Review: Wish I Was Here by M. John Harrison (2023)


One of our greatest and most original living writers sets out the perils of the writing life with joyful provocation

Wish I Was Here is a masterpiece. Formally inventive, constantly surprising, M John Harrison has written an archaeology of fragments that shivers with wholeness. It’s exquisite’ Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk

‘As always with M John Harrison, you’re never quite sure what you’re reading or where it will take you next. There are only a few certainties: that it will surprise you, sometimes astound you, and leave you profoundly changed’ Jonathan Coe, author of The Rotters’ Club

‘Late style is when the people who have all your life jumped in front of you waving their arms – No! Careful! – jump out one more time to encourage you to run them down, and this time you do.’

M. John Harrison has produced one of the greatest bodies of fiction of any living British author, encompassing space opera, speculative fiction, fantasy, magical and literary realism. Every book is subversive of genre and united by restless intelligence, experimentation and rebelliousness of spirit.

This is his first memoir, an ‘anti-memoir’, written in his mid-seventies with aphoristic daring and trademark originality and style, fresh after winning the Goldsmiths Prize in 2020. Many of our most prominent younger writers now recognise him as the most significant British writer of his generation. He is ‘brilliantly unsettling’ (Olivia Laing), ‘magnificent’ (Neil Gaiman), ‘one of the best writers of fiction currently at work in English’ (Robert Macfarlane).


Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

A disclaimer upfront: I am not clever enough to write a proper review of this book, nor have I had enough time to sift through the wreckage of thoughts and revelations that reading this ‘anti-memoir’ has left in my tattered brain. It’s left me with a feeling that seeds of ideas have been sown in my mind, and I won’t understand them fully for years, if ever. But that’s a really exciting feeling to get from a book!

Where do I start with describing Wish I Was Here? It’s fragmented, splintered, not quite a book on writing, not quite a memoir, but not NOT either of those things… The ideas are scattered but not random, and as I read, I found myself questioning everything I thought I knew. It’s weirdly beautiful in the way that there’s a complete rejection of any attempt to build a cohesive sense of self – there is something in that which I have felt but never been able to articulate. When Harrison talks about the rift between your present and past self, particularly when looking back on something you’ve written a long time ago, it sets my brain buzzing. I’ve long had the feeling that I have lived layers of lives rather than one continuous one. Perhaps this isn’t what he means at all, but it really got me thinking.

I feel about this book both similarly and kind of the opposite to how I felt when I read Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. Similarly in that: I am not clever enough for this, and yet, there are ideas here that speak to me and might change everything, and the opposite in that while Lessing’s book was a sprawling, terrifying slog at times, this book is a short, sharp injection of something I didn’t know I needed. And of course there are the notebooks, or nowtbooks – I coincidently looked through some of my own shortly before I started Wish I Was Here, and a lot of what I found startled me with the gap between what I think I remember of a particular time and what I recorded in my scribbles. So there is a lot to ponder about memory, too. Harrison rejects memory, in a way that I find fascinating, and again, I’ve got a lot more thinking to do on the subject.

I don’t feel like I can write much more in this review – my response to this book was so personal, and I’m still dealing with the fall-out! I do think anyone interesting in writing, memory, the idea of the self, or anyone who wants to see things differently, should read this. I’m looking forward to letting the words in Wish I Was Here percolate, and seeing how they change me (if indeed there is a ‘me’ left to change!).

Wish I Was Here: An Anti-Memoir by M. John Harrison is published by Serpent’s Tail and is available to purchase here.


Review: Mrs Porter Calling by AJ Pearce (2023)


The heartwarming, moving and uplifting new story of friendship, love and finding courage when all seems lost from AJ Pearce.

London, April 1943.

Emmy Lake is an agony aunt at Woman’s Friend magazine, doing all she can to help readers as they face the challenges of wartime life. With her column thriving and a team of women behind her, Emmy finally feels she is Doing Her Bit.

