Sarah Hall is an award winning novelist and short story writer. Her novels include, Haweswater (2003) Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel; The Electric Michelangelo (2004) shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia region), and the Prix Femina Etranger; How To Paint A Dead Man (2009) longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and winner of the Portico Prize for Fiction 2010. Her first collection of short stories, The Beautiful Indifference, won the Portico Prize for Fiction 2012 and the Edge Hill short story prize, it was also short-listed for the Frank O’Connor Prize. Her second collection, Madame Zero, will be published in 2017. The lead story, Mrs Fox, won the BBC National Short Story Award in 2013. Her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
A Sport And A Pastime
Perhaps the twentieth century’s benchmark novel for erotic writing, this is not only one of the most stylish pieces of fiction ever written, but a breathtakingly honest, and therefore humane, analysis of sexual politics and gender power struggles. Set in Autun, Burgundy, the book has a strange and compelling quality of ménage a trois, as the unnamed narrator intimately catalogues a passionate affair between his American roommate Dean and a local French girl, Anne-Marie. What is the nature of love and desire, the books asks. Is it within reach of what we think or dream? But beyond this, the novel also seeks to understand the compulsion behind the very act of imagining, the central act of fiction, and why in particular, we are inspired to create romances.
Set in the wilds of contemporary Tasmania, the novel’s protagonist, known as M, poses as a naturalist and bases himself in the home of a local family, from where makes forays in search of the last Tasmanian tiger. M is in fact working for a bio-tech company, which is interested in the DNA of the thylacine. He becomes attached to the Armstrong family, which is suffering from recent bereavement and disorder, while retaining his secret purpose. The novel is beautifully written, disquieting and sub-gothic; the wilderness perfectly evoked, and humanity’s obsessions and flaws skilfully dissected. With thematic roots as far back as Mary Shelley, Leigh poses crucial questions about our relationship with science, and challenges the reader to consider our less than benign desire to control nature.
Z For Zachariah
Robert C. O’Brien
Lying somewhere between teenage and adult fiction, unsettlingly so, this story circles round Ann Burden, who has survived an apocalyptic nuclear war and is living in a remote valley in America. She believes herself to be the sole survivor, and is attempting to eke a living on her parents’ old farm. Then a scientist, Loomis, arrives, in a radiation suit, and after Ann nurses him through sickness, he begins to try to take control of the valley, and her, with the intention of recreating the human race. So begins an age-old war between the sexes, but with a staggeringly courageous and subversive new ending. I read this book as a teenager, and was presented with a first exhilarating literary heroine, a girl who must fight to control her own destiny. A novel of survivalism, usurpation and freedom, born from an age of geo-political brinkmanship, this book is still horribly vital in today’s anxious and divisive climate.