Archive | March, 2018

Van has finished reading…Sight by Jessie Greengrass

28 Mar


I do like the way Jessie Greengrass writes. So tightly-controlled and yet ruminative, I could almost liken it to the telling of a good joke in the way her words build so you feel the weight of each sentence coming to bear, focusing the attention, fining everything down to a sharp point, and when it comes it comes like a punchline, succinct and precise so you sit up and never fail to appreciate just how apposite the choice of words is. And how the bluntness of the delivery can heighten the emotional impact!

Jessie Greengrass’ debut novel, Sight, is a delightful thing.

It’s not a light read, which is not to say that it’s a difficult read but that there’s so much packed into it: the intertwining of the discovery of X-Rays, the birth of Freudian analysis, The Lumiere’s first screenings and the brothers Hunter and Van Rymsdyk documenting the late stages of pregnancy with the narrator’s recollections of childhood, her mother’s death and her own progress toward motherhood. It’s easy to feel like you’ve missed something. And then the questions it will pose. Do we understand a thing because we’ve seen it? What can we know of it without that sight? And in the seeing, what mystery do we lose? Though so many of the reference points are historical there’s no doubting how timely and relevant the work is. Sometimes it feels as though we’re a more visual society than we’ve ever been, yet we trust what we see less and less, and feel all the more isolated for it.


There’s a real sense of distance in the writing that feels very much like an extension of the tone of the stories in the author’s short story collection, An Account Of The Decline Of The Great Auk, According To One Who Saw It. It lends the narrator’s voice a kind of numbed sensibility and leads me down a chicken-and-egg thought process: does the voice make the narrator or the narrator the voice; is it the nature of Jessie Greengrass’ writing that dictates her literary themes, or the themes that set the tone? And that sense of control – I wonder what it would look like if one of Jessie’s narrators completely lost it. It feels like that possibility is always there, just below the surface, out of sight.

I really like the conclusion of the novel – not an end as such but merely the last written page. There is life beyond it and that’s all to the good. It is a beautifully-fashioned bow to hold the first of those pages neatly together with the last.


Whether you pick up Jessie Greengrass’ Sight because of the beautiful, sensuous cover or for the excellent writing it really doesn’t matter. The thing you need to know is that it’s well worth the effort. Enjoy the cover, revel in the writing and then ponder at great length the many questions it poses.


Sight was published by John Murrays on the 22nd February 2018 ISBN:9781473652378


You can find Jessie on Twitter @JessGreengrass

My thanks to Alice Herbert at Hodder for allowing me to review this book

Van has finished reading… Claudia by Anthony Trevelyan

14 Mar


It was the Curtis Brown Book Group (how I miss the CBBookGroupies!) that introduced me to Anthony Trevelyan when we had the pleasure of reading his excellent Desmond Elliot Prize longlisted debut, The Weightless World. I’m very pleased to say that his second novel, Claudia, is every bit as enticing.

Usually, reading the blurb for a book gives you a fair idea of what to expect. Not so with Claudia! With the blockbuster-movie strapline (An Entrepenuer, a hammer-wielding assassin, and the end of the world) and a plot-line that Ned Beaumann would be proud of you might well be going in expecting something extraordinary. And in a sense Claudia is extraordinary, yet it’s a tale that’s very firmly nestled in the quotidien. It’s one of the keys I think to what makes Anthony Trevelyan’s books work so well: the sheer everyday acceptability of events. No matter how bizarre the situation, no matter how outlandish the premise, there’s never a moment where it didn’t feel not simply possible but probable, perhaps even inevitable.

There’s a really nice line in humour with this book too, a gentle sort of comedy that lends an added pinch of realism to the excellently rendered characters and situations. Though they are frequently and quite distinctly not like people you’d know, those funny moments are the grounding factors, the points at which you do recognise strains of familiarity.

For those of you interested in lessons in the literary there’s a really nice point-of-view change in chapter 4. None of your clunky hard returns or gaps in proceedings but a seamless shift in emphasis from one character to another, all couched around said character’s saying goodbye. They both stand but instead of simply saying, ‘they stand’, first one stands and then the other – and in that moment, you realise a line or two on, you’ve been gifted from one head to another. It’s quite lovely!

Whether it’s The Weightless World or Claudia, I’d urge you to pick up an Anthony Trevelyan novel. I could urge you to pick up both but I suspect one will naturally lead to the other anyway. It’s a name that deserves to be more widely known and I for one am looking forward to wherever Mr Trevelyan intends to take us next.


Claudia is published by Sceptre on the 19th April 2018 ISBN:9781473664777

You can find Anthony on Twitter @agmtrevelyan


My especial thanks to Ruby Mitchell at Hodder for allowing me to review this book.