Tales have passed down between generations for as long as mankind has been alive. These stories helped infuse the foundation of different cultures. Some tell of missing beans and talking animals, while others mention the nightly selection of new brides. And some tell of gingerbread.
An old chain spools around a metal pulley next to a swinging kitchen door. The silver chain comes up from somewhere under the wooden living room floor and returns to the same place. When I pull it, it gives a little. On the pulley, three words circle, raised in the brown metal: Closed, Open, and Check. And there is a dial, a hefty metal switch that only moves a centimeter. Other than the give, nothing happens. It’s neat and old and mysteriously low to the ground next to the built-in hutch. An examination of the basement where the chain ends and begins again reveals nothing.
This chain is just one of those objects humans wonder about when they find them after they have moved houses, as I have just done. Continue reading →
Ali Smith’s multi-faceted novel Autumn tries to do many things—things that, when listed out, seemingly couldn’t (and maybe shouldn’t) all fit into one novel. The novel, the first in a seasonally inspired series of four, takes on the perplexity of post-Brexit England, constructs a refreshing intellectual relationship between a young girl and her elderly neighbor, and poetically ponders the complexities of death, nature and memory. And those are just the major plot players. In Autumn, Smith embarks on a path that proves challenging—as paths dealing with today’s muddled political landscape unequivocally are—and her results are often staggering. But some choices she makes fall short, or maybe don’t go as far as they need to –they result in the reader wondering, for example, why we just spent fifteen or so pages on an infuriating trip to the Post Office for a passport. Smith gives us a lot to chew on, but while many aspects of the novel go down smoothly, others get stuck in your mental molars only to be found weeks later, just as bothersome as they were when you first tried to digest them.Continue reading →
Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett (Riverhead Books, 2016)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
A few weeks ago, while in the middle of Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut novel Pond, I discovered an interesting quote on the paper tag attached to my bag of chamomile tea — a great venue if you’re looking for cheery aphorisms, but rarely a space for particularly thought-provoking material. This particular tag featured a quote from Lord Byron, which read, simply: “There is pleasure in the pathless woods.” Continue reading →