The Performance by Claire Thomas
Seventy-year-old literature professor, Margo, has come specifically to think. Her bruised arms display her husband’s recent acts of violence, while she is guilty of bruising remarks to her son and daughter-in-law. Also in the audience, forty-something Ivy contemplates the wonder of her toddler son and the challenge of distributing her surprise inheritance to worthy causes. Summer, a young theatre usher and aspiring actor, struggles to manage her anxiety about her girlfriend’s parents in the fire zone. That’s on top of her everyday anxieties, the roots of which might be in her mother’s silence about her heritage, and the indigenous father who is a complete unknown.
The Beckett play – the one with the woman buried up to her waist – promises symbolism that could keep book groups chatting for hours. The novel adds an additional layer with the climate crisis, with the women juggling ethical decisions in the icy chill of the theatre while temperatures soar outside. Although I worried slightly about connections I might be missing, the prose is so engaging and the characters so finally drawn, I was carried along by the flow of the story (and less distracted by my own thoughts than I would be at the theatre). Thanks to publishers Weidenfeld & Nicolson for my advance proof copy.
If you like three-handed novels, mine is coming soon:
Nervous System by Lina Meruane
translated by Megan McDowell
I have only myself to blame for two frustrating evenings as I hadn’t much enjoyed the author’s previous novel, Seeing Red which covers similar territory. Thanks to Atlantic Books for my proof copy.
It’s said that we plant trees not for ourselves but for future generations. At this time of year, I’m grateful to whoever planted the glorious flowering cherry in my front garden. (It hasn’t yet reached the stage in the photo, but right now, as I work on this, the goldfinches are enjoying it.) Charli’s discussing gardens, plant-wise and metaphorical, with a flash fiction prompt on seeds of generosity. Inspired by The Performance, the prompt has led me to thoughts of literary legacy.
Under the studio lights, the author doesn’t see the face behind the question, but the microphone amplifies his words. “Who are your literary influences?”
The author reels through her gratitude list. “But I’m most indebted to Anonymous.”
The interviewer laughs nervously. “People too humble to take the credit?”
“Didn’t get the chance,” says the author. “Anonymous published in obscurity. She was female, poor, black.”
From the corner of her eye, the author sees the producer slice a finger across his neck.
She hurries on: “Who would have thought an unnamed courtesan’s plague diary would spark a bestselling 21st-century novel?”
Finally – and fittingly, given that she is such a performer – Matty wishes to acknowledge the generosity of fellow Cumbrian, William Wordsworth, whose “Daffodils” planted the seeds of this parody poem, recently paraded at another part of the Ranch: