My Favourite Anthologies & Publishers to Watch| Reading Round Up

I love a well-curated anthology. There is nothing better than diving into a book that feels like a lucky dip of voices, many of whom you’ve never read before. I also love the flexibility you get with an anthology; only got 10 minutes, no problem! You can read a few poems, maybe even a whole short story or an essay in that time. They are the perfect commuter companion and excellent options for busy times like Christmas, when you want to grab some quiet time before you’re called away again.

I leapt at the chance to create a series of anthologies at our micropublisher 3 of Cups Press. Our first, On Anxiety, launches in January and you can preorder it still through our website shop. There are more coming in later 2018 too – keep a particular eye out for February book fans!

But until then, here are some of my favourites to keep you going!

Also, a quick note, in writing this, I realised this quickly became a love letter for all the independent presses that I know and love, who you should throw some of your book money at in the coming year. These guys do fantastic work and I want them to stick around!

Okay, let’s go.

change.PNGA Change is Gonna Come is the wonderful young adult anthology that features only BAME authors, created by the team at Stripes publishing. The book features twelve authors, contributing ten short fiction pieces and two poems. Change represents the future of publishing – voices that have been historically untapped, stories yet to be told. It is an absolutely divine book of exceptionally high quality, and not one of the stories felt like a duffer. I’ve actually read the anthology twice – once back in August when I was in the middle of Kickstarter hell, and just this last month so that I could refresh my mind. In particular, Aisha Bushby’s piece made me sob on my dog and Tanya Byrne’s Hackney Moon is just the most wonderful queer love story that I have ever read. I want more from all these authors immediately. Stripes and Little Tiger Press also produced the wonderful collection I’ll Be Home For Christmas last year, and in my opinion are a publisher to watch.

Sliding over to non fiction, my first recommendation is The Good Immigrant is an awardimmigrant.PNG winning collection of essays from BAME people living in Britain, collated and edited by the wonderful Nikesh Shukla. This is an extremely timely collection about what it means to be an immigrant or a person of colour in the UK today. The collection includes 21 voices in essays covering their wide ranging experiences and perspectives. It is so difficult to say anything about The Good Immigrant that hasn’t already been said by many, many people. Believe the hype; this book is fantastic and essential reading for anyone living in the UK. From Nikesh Shukla and his wonderful agent Julia Kingsford, we now have The Good Journal, a quarterly literary magazine featuring BAME authors and artists, and The Good Literary Agency, launching in 2018.

Did you know The Good Immigrant was published through Unbound, an independent publishing crowdfunding platform. They produce the most magical books and you must go check them out. I particularly recommend you check out Cut From the Same Cloth and A Country to Call Home, which are both still in the funding process. Check them out!

9780995623828It would be remiss of me to discuss anthologies without looking at Nasty Women, another stunning and award winning anthology released this year. What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century? What does it mean to stand up against misogyny, racism and classism alongside sexism? Independent Scottish Publishers 404 Ink seek to answer this question in this excellent collection of essays and interviews from a number of brilliant women. Originally released as a Kickstarter that was 369% funded, the Nasty Women collection is now widely available, as is their first edition of the 404 Ink Literary Magazine, Error. The collection covers a wide range of topics – the feminist leanings of foraging, accountability in the punk scene, classism within the arts, the difficulty of living multiple racial identities, the struggle of loving Courtney Love. I feel that this collection would stand up well in a feminist starter pack of sorts, as we continue to gather around the rallying moniker of Nasty Women. Buy a copy for the young and old women in your life; there is something for everyone here, and while you’re at it, check out the other books and magazines produced by 404 Ink.

For both Nasty Women and The Good Immigrant, every single essay made me pause for thought and I enjoyed reading a single article then setting the book aside, allowing them to settle in my mind. While this meant it took me longer to read these books, it allowed me the extra time to connect to the voices and their experiences.

I’d like to add a quick recommendation for How Much the Heart Can Hold as well, a fiction anthology developed by Sceptre around the seven types of love, which they added a further story to by Phoebe Roy (also featured in Change) when the paperback was published. I enjoyed this immensely earlier this year, and have been in the process of seeking out works from the authors featured in the book. A great one to dip in and out of too.