But when the glamourous new owner arrives, everything changes. Charming her way around editor Guy Collins, Emmy quickly realises the Honourable Mrs Cressida Porter plans to destroy everything readers love about the magazine.

With her best friends by her side, Emmy must work out how she can bring everyone together and save Woman’s Friend before it’s too late.


Many thanks to the publisher and to the Squadpod for my advance copy of the book.

I loved the first two books in AJ Pearce’s Emmy Lake series, Dear Mrs Bird and Yours Cheerfully, so I was properly excited to catch up with the characters in this next instalment. Pearce captures the spirit of wartime London so beautifully, with humour and pathos and everything in between. The magazine setting is ripe for all sorts of shenanigans and wrangling, and when a new owner takes over, it’s only a matter of time before Emmy must come to the rescue once more. There are some wonderful new characters to love – and hate – as well as recurring appearances from series regulars.

What these books do so well is weave together humorous plotlines with incredibly moving ones – I can’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but alongside the ridiculous whims of Mrs Porter (and a star turn by her dog, Winston), there are moments that had me welling up, and some really poignant observations by Emmy, who is growing as a character with every book. What’s particularly interesting here is that we see her facing challenges she has absolutely no experience of, and admitting that she doesn’t always know what to do for the best. There’s a vulnerability to her that feels more defined than in the previous books, and it made me warm to her even more.

The consistency of the style is admirable – the language feels not only era-appropriate, but also reflective of internal and external attitudes of the characters. It’s very clever, because there is a remove between even the most beloved characters’ sensibilities and our own, but we can fully buy into their attitudes because of the exceptional times they are living through and the author’s absolute commitment to the era. There’s something cinematic about these books; they’re such beautifully crafted, immersive period pieces, and it’s always a pleasure to spend time in this world.

There is definite potential for more Emmy Lake Chronicles to come (the ending is satisfying, but open for more) and I, for one, can’t wait. This is proper escapist, immersive fiction – funny and heart-warming and oddly healing; if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Emmy yet, treat yourself to all three – they’ll make perfect summer reading.

Mrs Porter Calling by AJ Pearce is published by Picador and is available to purchase here.

Review: This Family by Kate Sawyer (2023)


It is my dearest wish, that after so long apart, I am able to bring this family together for my wedding day.

This house. This family.

Mary has raised a family in this house. Watched her children play and laugh and bicker in this house. Today she is getting married in this house, with all her family in attendance.

The wedding celebrations have brought fractured family together for the first time in years: there’s Phoebe and her husband Michael, children in tow. The young and sensitive Rosie, with her new partner. Irene, Mary’s ex-mother-in-law. Even Emma, Mary’s eldest, is back for the wedding – despite being at odds with everyone else.

Set over the course of an English summer’s day but punctuated with memories from the past forty years of love and loss, hope and joy, heartbreak and grief, this is the story of a family. Told by a chorus of characters, it is an exploration of the small moments that bring us to where we are, the changes that are brought about by time, and what, despite everything, stays the same.


Many thanks to the publisher and to the Squadpod for providing me with an early copy in exchange for an honest review. I was a huge fan of Kate Sawyer’s debut, The Stranding, so I was really excited to get my hands on this one! It did not disappoint!

I’m a sucker for a sprawling family drama where secrets gradually come to light and the changing dynamics of the years play out before our eyes, Cazalet Chronicles style, and there is definitely a hint of Elizabeth Jane Howard here. But it’s combined with the claustrophobic heat of Claire Fuller’s Bitter Orange, and the stylistic verve of an Ian McEwan novel. Compressing the present tense focus to one single day, in one setting, is a brilliant way of building tension, as we see everyone gathering in at the same time as flashbacks reveal the cracks and ruptures of the past. It’s a very clever novel, and I’m beginning to suspect Kate Sawyer’s literary career is going to be strewn with well-deserved prizes.

