The Tyranny of Lost Things by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
Twenty years earlier, the house in Longhope Crescent was an urban commune, where Harmony spent her first five years with her parents, Stella and Bryn, and an assortment of other children and adults. But this was the 1980s, the Thatcher years, where hippies were no longer cool. Nevertheless, the young people’s high ideals were only slightly tempered by drugs and alcohol, but jealousy was soon to drive them apart.
Harmony’s drifting, and musings on the self-centred mythologising of the boomer generation and London life, alternates with the testimony of a new arrival at the commune, initially unnamed. Is this Stella or another woman who knows the secrets of Harmony’s early life?
I have enjoyed Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s journalism that I’ve come across in the Guardian, with pithy observations of contemporary life. She brings the same acuity of observation to her debut novel, but the balance of action and reflection, weighted considerably towards the latter, wasn’t right for me. If you, or people close to you, are nostalgic for some bohemian late adolescence, it might be right for you.
Nevertheless, I did feel for Harmony – growing up with a depressed mother and, like the daughter in Soviet Milk, feeling overly responsible for her well-being, on top of the wound of a trauma she can barely recall – but at a distance. Of course, that might be the author’s point, echoing her distance from herself. The messed-up lives of the offspring of hippies is an interesting subgenre, and this one came with the first reference to primal scream therapy (p237), albeit self administered, I’ve come across on the page. Thanks to Sandstone Press for my advance proof copy.
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
In the summer break from university, twenty-one-year-old Frances is an intern at a literary agency, performing poetry with former lover, Bobbi, in the evenings. Melissa, a photojournalist in her thirties, befriends the young women when she proposes writing a magazine feature about them. Through her, Frances meets her husband, Nick, a handsome actor with mental health issues, and embarks on an affair.
Intelligent, idealistic, Frances is still trying to work herself out, so being with Nick adds another layer of complication. Terrified of her own vulnerability, she takes herself seriously and not seriously enough, and prizes saying what’s interesting and amusing above what she genuinely feels. In awe of anyone she admires, her repressed envy can come across as indifference or disdain.
Sally Rooney’s debut novel is an entertaining and poignant take on the trials of late adolescence, the search for a coherent identity and the ways in which we might hurt other people when trying to avoid being hurt ourselves. Most of the time, I really enjoyed being inside Frances’ headspace, as she overanalyses the trivial and minimises the bigger issues that impact on her personally, including the legacy of an alcoholic father and her own health issues. The conversations, virtual and face-to-face, between the four main characters are excruciatingly credible. Thanks to Faber and Faber for my review copy.