The Fell by Sarah Moss
It may feel too soon to be reading a ‘lockdown’ book (didn’t we just live that?), but it’s funny how much you forget – the small things (like using up the last of the cheese, not knowing when you’ll be inside a supermarket again) and the big (remember inadvertently spying on your neighbours’ behaviour and trying to squash the desperate need to just go outside?) The Fell adeptly transports you back to that strange limbo – whether you want it to or not. It follows single mum Kate who is supposed be isolating, but takes a walk; Matt, her teenage son; their neighbour, comfortable, shielding Alice; and volunteer mountain rescuer Rob. Flitting between their perspectives, they each grapple with the familiar ethical conundrums, yearnings and anxieties the pandemic sprung on all of us. Sarah Moss is typically witty and meticulous at observing the neuroses of people, but for a short book, it is a bit of a slog. It’s possibly one to revisit, when Covid doesn’t still feel quite so present and consuming.
Lily: A Tale Of Revenge by Rose Tremain
It’s hard not to shiver when reading Rose Tremain’s latest offering, set in bleak and dirty Victorian London. Lily’s life seems destined for misery: she’s abandoned to the Foundling Hospital as a baby and after a brief happy spell at a country farm, spends most of her childhood at the wicked hands of the nurses, later to lead a lonely existence as a wig maker. The main point of tension is Lily is a criminal, but the narrative works strangely, meaning we find out the victim of her crime about halfway through the book without much suspense, and she spends the rest of the time agonising over her actions. Unfortunately, this takes away much of the drama, making for a slightly dull read. Tremain builds up a fearsome picture of Victorian London – it’s a shame she didn’t provide the plot to match.
My Body by Emily Ratajkowski
Anyone who read Emily Ratajkowski’s viral essay ‘Buying Myself Back‘ from 2020 will know she’s a force to be reckoned with – she found fame for her looks, but she’s also a talented writer. My Body is a series of essays picking up on many of the themes in her original piece – ownership, assault, sexism and the role of a model. Through the essays, Ratajkowski tracks her life as the daughter of a professor and art teacher, becoming a model as a teen, trying to make money in an often dangerous industry, to becoming a mother today. While many stories are heartbreaking and highlight abuse experienced in the fashion industry, some are less empathetic. For instance, Ratajkowski talks about feeling empty inside while being paid to holiday on a luxury island with her husband – it might be her truth, but it doesn’t make for particularly pleasant reading. The writing is strong, but you can’t help but feel that Ratajkowski raises more questions about women’s bodies and feminism than she answers.