The characters are complex and rounded, their shared past full of the kind of morally ambiguous choices that will divide readers’ opinions. I really felt I got to know each member of the family – what is really clever is the way that, at the start, the relationships between them aren’t entirely clear – it’s almost confusing, and at first I thought, oh I wish there was a family tree or something to help me sort this out, but then I realised that what this does is drop the reader right into the group, an outsider trying to figure out the connections and dynamics in the same way as we would if we met these people in real life. It’s actually genius, as it’s a natural way of getting to know the characters, and avoids the kind of exposition that can take a reader out of the moment.

The house, the willow tree, the preparations for the meal and celebration – everything is described in vivid, fresh detail, and it’s easy to picture the scenes unfolding on the page. The writing in This Family is so subtle and skilful, and the revelations, when they come, feel earned and real. There are moments of tension that held me in thrall, and tender moments, too, pulsing with emotion. I won’t give away anything about the ending, except to say that it feels exactly right.

This is a deeply intelligent, beautifully written book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I love how different it is from her debut – both novels are brilliant, but in such different ways. I can’t wait to see what’s next from Kate Sawyer.

This Family by Kate Sawyer is published by Coronet and is available to preorder here.

Review: Tiny Pieces of Enid by Tim Ewins (2023)


Enid isn’t clear about much these days. But she does feel a strong affinity with Olivia, a regular visitor to her dementia home in a small coastal town. If only she could put her finger on why.

Their silent partnership intensifies when Enid, hoping to reconnect with her husband Roy, escapes from the home. With help from an imaginary macaw, she uncovers some uncomfortable truths about Olivia’s marriage and delves into her own forgotten past.

A deeply touching story of love, age and companionship, evoking the unnoticed everyday moments that can mean the world to the people living them, Tim Ewins’ second novel will delight fans of his acclaimed debut, We Are Animals.


Huge thanks to the author for sending me a copy of the book, and to the Squadpod for arranging this publication day blog blast.

I loved Tim Ewins’ debut novel We Are Animals, so I was really looking forward to Tiny Pieces of Enid. It’s also garnered a lot of praise from writers I admire, which raised my expectations even more. And it doesn’t disappoint – it’s quite different to We Are Animals, which was delightfully quirky, but what it does have in common is the same large heart. It is – in that overused phrase – a ‘quiet’ book, focused on the small moments, but those moments are everything – they’re what makes up life – and without all the dashing around the world that was so much fun in his first book, the author has time to slow down, and zoom in, and the result is a wise, tender novel.

Enid’s dementia is handled with real sensitivity – we get a good sense of her confusion, of her loosening grip on what is going on around her, but we still get an insight into her personality, and she’s a joy to spend time with. There are lovely moments of humour – watch out for the carrot – and her warmth and generosity shines through in her interactions with Olivia, in particular. I thought their relationship was really well done – there’s no ‘cheat’ here of a sudden moment of lucidity so that Olivia can get to know the ‘real’ Enid – there’s just an unspoken understanding, a connection, and it feels very real. We are not just what we can articulate, we’re people underneath it, even without words, and the way their stories merge reveals a lot about both women.

The real heart of the story, however, is the love between Enid and Roy. It’s beautifully depicted, so subtle and meaningful in all the ways that matter, and their unwilling separation due to Enid’s illness feels desperately sad. It’s refreshing and wonderful and also heart-breaking to see the unsung love story of a long term couple brought to the fore in this way – we often talk about having ‘someone to grow old with,’ but literature doesn’t often show us what this means in practice. There’s so much quiet tenderness in the way Enid and Roy think of each other, their love for each other is so clear and uncomplicated, despite all the complications that life has thrown at them. I’m firmly in my cynical phase at the moment, but even I was thinking, “yes, that’s how it should be”!

There are moments of real peril and drama in this book, which I was quite surprised by (at a couple of points I was actually quite concerned it was all going to go in a very different direction), and some pretty dark themes are explored, but again, it’s done very sensitively. My favourite moments, though, were the in between times, the times when Enid is reflecting on her past with Roy, or he is thinking of her, and that idea that even though they are physically apart, they’re still each other’s worlds. It’s beautiful and so moving. And I was glad to see that animals haven’t been entirely left behind – there are some stunning passages about nesting birds, and a few glimpses of the brightly coloured parrot from the gorgeous cover. I do like it when there’s a little thread that connects an author’s books!