In the meantime, I have a lot on my shelves that I’ve been dipping in and out of recently and so haven’t had time to review properly, but I wanted to mention them now:

  • Know Your Place edited by Nathan Connolly and published by Dead Ink Books. this book is essays about being working class, in the style of The Good Immigrant.
  • The Things I Would Tell You edited by Sabrina Mafouz and published by Saqi Books: an anthology of essays from British Mulsim Women.
  • 2084: A Science Fiction Anthology edited by George Sandison and published by Unsung Press is an anthology of science fiction short stories all about what the year 2084 could look like.

That’s all for now, I think. Tell me, what are your favourite anthologies? Which projects are you most looking forward to next?

The Writing of Non Pratt | Reading Round Up

I’ve not really been in the YA scene very long. I started my job as a bookseller on Halloween in 2015, where I dressed up as a witch and read spooky stories to little ones. I already had a bit of a love affair with children’s literature going on, but admittedly much of that was a love for the books I read as a child.

I officially stopped being a teenager back in 2006, but I hadn’t really been reading very much at all for the previous four years ago due to a combination of exams, working numerous part time jobs and discovering boys.

And so, there are many young adult authors that have risen to prominence in the almost 15 (oh god) years since I stopped reading YA as an actual teenager. Stuff published in the last two years? Sure, I know it, probably own it, have likely read it, definitely have sold a few copies of it.

In my determination to read all the back catalogue of UKYA that I have shamefully missed out on, I figured I’d start with some of my absolute favourite people in the whole world. And so, we begin with literal angel human Non Pratt.

For those of you who may not know her, Non is a former children’s editor who then turned her hand to writing her own young adult fiction. She was the author who raised money for charity by shaving her head in front of an audience at the Young Adult Literature Con this year, which startled Benedict Cumberbatch who happened to walk in on us all chanting “SHAVE SHAVE”, which sounded a lot like that scene from Game of Thrones. More recently, she got two of the cutest kittens in the world and you should follow her on Twitter (and read her books).

I read Non’s books out of publication order, and have listed them in the same way.

9781781125854Unboxed (2016) is Non’s first book for dyslexic friendly publisher Barrington Stoke, and follows a group of friends who come together to retrieve a time capsule they had hidden on their school premises. However, in the years that have passed since its creation, their group has gone from five to four. As they open the box, they find a new addition from Millie, commanding the four to read aloud all their letters from all those years ago, and to share their deepest, darkest fears with each other. This may be the smallest of her books, but boy does this pack a huge punch to the heart. This is a book filled with the memory of friendships that were, changed by time and situation; the nostalgia of returning to places so imbued with specific moments in time.

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Remix (2015) is Pratt’s sophomore novel, a perfect summer read that follows two best friends as they attend their first music festival. I really like this summery novel – Kaz and Ruby both exploring growing up, relationships with boys and their own identities as people. It’s definitely a book that suits being read in the summer, lying on a patch of grass and reminiscing about your lost youth at muddy festivals (or that’s just me).

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Pratt’s first novel, Trouble (2014), is probably my personal favourite of her works. Hannah is such a passionate, witty and brilliant character who finds herself pregnant. When new boy Aaron arrives at school, Hannah finds herself drawn to him, only for him to offer to pretend to be the father of her unborn child. I found Hannah’s voice incredibly refreshing; a young working class person determined to be true to herself and her child. Rarely have I seen a character who felt so true to my own teen years – awkward drinks swigged while lurking cold parks.

9781406366938While Trouble is my favourite by a smidgen, I strongly think that Truth or Dare is Pratt’s best book to date. Told in split perspective, Truth or Dare follows Claire and Sef as they start a Youtube channel charity project in order to raise money for the private health care Sef’s brother so desperately needs after an accident leaves him with pronounced neurological damage. The book is split into two halves; the book starts with Claire’s narrative before you physically flip the book over to Sef’s storyline (shortly after which I sent Non a bunch of tweets with expletives in them). It is a brilliant story that also highlights a lot of problems with health care for disabled people, how the standard of it is so often hinged on how unwell you are and what borough you live in.

Wonderful Non has two very exciting books coming out next year: first of all Second Best Friend, her second outing for Barrington Stoke, followed by Floored from My Kinda Books in July, a book about several people stuck in a lift, authored by seven of UKYA’s brightest and best.

Have you read any of Non’s books? Which are you going to pick up next?

It’s all about Ruth Galloway

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Or, rather, my week is.

My February in fact has been very much focussed on Dr. Ruth Galloway; insecure, studious, knowledgeable, wonderful Ruth. And gruff DCI Harry Nelson, out of place and missing Blackpool. Not to forget Cathbad! Oh my favourite Druid! Yes, guys. One of the main characters is a druid.

On March 1st in the Compass Theatre in Ickenham, I will have the great pleasure of interviewing the wonderful Elly Griffiths about her books, particularly her amazing Ruth Galloway series – modern and ancient crimes blended with in depth archaeological knowledge and fascinating histories.

Roman burial sites! Salt marsh henges! WW2 mysteries! Murdered curators that have something to do with recently unearthed medieval archbishops! And those are only the first four books…

This series has sucked me in completely, with Griffith’s fantastic character work and mysteries set in a backdrop of sparse Norfolk landscapes. I didn’t know I liked crime fiction beyond my Christmas-time Agatha Christie hit, but this series has changed that. I have yet to guess the bad guys in any of her books so far, which I feel is the mark of a really gripping thriller.

We will of course be talking about her non-Ruth Galloway books as well! Maybe.

I’d love to see you there to hear all about Elly Griffiths and see me completely fangirl at her on stage. Join us!

What you need to read this September

Autumn is drawing in and I don’t know about you, but the idea of standing around a park to catch that elusive Pikachu is becoming less appealing by the day. Autumn is by far my favourite season – not least because it heralds the most important point of the year, my birthday. Crunchy leaves and cardigans and tights and bright cold days. Those are days I wait for all year. And my birthday. Don’t underestimate how much I like my birthday. Tim has been woken up by me daily giving him the days-to-my-birthday tally.

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Anyway, back to books.

Many people find they read more once the rare British sun finally says tally ho and retreats back into the ether for another 10 months or so, and luckily there’s a great selection of books you could be reading right now to take your mind off that.

I’m hoping to keep this going monthly, with The Brand New, In Case You Missed It and Because I Said So recommendations remaining consistent. Keep me honest guys.

There’s quite a strong YA leaning to this edition, that for some reason I presume won’t always be the case. Hahahha no. YA forever. I will convert everyone to avid YA readers, I will I will.

So, onto the books.

The Brand New

Arguably one of my favourite non-fictions this year just (quite rightly) won the Wainwright Prize and has just landed in paperback. The Outrun originally hit our shelves in February this year, and after hearing much buzz particularly from the #seatwitter crowd, I decided it was worth a hardback spend – spoiler, it was… is.  The Outrun is part rediscovery-of-self memoir, part salute to nature and author Amy Liptrot’s Orcadian upbringing, completely engrossing. Amy words are raw, beautiful and harsh in turns. Named after a section of wild near her family farm, the book follows Amy through dipsomania in London where she chases wild highs and life’s edges, to her return to the islands of the very North, discovering new and old ways of life for herself. If Nature-memoir is your thing, then this is very much your thing.

I have quite literally just put down my copy of the most difficult to put down books for me so far this year. It is still sitting at my feet, warm from my clutching hands, flung down while I (lovingly but) furiously tweeted the author Laure Eve to say that a year was too long to wait for a sequel. The spiritual twin to The Craft has emerged – let all the former 90s witch babies rejoice and dig out black lipstick! The Graces follows River in her quest to be part of the circle of the Grace family – Fenrin, Summer, Thalia. Laure Eve cunningly gives away only minor details as you read, unfurling the plot, the magic and the deception. I only stopped reading to sleep and work, and have been glued to it since I started it 24 hours ago. What a stonker. Read it with some Nag Champa burning and The Craft soundtrack playing. I’d argue it’s probably my favourite YA release of the year.

I say that with it beating out As I Descended by a hair, a very fine hair at that. Because really, how can you beat lesbian Macbeth. You read that right. Robin Talley switches up the setting to a boarding school in Virginia, where Maria dreams of attaining the Kingsley Prize in order to attend a college of her choice. Replace witches with ghosts and a murderous history, and you have Macbeth via Heathers and The Craft. It opens with a ouija board. I cannot honestly explain how intense, brilliant and exciting it is. If you love Macbeth and YA, you have been waiting for this. If you’ve never read Macbeth, let this be your intro – Robin successfully needles into the desires of Macbeth (Maria) and Lady Macbeth (Lily) so well that it would be a great intro. While you are at it, definitely also pick up Robin’s book Lies We Tell Ourselves – desegregation of schools and cross-racial lesbian romance.

