LITERARY FICTION  | Daily Mail Online


LITERARY FICTION

A virtuoso pianist abandons a Rachmaninov recital in Vienna and is now adrift, both literally and metaphorically, with her career and her sense of who she is in tatters

A virtuoso pianist abandons a Rachmaninov recital in Vienna and is now adrift, both literally and metaphorically, with her career and her sense of who she is in tatters

LITERARY FICTION 

AUGUST BLUE 

by Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton £18.99, 256pp)

A virtuoso pianist abandons a Rachmaninov recital in Vienna and is now adrift, both literally and metaphorically, with her career and her sense of who she is in tatters.

At an Athens flea market she watches a woman who looks just like her, buy a pair of mechanical dancing horses. As the woman appears to stalk the pianist, popping up from Paris to London, so the reader is invited to wonder whether the woman is in some way a phantom manifestation of the pianist’s personal crisis.

Following her highly acclaimed Living Autobiography trilogy, Levy’s latest novel offers a characteristically elusive journey through memory and identity as the pianist, who was adopted at the age of six, grapples with the hole left behind by her absent mother, while also living the sort of impossibly culturally elevated life people like her inhabit in novels like this.

Levy is the sort of writer who leaves the reader unsure of what is real and what is simply a trick of the light, yet while I love her work, this novel’s stylistic tricks feel overwrought and artificial. In short, not her best.

These days we are very much used to novels and memoirs that present early motherhood not as a lush, dreamy idyll but as a nerve and reality shredding nightmare

These days we are very much used to novels and memoirs that present early motherhood not as a lush, dreamy idyll but as a nerve and reality shredding nightmare

THE NURSERY  

by Szilvia Molnar (Oneworld Publications £14.99, 208pp)

These days we are very much used to novels and memoirs that present early motherhood not as a lush, dreamy idyll but as a nerve and reality shredding nightmare.

Molnar’s debut, about the first few sleep-decimated weeks in the life of a new mother, is no different in that respect, yet she brings this particularly mind-eviscerating state of affairs into startlingly sharp relief in this uncompromising novel. It is as perceptive on the catastrophic loss of selfhood having a baby can bring as it is on the resentment and fury a mother can feel at a newborn’s relentless hunger.

Many novels of this ilk toy with the possibility of post-natal psychosis; Molnar’s more unsettling trick is to present her narrator’s more murderous thoughts from a perspective of absolute sanity. And yet this is also an oddly affirmative novel, alive with a dangerous self-aware humour.

On postpartum sex, the narrator admits to her husband after a bit of fumbling she feels nothing. ‘It’s like a forgotten cave down there.’

The perspectives of three people entwine in this MeToo novel from the Irish writer Sarah Gilmartin, which pivots around a case of sexual assault at a high-end Dublin restaurant

The perspectives of three people entwine in this MeToo novel from the Irish writer Sarah Gilmartin, which pivots around a case of sexual assault at a high-end Dublin restaurant

SERVICE 

by Sarah Gilmartin (Pushkin Press £16.99, 256pp)

The perspectives of three people entwine in this MeToo novel from the Irish writer Sarah Gilmartin, which pivots around a case of sexual assault at a high-end Dublin restaurant.

There’s Hannah, the girl from Tipperary, a student at Trinity, who works as a waitress at the restaurant during the holidays. And Daniel, the volatile working-class lad turned acclaimed chef, whose name the restaurant bears, and Julie, his wife, who understands the sacrifices being the spouse of a celebrity can bring, until a very public rape trial brings her world crashing down.

In clean, clinical prose, Gilmartin lays bare both the power imbalances generated in a hothouse, hierarchical environment, and the schism between women’s rights in the wake of MeToo and a country still in thrall to the old patriarchal order.

Yet, while Julie is sometimes invigoratingly off-message, the novel largely affirms precisely the position you’d expect it to. It might have been more interesting had Gilmartin dared to challenge some of the MeToo orthodoxies by leaving the reader in greater doubt over what exactly took place one very drunken night after shift.



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