I highly recommend this book, especially if, like me, you’re a fan of a cathartic, book-induced weep, and I’m excited to see what this talented writer produces next.

Tiny Pieces of Enid by Tim Ewins is published by Eye/Lightning and is available to purchase here.

Review: Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo (2022)


Glory is an energy burst, an exhilarating joyride. It is the story of an uprising, told by a bold, vivid chorus of animal voices that helps us see our human world more clearly.

A long time ago, in a bountiful land not so far away, the animal denizens lived quite happily. Then the colonisers arrived. After nearly a hundred years, a bloody War of Liberation brought new hope for the animals – along with a new leader. A charismatic horse who commanded the sun and ruled and ruled and kept on ruling. For forty years he ruled, with the help of his elite band of Chosen Ones, a scandalously violent pack of Defenders and, as he aged, his beloved and ambitious young donkey wife, Marvellous.

But even the sticks and stones know there is no night ever so long it does not end with dawn. And so it did for the Old Horse, one day as he sat down to his Earl Grey tea and favourite radio programme. A new regime, a new leader. Or apparently so. And once again, the animals were full of hope…

Glory tells the story of a country seemingly trapped in a cycle as old as time. And yet, as it unveils the myriad tricks required to uphold the illusion of absolute power, it reminds us that the glory of tyranny only lasts as long as its victims are willing to let it. History can be stopped in a moment. With the return of a long-lost daughter, a #freefairncredibleelection, a turning tide – even a single bullet.


Many thanks to FMcM Associates for sending me a copy of Glory to review as part of their promotion of the Rathbones Folio Prize shortlist. Apologies that it has taken me so long to read and review – this book was worth the wait, though!

I don’t know where to start with reviewing this book, except to say that it is one of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read. It pulls you along with the force of its prose and the strength of its premise – as one critic says, “Bulawayo is really out-Orwelling Orwell.” I thought Animal Farm was a brilliant, clever book – but Glory is astounding.

This book grabs you and doesn’t loosen its grip until after the last page. The allegorical mode is much rawer here than in Orwell’s work; it’s easier to forget that the characters are ostensibly farm animals, because the emotions and scenarios feel so terribly human. There are obviously clear parallels between Jidada (with a -da and another -da) and Bulawayo’s own Zimbabwe, but it reaches further than that – the pattern of colonialism and liberation and repression and torture and corruption has been repeated again and again across the globe, and here the author writes those themes large, in fierce, bold, surging prose.

The opening chapters are a masterclass in political rhetoric, the call-and-response, the assigning of blame to anyone and everyone except for the ruling party, the machinations at play within the seat of power. It’s scarily mesmerising, and it sweeps the reader along with the crowd of animals. And then, as the book progresses, we have the pendulum-swinging movement between hope and disillusionment, as a new era brings more of the same pain. The collective suffering of the animals of Jidada at the hands of the corrupt government is described in increasingly eviscerating terms, with repetition and stylistic experiments driving it home.

But what makes this book even more special is the individual narrative that comes to the fore in the second half of the novel. When Destiny returns home from exile, the intensity of the novel moves up a notch, and through her reconciliation with her mother and her neighbours, we get a reckoning with the past which reverberates into the present. The story is brutal and violent and bloody, yet in amongst it there is Destiny, and her mother, Simiso, sharing such intimate moments, there is a sliver of hope, there is the hint that the tide can yet turn.

I cant remember reading a book which held in in its thrall as strongly as Glory. The scope of its subject matter, its linguistic acrobatics, its ability to flick from humour to tragedy, its blending of allegory and specifics; there just isn’t another book like this, certainly not that I’ve read. It seems to vibrate with truth and history, with a raw honesty that exposes the horror of the systems that grind down the many while benefitting the few, with an entirely justified rage that powers the story forward like a tidal wave. It left me reeling, and I know I’ll come back to this book. I’m very grateful to have had the chance to read it.

Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo is published by Chatto & Windus and is available to purchase here.

The Rathbones Folio Prize winners and shortlisted books can be viewed and purchased here.

Review: The Geography of First Kisses by Karin Cecile Davidson (2023)


In The Geography of First Kisses, one finds portrayals of quiet elegance reminiscent of early-20th-century art films. The fourteen ethereal stories are tethered to the bays and backwaters of southern Louisiana, the fields of Iowa and Oklahoma, the pine woods of Florida, places where girls and women seek love and belonging, and instead discover relationships as complicated, bewildering, even sorrowful. A New Orleans girl spends a year collecting boyfriends and all the while considers the reach of her misadventures; a newlywed couple travels to Tulsa in search of a horse gone missing, perhaps more in search of themselves; a new mother is faced with understanding the miracles and mysteries of faith when her baby disappears; a young daughter travels to Tallahassee with her mother, trying to unravel the meaning of love crossed with abandonment. Saturated with poetic illusion and powered with prose of a dark, pulsating circuitry, the collection combines joy, heartache, and tenacity in a manner sorely missed in today’s super-structured literature.


Huge thanks to the author for sending me an eARC to read in exchange for an honest review, and even bigger apologies for taking so long! I’m generally behind on everything book-related this year, but with this book there was an added reason: I loved it so much, I wanted to read it again before writing my review. This is really rare for me, as my toppling TBR glares accusingly at me if I so much as think about rereading, but this short story collection more than deserves extra time – it is really special.

I was looking forward to The Geography of First Kisses immensely, as Karin Cecile Davidson’s writing holds a special place in my heart. Her debut novel, Sybelia Drive, had a real effect on me – the story is so intricate, the prose so beautiful – it’s a book I did a lot of shouting about on Twitter, and I urge you to read it if you haven’t already. This collection had a lot to live up to for me, and it exceeded my high expectations.

The fourteen stories that make up The Geography of First Kisses hit the short story collection sweet spot of being tonally similar enough to form a cohesive whole, but individually full of variation and surprises. Like an album, there are repeated themes and strands, refrains that run throughout the book, but each story is its own song. The title story is the perfect opener – a coming of age tale with the scents and sounds of Louisiana woven into the prose, dreamlike and beautiful but punctured with occasional sharp shocks of reality. The writing oozes gorgeousness like honey, and lobster pots and oyster shells and shrimp trawlers set the scene for the journey in and out of the bayous that this collection is going to take us on.

Location is key, as you might expect from the title, but we don’t stay in Louisiana for all of the tales. One of my favourite stores, ‘We Are Here Because of a Horse,’ opens: “Tulsa by night shines like a shattered gold watch,” and depicts a wild goose (horse?) chase that somehow encapsulates a whole relationship and the layers that make it up. I loved Meli, the character searching for the horse – I’m always in such admiration when a short story, across its brief pages, can make a character seem so nuanced and real.

I think that is Karin Cecile Davidson’s gift with these stories – she presents moments that contain within them hundreds of other moments. The prose flicks seamlessly between present and past, and there’s such wisdom in the understanding of how time works, how those defining moments of our childhood live with us and yet are so hard to recapture: “The moment stumbled forward. Later, Celia would remember it as fleeting, a lissom second, like a flower, blown away, buried by sand” (From ‘Soon The First Star’). There’s a description in ‘The Biker and the Girl,’ a story pulsing with subtle menace and tension, that feels so innocent, so nostalgic, that it tips the story away from the sense of foreboding for a moment: “There was a way the days fell into each other, one after the other, warm and unencumbered.” It took me back to times in the past where I’ve experienced exactly that feeling – days without pressure, slipping into each other. When an author describes feelings you’ve had but never articulated, I think that’s one of the most special things about reading.