I’ve name checked The Craft twice already in this article, haven’t I?

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Okay, okay back to books.

Winding our way back to nature, Melissa Harrison has brought out another seasonal anthology of writing – Autumn. The anthologies combine prose and poetry from authors across Britain to celebrate the Great British Autumn. While I’ve not read this one yet, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed dipping in and out of the previous editions of Spring and Summer, and thoroughly expect my favourite season to receive excellent treatment. Melissa is also author of the brilliant At Hawthorn Time, nominated for the Bailey’s Prize and reviewed on my blog earlier this year, here.

In case you missed it

I’m about 50 pages off the end of The Essex Serpent, and I’m not sure I can explain how wonderful this book is. The mystery of the Essex serpent brings opposites Cora Seabourne and William Ransome together in friendship and adventure – she a keen amateur naturalist, he the local vicar. This truly is a great Victorian novel of science and religion, and of enduring friendships. It is beautifully written, seamlessly executed. Definitely one for fans of Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree, due to shared settings, themes and stubborn characters. It’s taken me quite a while to get through The Essex Serpent, namely because on the morning of Brexit, I was so infuriated by the news that I left my copy on the Piccadilly line as it terminated at Rayner’s Lane. No amount of desperate tweeting from myself and lovely Sarah Perry could return my copy to me – though I must truly thank Penguin and Sceptre Books for being so kind to send me a handful of Fingers in the Sparkle Jar bookmarks, as I’d lost my only one in that book.

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Yes, so in the end I treated myself on payday to a brand spanking new copy of the book in glorious hardback. Time for you to get on it – its worth the extra pennies I promise.

Because I said so

This is the part where I’m going to mention something that is neither that new or relevant in terms of September but that I haven’t mentioned before. I’m starting it off with the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas (start here). My colleague Kate, who is an avid bookstagrammer, has long recommended me the works of Maas and I figured I’d get around to it eventually. And then, with one week before Empire of Storms landed, I got one of my signature ridiculous ideas and decided to try and read the series before the new one landed. Yes, completely silly. I did manage to read the first three though, which I consider a significant achievement of seven days. For complete transparency, I’m going to admit that I really disliked the first 70 odd pages of Throne of Glass – the focus remains on Celaena as being very beautiful don’t forget guys and setting up her love triangle. It was a little teeth achingly veering into Twilight territory for me and I found Celaena was being built up to be a Mary Sue. Thankfully I didn’t give up, because what people have told me about the books getting successively better really is true. It’s not due to revisionist writing either; Maas grows as a writer and reveals more of who Celaeana is and how her world functions. The writing is quippy, the violence gory, the love triangle contained to the first book, and Celaena herself grows on you, the grumpy little shit that she is.

Also here’s some fantastic fan art of her that keeps floating about on tumblr.

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So there you have it, we are wrapped up. Go buy some books from your local friendly bookstore.

You can find me wittering a lot on Twitter, taking bad photos and writing mini reviews on Instagram, updating every time I finish a page on GoodReads.

BYE.

I was sent review copies of The Graces (thank you to Naomi Colehurst & Faber Children’s), As I Descended (thank you to Olivia at Harper Collins), my original copy of The Essex Serpent (thank you to Serpent’s Tail). Receiving these copies in no way influences my reviews.

The Bailey’s Book Reviews: The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

It is a rare thing for me to give up on a book. Generally, I will persist far past the point of enjoyment, not necessarily for completion’s sake, but I wonder if you can truly get a good feel for a novel if you haven’t taken it to the very end.

Today, I have given up on a book, and I feel really bad about it. Those who’ve been following my reviews will know I finished Gorsky, even though I was mostly baffled by its existence and frustrated by the other novel that it could have been. The Improbability of Love has lost me officially at page 215 of 479, though it never really had me to start with. My partner and friends have been telling me to sack it off for days as I’ve been so frustrated by it, and dear reader, I closed the book.

