In brief: Cleopatra and Frankenstein; Unattached; Dálvi: Six Years in the Arctic Tundra – review | Fiction


Coco Mellors
Fourth Estate, £14.99, 384pp

New York City at the start of the 21st-century – pre-financial crisis, pre-Trump, pre-Covid – is captured with near-devotional lushness in this nostalgic debut. It’s an urban playground that struggling painter Cleo, 24 years old and stylishly British, is on the brink of being exiled from, her student visa due to expire in mere months, when she meets Frank, a fortysomething ad agency owner with a nice line in elevator chitchat. They wed on a whim to calamitous effect on both sides. In terms of depth, this novel is more Jay McInerney than Hanya Yanagihara, but Mellors proves herself a poetic chronicler of inky gloom as well as twinkly surfaces.

Edited by Angelica Malin
Square Peg, £14.99, 176pp

Sadly, the personal essay is not the established literary genre here that it is in the US, but while this patchy collection doesn’t exactly exceed expectations, it does nevertheless gesture to the potential richness of the female experience of being unattached. Yes, there are tears – heck, there are Fleetwood Mac lyrics – but you’ll also find calls to broaden the definition of romance, to quit thinking of single life as mere prologue and to wonder whether the reason we’re taught to fear going solo might perhaps be that it makes us so very powerful. Try not to mind mantras of “self-care” and tending your inner child and turn instead to essays by Mia Levitin and Rosie Wilby.

Laura Galloway
Allen & Unwin, £8.99, 304pp (paperback)

When Manhattanite Galloway accepted delivery of a dozen red roses from her husband one morning, she was thrilled. Then she spotted the divorce papers taped to them. Not long after, she leapt with her two cats into the ultimate void: a Sami community in the Arctic north, a place of whiteness and silence where she’s so clueless about daily life, she doesn’t even know what to worry about. This compulsive account of her time there occasionally falls back on self-help tropes, but not even talk of “soul level” connections and pet psychics can obscure the bracing wonder of its setting, a place that becomes not just her refuge but also her teacher.

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