There are so many characters in the stories who have remained with me – the narrator of ‘One Night, One Afternoon, Sooner or Later,’ who whiles away days and nights with Jude and Micah, the three of them “twisted together, trying to figure things out by doing them, by not doing them;” Eliza, whose sister we are addressed as in her story about the thrill of a hurricane; Howdy and Morgan in Sweet Iowa, whose love story has the strangest beginning (hint: it involves pig tossing); Carly’s cousin Robbie in ‘Bobwhite,’ haunted by the big brother who died in the war: “Carly wondered if Robbie knew it would be okay to cry.” There is such power in these stories, from the simmering brutality of ‘Gorilla’ to the surreal, mythical touches that creep into stories like ‘In The Great Wide.’

It is hard to describe Karin Cecile Davidson’s style, except by saying that her stories remind me of almost all of my favourite short story writers, from classics such as Raymond Carver, Angela Carter and Alice Munro to contemporary favourites of mine like Lauren Groff and Carmen Maria Machado. These stories are at that level – they’re so layered and intricate, and just beautiful to read. I honestly feel quite evangelical about this writer – with her first novel and now this collection of stories, her talent is so awe-inspiring, and her words are such a rich pleasure to read. I’ll be looking out for what’s next, for sure. Do check out her work – you will not regret it!

The Geography of First Kisses by Karin Cecile Davidson is published by Kallisto Gaia Press and is available to purchase here.

Review: Crossing Over by Ann Morgan (2023)


Edie finds the world around her increasingly difficult to comprehend. Words are no longer at her beck and call, old friends won’t mind their own business and workmen have appeared in the neighbouring fields, preparing to obliterate the landscape she has known all her life. Rattling around in an old farmhouse on the cliffs, she’s beginning to run out of excuses to stop do-gooders interfering when one day she finds an uninvited guest in the barn and is thrown back into the past.

Jonah has finally made it to England – where everything, he’s been told, will be better. But the journey was fraught with danger, and many of his fellow travellers didn’t make it. Sights firmly set on London, but unsure which way to turn, he is unprepared for what happens when he breaks into Edie’s barn.

Haunted by the prospect of being locked away and unable to trust anyone else, the elderly woman stubbornly battling dementia and the traumatised illegal immigrant find solace in an unlikely companionship that helps them make sense of their worlds even as they struggle to understand each other. Crossing Over is a delicately spun tale that celebrates compassion and considers the transcendent language of humanity.


Huge thanks to Will at Renard Press for providing me with a copy of Crossing Over in exchange for an honest review.

This book tackles some enormous themes, but it does so in an extremely intimate way. Its power comes from the fearlessness of the narration, which dives headfirst into the complex, fractured mental states of its two protagonists, Edie and Jonah. Their respective confusions are carefully rendered through Morgan’s disjointed, urgent prose and are also reflected in clever loops with chapter titles, incidents, misunderstandings – so that every situation we read about is kind of viewed through a double lens: the disorientated perspective of the character, and the reader’s own attempt to weave meaning out of the (intelligently presented and completely deliberate) chaos!

It’s no mean feat, but Ann Morgan manages to pull this off. I was concerned that I just wouldn’t be able to follow either narrative, but as Edie gets more confused, so Jonah finds more clarity, and it’s his journey that really had an emotional impact on me.

It is obvious that the author has taken the responsibility of writing a Black character very seriously – an author’s note explains that in fact she has revised this text since the audio version to provide a “richer, more complex” backstory for her character, and the acknowledgements mention several sensitivity readers. It’s to the author’s credit that this is not a simple “but look, we can all be friends” narrative – the weight of what Jonah has had to carry because of the circumstances he’s been forced to live through is more than anyone should have to bear, and the toll it has taken on him is really well depicted. There’s so much nuance here – and some really quite dark moments, as Jonah confronts the injustices so clearly on display to him.

