Little Scratch by Rebecca Watson; Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller; The People’s City by Anne Hamilton, Nadine Aisha Jassat, Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin and Sara Sheridan: Paperback Reviews
At first glance, not much is happening this Friday. An anonymous narrator wakes up, goes to her job in a newspaper office, and meets her boyfriend in the evening for poetry and drinks. But beneath the surface, there’s a lot going on. Throughout the day, she struggles with the nervous compulsion to scratch her legs and the dilemma of whether or not to tell her boyfriend that she was sexually assaulted by her boss. And the way Rebecca Watson presents it is far from routine. Little Scratch is an experimental internal monologue that fragments, repeats, organizes itself into columns and forms patterns resembling concrete poetry. This typographical tumult is the mind of our narrator working feverishly to process what is happening to her, to face her trauma and to protect her. It’s an awe-inspiring study of alienation and power, in the workplace and beyond, that resists mundane answers and easy-to-digest resolutions.
Since the death of their father in a tractor accident four decades earlier, the 51-year-old twins, Jeanie and Julius, have lived in isolation with their mother, Dot, in a cottage in the English countryside. Now that Dot is dead, the twins are thrown into a dizzying world of technology and digital interconnection that they can’t understand and have little time for – all while facing the prospect of losing their home. They must also come to terms with the fact that their mother has kept them home with her by weaving a web of lies, hiding family secrets they never suspected. Fuller’s sober and moving coming-of-age story lets the twins be themselves, in all their weirdness, and doesn’t go out of its way to make us love them. Instead, by holding up a mirror to the complex world we take for granted, she gradually persuades us that their way of life, however unconventional, has value.
THE POPULAR CITY
Anne Hamilton et al
The fourth anthology benefiting the OneCity Trust contains five short stories set in Edinburgh and making the most of its iconic locations. In Anne Hamilton’s The Last Tree, the son Alina gave up for adoption has finally located his biological father, but a 25-year-old deception remains unsolved. Nadine’s narrator Aisha Jassat sees a ghost in Pilrig which is part of her quest to know Edinburgh and its “living echoes”. Alexander McCall Smith’s melancholic In Sandy Bell’s is steeped in the late 1950s, with student digs, amateur photography and a cameo by Hamish Henderson, while Ian Rankin depicts the reunion between two brothers when the one is released after a prison sentence. And in Sara Sheridan’s On Portobello Prom, a photographer finds himself embroiled in a marriage arranged by an Italian ice cream dynasty in 1961. There are five captivating and resonant stories here, with no weak links.