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.


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