Edie is another complicated character – she’s not your warm and fuzzy if slightly dotty granny – she’s also seen some terrible things, and she’s made some bad choices. As her memories bleed into her present, the pieces of the puzzle gradually start to slot together, but this is a puzzle with jagged edges, ones that cut deep.

I think what I admire most about this book is the way it swerves the easy wins of sentimentality and delves much deeper into the psyche of the two protagonists. In a book this ambitious, not everything is going to work for everyone, and there were one or two plot points which stretched my credulity, but on the whole, I found so much depth in this book, so much thought and care and rigour – it really impressed me, and I’d love to read more work by this author.

Crossing Over by Ann Morgan is published by Renard Press and is available to purchase here.

Review: Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer (2022)


Today I might trace the rungs of her larynx or tap at her trachea like the bones of a xylophone…

Something gleeful and malevolent is moving in Lia’s body, learning her life from the inside out. A shape-shifter. A disaster tourist. It’s travelling down the banks of her canals. It’s spreading.

When a sudden diagnosis upends Lia’s world, the boundaries between her past and her present begin to collapse. Deeply buried secrets stir awake. As the voice prowling in Lia takes hold of her story, and the landscape around becomes indistinguishable from the one within, Lia and her family are faced with some of the hardest questions of all: how can we move on from the events that have shaped us, when our bodies harbour everything? And what does it mean to die with grace, when you’re simply not ready to let go?

Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies is a story of coming-of-age at the end of a life. Utterly heart-breaking yet darkly funny, Maddie Mortimer’s astonishing debut is a symphonic journey through one woman’s body: a wild and lyrical celebration of desire, forgiveness, and the darkness within us all.


Many thanks to FMcM for sending me a copy of the book to review as part of their promotion of the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year shortlist. The award was won by Tom Benn for Oxblood, but all four of the shortlisted books sound incredible – you can check them out here. I definitely want to read the others now!

Having read Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies, I’m not at all surprised that it has been shortlisted, and that it has appeared on so many other prize lists, including the Booker Prize longlist. It’s so inventive, playing around with form and language and a way that feels genuinely fresh. I do love a book that makes its own rules, and Maps does this in spades.

There’s a weird, witty, experimental ‘I’ which at first I thought was Lia’s cancer talking, but it actually seems more complex than that – it’s a narrator that can’t be pinned down, both bodiless and of the body. Its giddy use of language and random thought hops put me in mind of the brilliant Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann – the two books have something in common in their startlingly insightful understanding of the way the mind works, the looping and doubling back of thought processes, the way that snippets of knowledge, pop culture, lived experience all swirl together to make that peculiar stream of consciousness that we all carry within us.

There are other original facets of this book, too – the central relationship between Lia and Matthew is destructive, but we’re not pushed to judge them for it, again, there’s a piercing insight about that kind of magnetic attraction that is so hard to break free from. Lia’s daughter, Iris, is another fascinating character – in fact, I think she was my favourite character in the novel.

The heady mix of intellectual heft and fun and humour makes for an intoxicating read – I had no idea where the book was going to go next, and that freefall sensation is a very exciting one as a reader. If you like a straightforward, conventional narrative, this isn’t the book for you, but if you enjoy seeing boundaries pushed, watching fiction stretch and play with the fabric of reality, I highly recommend this brilliant novel.

I’m looking forward to reading the other books on the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year list – let m know if you’ve read any of them!

Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer is published by Picador and has just been released in paperback – available to purchase here.

Review: The Daughters of Madurai by Rajasree Variyar (2023)


Madurai, 1992.

A young mother in a poor family, Janani is told she is useless if she can’t produce a son – or worse, bears daughters. They let her keep her first baby girl, but the rest are taken away as soon as they are born – murdered before they have a chance to live. The fate of her children has never been in her hands. But Janani can’t forget the daughters she was never allowed to love.

Sydney, 2019. Nila has a secret, one she’s been keeping from her parents for far too long. Before she can say anything, her grandfather in India falls ill and she agrees to join her parents on a trip to Madurai – the first in over ten years.