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TIOL, as I will now refer to it, is not only the story of a painting but it is the painting, a (fictional) rarity painted by the (non-fictional) Antoine Watteau, lost from the art world and rediscovered by sad-single Annie. The story opens with an auction of the painting itself, where many of the rich and famous are gathering to buy it, with amusing critique of the art world that Rothschild herself inhabits. At the last possible moment, the painting is stolen – aha intrigue! But then the narrative switches back to six months earlier, and Annie’s discovery.

This is where the problem begins, or at least one of the problems. Rothschild reintroduces us to many of the characters mentioned in the opening Prologue who eventually will buy the painting, which ultimately serves to muddy the plot. I regularly wondered who I was supposed to care about. Was it Annie? Was it the painting?

I tell you what, it wasn’t the painting. An interesting narrative device is used by having the painting speak for themselves, though it is scuppered by the fact that the painting is so gosh darn annoying. A mix between Hyacinth Bucket (or Bouquet) and Miss Piggy, the painting regularly refers to itself as moi and repeatedly switches between giving an art history lesson and telling parts of the story from its own point of view. I have never hated a painting in such a way before. The art history bit was actually interesting because Watteau is a painter I personally know little about, so thoroughly enjoyed the information dotted throughout the book but I really feel it could have been better delivered that through the thoughts of an imaginary canvas.

Okay, so maybe it’s Annie we are supposed to care about? But we learn very little about Annie from the beginning, and her life is revealed in rather piecemeal offerings throughout the novel. Her passion for food and cooking could have been presented much earlier, and her history with her ex and the cheese shop she once loved would have served to make us much more sympathetic to her early on. Knowing that she’s a single person living in the same borough as me buying expensive presents for someone she met at a single’s mixer didn’t really let me know much about her, other than perhaps she has a desperate need to be liked by men who are emotionally unavailable?? I don’t even know if the love interest Jesse turns out to fill that role or if her ex did because I really know less about her than we do about her alcoholic mother, Evie, who inexplicably shows up as some sort of MPDG to make Annie actually do things.

Then there are a bunch of other people – Rebecca who is married to Annie’s boss Carlo who cheats a lot but eventually employs her to do fancy dinners; Barty, an ageing gay man who is a fixer-upper of other people’s lives; a Russian exile Vlad who comes to London and doesn’t know how to spend all his mountains of money (poor little sausage); Delores who eats a lot and writes about Watteau, but discredits the painting; Jesse who is an art guide and the love interest, who casually drops that his dad was murdered for his work on painting DNA???? (this is not mentioned again in the first half of the book); Agatha who works on the painting and knew Jesse’s dad and is glad to have him back in her life and is maybe carrying on with the DNA project maybe; Mrs Appledore who … buys things? The point is there are a bunch of people who I know will want to buy it, and we are introduced to them but I literally am not interested in any of them.

All of the characters who are POC, gay or Russian feel like such stereotypes to the point that I felt really very uncomfortable. In the Prologue, the rapper who is a black man brings along many women of colour in his entourage who are repeatedly mentioned as wearing almost nothing, to an auction. No not to a club, to an auction house. Firstly, nah, that doesn’t fly and I feel uncomfortable with you using women of colour as a weird set piece like that; and secondly I doubt no woman is going to miss out on wearing the best gown with the most expensive jewels to an auction house, to this supposed monumental event of the art world. Later, Annie’s previous culinary successes are listed, with a “tribal themed” dinner party being mentioned, shortly after the slur “gypsy” is dropped. Tribal ain’t a thing; a specific indigenous people’s culture and food, yeh. But tribal is just not a thing. Vlad is a disconnected, cold hearted Russian man who murdered his brother by pushing him down a mine shaft, and Barty is a flamboyant old gay man who wears vintage suits and employs beautiful young society girls to be his social secretaries. These people don’t feel real.

Where I had gotten to in the book, Agatha was only just working on the painting and so the world did not know it was a lost treasure yet. And I realised I didn’t care. In the last two days, I have advanced maybe 50 pages. Given that I read almost the entire 700+ pages of A Little Life on a Wednesday shows how little I was into this. I’d just pick up my phone and browse ebay. I did read Watteau’s wikipedia, so this book has taught me a little about art, at the very least.

