If At First by Leo Adley
Steven’s determined not to spend more than a night there. He’s sure he doesn’t belong. Admittedly, he’s struggled since a family tragedy two years earlier, but he’s not like the other patients. However, the staff who can authorise his discharge have other ideas.
I found the novel to be well written, with some pleasing turns of phrase, although it could have done with another proof read. While I wasn’t convinced by the setup – I couldn’t imagine Steven being forcibly admitted in the UK – I did enjoy this deceptively light novel about mourning and masculinity. The novel beautifully captures the fear of facing one’s vulnerability and the loneliness of being offered the wrong kind of help.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
From what I’d heard of this novel, winner of the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction, I wasn’t sure I’d like it. The world-building of the early pages, when what I’d taken for a museum after the apocalypse proved to be a fantasy setting, reinforced that view. But it was an easy read, and I read on … and on, staying up late to finish it. That’s quite a compliment from me.
The reader gradually discovers that the world is darker than the narrator envisages, but what we make of that discovery will reflect our personal philosophies. For me, Piranesi’s experience in the house profoundly parallels the comforts of ‘madness’ and the human capacity to adapt to almost any circumstances (that some would term resilience), no matter how bizarre.
So you’ll see why I ultimately enjoyed it; and perhaps why I felt as fond of this character as readers are of Matty, the cheerfully deluded heroine of my latest novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, which has just marked its six-month milestone. If you don’t know what I’m on about, click the image on the right to learn more.