rebecca Ley’s debut novel Sweet Fruit, Sour Land is not only the most accomplished novel of the year but one of the most timely. In near future dystopia, ruled over by a Thatcher-esque tyrant who appears on broadcasts under the very Beeb-guise of Mrs P, the food is running short and everyone is desperate for rationed goods. Everyone that is except for the upper classes and MPs who have access to all the imported goods they can get their hands on. Ley’s novel is not just focussed on the horrendous injustices writ large in the system but also in how language changes meaning. ‘I used to wonder how long it would take for reference to the thing to actually become the thing. I knew even then that I’d never have enough time to taste everything and put names to them, and learn the names, and know the things themselves as well.’

Daniel Carpenter‘s stories have been published by The Lonely Crowd, Unsung Stories, The Irish Literary Review, and most recently in Unthology. He produces The Paperchain Podcast.

Follow these links for parts One, Two and Three of our Books of the Year 2018 special.

Image © Jo Mazelis, 2018.