I feel that this is a book that doesn’t know what it is. At points it is an awkward love story, but it is so slow moving and Annie seems so uninterested in Jesse, I didn’t really care. Too rarely it is a pointed critique on the art world and the consumerism associated with it. Other times, it is an ode to food and I honestly think these are the times the novel was actually interesting and enjoyable. Annie’s feasts, reminiscent of Heston’s Fantastic Feasts, are well researched and made my mouth water. I would happily have read more of that, than read about Vlad.

I recognise that by not finishing the book, I have missed out on what the build up was to, but the issue here is that I was not remotely grabbed by any of it. Instead I was confused by who to care about, didn’t know who I was supposed to root for. It is with a heavy heart that I close this book, write the review and say goodbye to the missing painting, and move on to another Bailey’s Prize book, hoping for better things.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending the review copy over.

Why should it win?

I swore I was only going to keep this part positive, but I am struggling so much. I don’t think it should.

The Bailey’s Book Reviews: Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy

Deja vu is a funny thing. That sense of repetition, unmistakable sameness. When I began reading Gorsky, I began to feel it completely.

At first I thought hey, maybe it’s because Nik is a bookseller. I carried on. Gorsky arrived in his magnificence, Natalia entered the narrative as a beautiful, intelligent and sad presence in Nik’s fantasy-romance. Still it seemed all a bit familiar. I chalked it up to having read something similar in the past. Then Natalia’s friend Gery shows up, a former gymnast who is immediately set up with Nik by Natalia, and I realised that I was reading The Great Gatsby. Or at least, The Great Gorsky.

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I decided to give the book the benefit of the doubt, and continue reading – so often, reviews will spoil the endings and while I wanted to know whether this really was a purposeful retelling or awkward accident, I figured I’d wait until the end. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake. Knowing it was a retelling from the outset would have removed that aching nag that this was too close to comfort, or that perhaps I had officially read too many books.

When Baz Luhrman decided to make the lavish tale of The Great Gatsby into a movie, many of us were swept into a Fitzgerald fever. As an obsessive collector of sets, I bought many of the beautiful art deco Fitzgeralds published by Alma Books and ploughed through the majority of his novels. While I do not believe him to be a master storyteller, nor Gatsby the best novel ever, I did enjoy it and have a soft spot for his penchant for restless, drunken, rich young men persuing complex women who cannot love them.

Maybe this is why I can’t quite understand why this book exists… I hate that I feel this way about a piece of art, which I thoroughly believe has intrinsic worth of its own, but I’m just a little at a loss when it comes to retellings. I think my problem is that I can’t see where it fits to me in the long term, and how I feel that it would have so many more strengths had it followed an original plot.

This is not to say that it is a bad book. It is not. Goldsworthy delves deeply into a London of extreme wealth, touches upon interesting (and brutal) moments in Eastern European and Russian history, and has some absolutely beautiful moments of prose. It also provides a great list of Russian authors, poets and artists to investigate after the novel is over.

It did keep me reading and, partly due to its short length, I finished it relatively quickly. However I cannot completely give over that this was somewhat linked to being baffled by a reused plot. I am disappointed because these plus points are exactly what I’d love to read more of – and I would be fascinated to see what else Goldsworthy writes, or what she could have written other than this.

I suspect that this is partly an intrinsic bias I have against retellings and reimaginings; unless they significantly add something to the story, I’m not interested. Updating difficult-to-access texts such as the works of Chaucer or Shakespeare for a modern audience is something I’m all behind – whatever gets people interested in these great stories is a good thing. The problem is, I don’t think Gorsky really adds too much to Gatsby, and this retelling of the plot means that the characters often feel underdeveloped and wan. If I hadn’t have read Gatsby before, I suspect I may have thought them to be very flat and in fact its only because of what I know about who they are supposed to represent that they feel more fleshed out than they really are.

I really, really hate that I’ve given this such a blunt review but I wanted to be honest about what I was feeling and my frustrations with what could have been.

Thanks to Chatto & Windus, and Penguin Random House for sending over a review copy to the shop.

Why it should win

While probably my least favourite of the longlist so far, Gorsky is a beautiful story, with lavish descriptions and good pacing. Goldsworthy is a great writer, and I look forward to reading her other works.