Book review: Burntcoat by Sarah Hall
This is an elegantly written novel which captures the ‘grief-stricken, suffocatingly interior quality’ of life during a pandemic
“The pandemic novels are coming,” said Anthony Cummins in The Observer. Having featured tangentially in recent works by Rachel Cusk and Sally Rooney, lockdown is “far from a garnish” in Sarah Hall’s doomy “tale of sex and death”.
Edith, the narrator, is a sculptor in her late 50s, recalling a time, 20 years ago, when Britain was ravaged by a fictional “deadly virus” that liquefies its victims from the inside. Edith spent much of that lockdown in bed with Halit, her Turkish lover, said Claire Allfree in The Times.
She graphically describes their sex – with references to menstrual blood and “peculiar positions”. Although sometimes a bit of a “hotchpotch of ideas”, Burntcoat is elegantly written and captures the “grief-stricken, suffocatingly interior quality” of life during a pandemic.
Also fascinating are Edith’s “almost metaphysical musings on the virus”, which is slowly killing her 20 years on, said Stuart Kelly in The Scotsman. It is, she notes, “perfectly composed, star-like, and timed for the greatest chaos”. Of the many Covid-inspired books we’ll see, “few will be as finely wrought, intellectually brave and emotionally honest as this is”.
Faber 224pp £12.99; The Week Bookshop £9.99
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