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Burntcoat Paperback – Nov. 9 2021
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An electrifying story of passion, connection and transformation from 'a writer of show-stopping genius' (Guardian).
'Dark and brilliant.' SARAH MOSS
'A masterpiece.' DAISY JOHNSON
'Extraordinary.' SARAH PERRY
'Searing... Sarah Hall's best work yet.' JON McGREGOR
'One of the best books of the year.'
'Hall has set a bar . . . Finely wrought, intellectually brave and emotionally honest.'
In the bedroom above her immense studio at Burntcoat, the celebrated sculptor Edith Harkness is making her final preparations. The symptoms are well known: her life will draw to an end in the coming days.
Downstairs, the studio is a crucible glowing with memories and desire. It was here, when the first lockdown came, that she brought Halit. The lover she barely knew. A presence from another culture. A doorway into a new and feverish world.
'Sarah Hall makes language shimmer and burn . . . One of the finest writers at work today.'
'Wonderful . . . The writing goes down smoking hot onto the page.'
'Transporting . . . A beautiful novel, full of heat and darkness.'
'I can think of no other British writer whose talent so consistently thrills, surprises and staggers . . . With Burntcoat she has solidified her status as the literary shining light we lesser souls aspire to.'
About the Author
- Publisher : Faber & Faber; Export edition (Nov. 9 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0571329322
- ISBN-13 : 978-0571329328
- Item weight : 230 g
- Dimensions : 21.6 x 2 x 13.5 cm
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top review from Canada
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This story centres around a COVID-like virus; however, the virus presented here is more severe and the public’s response slightly more dangerous. Edith contracted the virus when it was first circulating, and now some thirty years later is suffering a relapse. The cause of her relapse is unknown to scientists, but what is definite is that Edith does not have long to live. As Edith reminisces on her life, she completes the finishing touches on her magnum opus, knowing that she will never see its final installation.
This is a slowly-paced literary work that captured my attention from its opening sentence. The timeline skips around as Edith recalls different instances, but it gets less confusing as the novel progresses. I’d recommend reading it in one or two sittings in order not to be thrown off by the time skips.
There are themes on desire, love, lust, art, family, grief, and sickness.
I knew I would like this book, but I didn’t think I would LOVE it. I also didn’t know it would be so seductive and intense, but I am not complaining, not at all. The story goes to some very dark places. It steers clear of toxic romantically dark places, but rather explores grim and isolated ones that are quite graphic.
I won’t say more than that because I want this story to tear through the hearts of other readers.
This was my first Sarah Hall book, but it will not be my last.
Thank you to Faber and Faber for the arc provided via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Top reviews from other countries
Though I’ve been to see/listen to Sarah Hall twice, and enjoyed listening to her short story Mrs Fox on the radio, this was my first reading of one of her novels and I was one third disappointed one third fascinated and one third satisfied. Here’s why:
There’s no continuous time line. The narrative consists of short bursts of story from different points in time; i) a working sojourn in Japan learning wood-burning techniques, ii) time spent with her first boyfriend Ali, iii) attempting to care for her lover Turkish restauranteur HALIT after he contracts the virus, one with symptoms alarmingly similar to Ebola and which is called NOVA, and iv) the relationship with her mother NAOMI. The element of the novel which most fascinated and pleased me was Edith’s relationship with her mother, who when Edith is a little girl suffers a brain haemorrhage which she survives but has to rediscover her identity and the cerebral event has subdued her emotions. Effectively ‘Mummy’ disappears, and is replaced with ‘Naomi.’ The reader is prepared – to some extent - for the tone of grimness of the effects of a pandemic, which according to the narrative kills one million in Britain, by the interlude with Edith's first 'real' boyfriend Ali. There’s an ectopic pregnancy, sexually-transmitted infections, psychological and physical abuse, and a frighteningly elegant scene in which Edith is shielded by Naomi from Ali who is trying to provoke her into getting what he wants, but he hasn’t bargained for Naomi’s deadened emotions which diffuse him. Halit is the love of Edith’s life, so you would expect some development in the relationship between the two of them. Oh, there’s sex, pages, pages and pages of DH Lawrence inspired beard-twitching sex, but with Halit, not much else. Then it dawned on me that Halit is little more than a tool, a victim to show the virulence of the disease. ‘You faced the ceiling, blind like the head of a plant waiting for the light’s instruction,’ even before he contracts Nova, Halit is a victim, a non-character, so developing the relationship between he and Edith is a non-starter. Everything goes into the care she tries to give him, and it was here that I was heavily reminded of the relationship between Kit and Port Moresby in Paul Bowles’ novel The Sheltering Sky. There, Kit allows herself to be consumed by the subcultures of the North African desert, while here, Edith appears to be doomed by Nova. ‘There’s no good way to wait for a disaster…the days before are already afflicted. Emptied of productivity, slippery with fear.’ Hall’s book, grim as it is, isn’t – we hope - necessarily prophetic, but it sure is thought-provoking.
And finally, if the reader has lulled themselves into a sense of security thinking ‘well, at least COVID wasn’t as bad as this fictitious virus – I mean, we’re down to 30k cases a day now and 300 daily deaths so we’re out of the woods etc’, consider that if we continue at the present rate – and there’s always a chance of a resurgence – then by Christmas 2022 Covid will have killed as many as died in the UK from Spanish flu in 1918 -1920, and in another twelve years will have contributed to the deaths of one million people in the UK, so as they say in the north of England, “think on!”