Growing up in Australia, Nila knows very little about where she or her family came from, or who they left behind. What she’s about to learn will change her forever.


Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a beautiful proof copy of The Daughters of Madurai in exchange for an honest review.

I knew this novel would be an emotional read – centering on the horrific practice of female infanticide, even the blurb is deeply moving – but I wasn’t prepared for the journey this book would take me on. The elegance of the prose, the back and forth of the shifting timelines, and above all the quiet strength of Janani, one of most finely drawn characters I’ve come across in a long time, all adds up to an incredibly powerful reading experience.

The structure of the book is really clever – questions are raised by the gaps in the story, and the answers come gradually, naturally, with all the realism of uncovering family secrets from tight-lipped relatives who prefer to leave the past untouched. While Janani had my heart, her daughter, Nila, is also a fascinating character, trying to carve out her own identity from a rockface of silence, looking to the past and the future at the same time, acting as a guide for the reader as we travel back to India and to her parents’ past.

There are brutal scenes, and tragedies that feel all too real, but there is also love and tenderness in these pages – romantic love, and the deep connection of friendship and shared experiences. The way the characters interact with each other in the book is a masterclass in characterisation, in that push and pull between what can and can’t be spoken aloud. It aches with emotion, bruised souls bumping up against each other and pressing on invisible wounds. I finished the novel feeling as if I really knew these people, particularly Janani, for whom I had so much admiration. The author makes the characters come to life so vividly that I whispered goodbye to them when I finished reading, and wished them well.

The Daughters of Madurai is a powerful, important, beautifully written novel, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Daughters of Madurai by Rajasree Variyar is published by Orion and is available to preorder here.

Review: After Paris by Nicole Kennedy (2022)


Three best friends. A weekend away. And a whole lot of baggage.

 Alice, Nina and Jules have been best friends for twenty years. They met in Paris and return there once a year, to relive their youth, leave the troubles of home behind, and indulge in each other’s friendship and warmth. But this year, aged thirty-nine, the cracks in their relationships are starting to show…

After their weekend together in Paris, the three women never speak again. Each claims the other two ghosted them. But is there more to the story?


Many thanks to the publisher and to the Squadpod for sending me a copy of the book ahead of the paperback release in exchange for an honest review.

I love books about female friendship – the complexity of it, the way that those relationships can be more important, more constant, and sometimes more dramatic, than the romantic relationships in our lives. I love it even more when the protagonists are the same age as me, and I’ll never pass up a vicarious trip to Paris, a city I’ve only been to twice, and each time only for 24 hours, but one which I love to read about.

The structure of After Paris is reminiscent of One Day, as we flit in and out of different Parisian visits throughout the years of Alice, Nina and Jules’ friendship. It’s very cleverly done, and it gradually builds up a complex picture of the three women’s lives, and their friendship dynamics. There’s a boy, of course, and he’s significant to their story, but it’s the women who are the focus.

What I admired most about this book is the way that it dives into so many big themes: motherhood, fertility struggles, addiction, infidelity, without falling into the traps of either becoming preachy or of skimming over the surface of these important issues. It feels like a deep, heartfelt exploration of the myriad challenges that so many people face, and yet there is also a lightness, brought into the novel by the humorous touches and, of course, the wonderful backdrop of Paris. Nicole Kennedy describes the city beautifully – its sights, smells, and above all, its tastes – if you manage to get through this book without craving a delicately flavoured almond pastry or an air-light macaron, then I’m sorry but I don’t think we can be friends.

I have to say, I enjoyed this book even more than I expected to – I genuinely came to care deeply about the characters, and was left with that lovely feeling that their lives would go on without me as I turned the last page. That’s when you know the writer has done an amazing job. I think this novel is the perfect spring read, and I highly recommend you get hold of a copy, along with a patisserie treat or two!

After Paris by Nicole Kennedy is published by Head of Zeus and is available to purchase here.