Tag Archives: British contemporary fiction

Shelf Life by Livia Franchini: A list for life

Cover imageI’m an inveterate list maker. It’s my way of organizing myself and remembering to do things. And I always make a list before shopping. Who knows what I’d come home with otherwise? Hardly surprising, then, that I was attracted to Livia Franchini’s Shelf Life which tells Ruth’s story through the shopping list she made the week her fiancé dropped his bombshell and left her.

Ruth and Neil have been together for ten years. He’d spotted her through the window of the travel agent he worked for just yards from her nursing school, engineering a meeting through her friend Alanna. Ruth had been working as a senior nurse at a care home catering to the aged rich for some time when Alanna popped up in her live again after a long absence. Theirs is an uneasy friendship: Alanna is a girly girl, given to confidences, indiscretions and beautiful with it; Ruth is intensely private, responsible and mousey. Struggling to find a way to live on her own after Neil’s departure, supposedly to a Cornish mindfulness commune, Ruth hides her misery the best she can. When Alanna announces her own engagement, Ruth’s astonished to be asked not only to be her maid of honour but to arrange the hen party which sees her entering a foreign land of cocktails, clinging dresses and hedonism. Things take a dark turn that night and another the following morning as Ruth nears the end of her list.

Taking a shopping list as a structure for your debut novel is a daring tack to take – lots of potential for clunkiness – but Franchini handles it well. I began her novel looking for the link with each item but her story drew me in so that I forgot about all that. Ruth’s character is well drawn and carefully constructed, her friendship with Alanna smartly done. There’s much more to Alanna that you might at first think. Neil has his own say, leaving you wondering why Ruth hadn’t kicked him out years ago then remembering her loneliness. Woven through Ruth’s narrative are email exchanges, texts and chats from Ruth’s schoolmates, most of which work well but some felt a wee bit contrived. Through it all runs a vein of nicely judged humour culminating in the hen party which sets readers up well for the shock that ensues. With its poignant depiction of social awkwardness and isolation, Shelf Life is far from the slightly fluffy read I’d somehow assumed it to be and all the more interesting for it.

Witches Sail in Eggshells by Chloe Turner: A smartly turned out collection

Cover imageI was initially attracted to Chloe Turner’s debut collection by its cover. Such a lovely pared back image and once you’ve read what’s inside, you’ll find it’s entirely relevant, too. Witches Sail in Eggshells comprises seventeen short pieces – some just a couple of pages, others stretching over ten – all as smartly turned out as that jacket.

There’s a ‘be careful what you wish for’ flavour to the opening story, ‘The Hagstone’, in which a pebble brought home by Leda’s sister enlivens her collection with sinister results. It’s hard to say whose behaviour is the worst in the lengthy ‘Piñata’, or perhaps the children are simply taking after their parents at eight-year-old Marlie’s birthday party. Shorter and more taut, ‘Inches Apart’ sees a woman whose marriage has dwindled, wondering if she’ll choose to see the evidence of her partner’s infidelity while in ‘Labour of Love’ – one of my favourites – a gardener finds first joy then surprising comfort in working her vegetable patch.

Many of Turner’s stories are about relationships – with partners, exs and partners of exs, rivals and even old schoolmates – some with disturbing undercurrents. ‘Show Me What You’re Made Of ‘ is a chilling, almost gothic, exploration of domestic violence and coercion while a thread of tension runs through ‘Collecting Her Thoughts on the Prison Steps’ as we wonder how things will end for a woman caught up in a controlling relationship. More cheeringly, a woman is brought face to face with one of her ex’s lovers when their sons become friends and is surprised at how she feels in ‘Waiting for the Runners’.

Grief, ageing, love and quiet heartbreak are also constants. There’s a lovely wistful tone to ‘The Day You Asked Me’ in which an old woman remembers the first time her childhood sweetheart asked her out on his boat, charting their lives until he asks again decades later. In ‘On Old Stones, Old Bones and Love ‘a glimpse of a young couple in love and her husband’s kindness in a crisis reminds an ageing woman of the passion and adventure they once shared.

All this is delivered in nicely polished, insightful prose:

As she knelt, loose stones made themselves comfortable in the soft tissue of her knees. (Labour of Love)

The stalk was furring like a baby rabbit’s pelt, and the smirking mouth was starting to pucker down at the edges, but I still felt it was laughing at me. (Waiting for the Runners)

It was late springtime when you asked me for the first time. The sun was young in the sky, untroubled by cloud, and there were jellyfish everywhere, shrugging and sagging their way through the pea green. (The Day You Asked Me)

Though there is something sad about her, a drooping wilt to her tall frame as if her roots might be too shallow. (The House with Three Stories That Might Be Five)

Dogs barked at them, and the octopuses would wave a tentacle back in disdain. (A Raft of Silver Corpses)

A book that lives up to its fetching cover, then, but you don’t have to take my word for that: Reflex Press have cleverly put ‘The Hagstone’ on their website for you to read.

Expectation by Anna Hope: Testament of friendship

Anna Hope’s new novel is very different from Wake and The Ballroom, her first two, both of which I enjoyed and both of which were set in the early twentieth century. Expectation opens in 2004 and has the kind of structure that I find irresistible, exploring themes of friendship, motherhood, love and feminism through the lives of Hannah, Cate and Lissa who share a house together in their twenties.

Hannah and Cate met when they were twelve. Rivals for the top place in their English Literature set, they became firm friends and remained so despite Cate winning a place at Oxford while Hannah found herself at Manchester. There she met Lissa, beautiful and sassy, the daughter of a ‘70s feminist. All three settle into a house overlooking London Fields after university, living lives full of hard work and enjoyment. Hannah becomes the deputy director of an NGO, marrying Nathan, Lissa’s childhood friend, apparently the perfect couple. Cate involves herself in the anti-capitalism movement, leaving her lover in the States when her visa runs out while Lissa becomes an actor with all the insecurity that entails. By their mid-thirties, their carefree life has slipped away: Hannah and Nathan are into their third round of IVF; Cate has a baby with a man she barely knows, marrying him and moving out of London, and Lissa makes ends meet with whatever work she can find. These three are bound together in friendship, meeting regularly, sometimes sharing problems, sometimes donning a brave face and sometimes looking enviously at each others’ lives. Much has changed by the end of the novel – betrayal, grief, disappointment, pain have all been suffered along with forgiveness, joy and hope.

You must keep hold of your friendships, Lissa. The women. They’re the only thing that will save you in the end  

Hope bookends her lovely, empathetic novel with two sunny Saturday mornings, the first in 2004 when Hannah and Cate buy breakfast to share with Lissa at home and the second in 2018 when the three, now in their mid-forties, meet for a picnic. Each of the friends’ lives are followed in narrative threads which intertwine, interspersed with snapshots from their past filling in their stories. The result is a pleasingly immersive novel which is a clear-eyed testament to the value of enduring friendship while far from romanticising it. Hope has a good eye for character: Hannah, Cate and Lissa are all perceptively drawn with depth and care but Lissa’s mother Sarah, who castigates her daughter at one point for how little her generation have made of the advances achieved by ‘70s feminism, is particularly affectionately portrayed. A quick check of Hope’s acknowledgements touchingly reveals that her mother, like Sarah, was a Greenham Common veteran. This is such an enjoyable piece of fiction. Steering well clear of the saccharine, Hope rounds it off with a satisfying ending to a novel filled with wit, humanity and compassion.

For those interested in the Booker Prize longlist, I managed to outdo myself this year and score a big fat zero. Here’s what I’d hoped for – here’s what the judges have decreed. Ah, well…

Lost Property by Laura Beatty: A road trip through history in search of meaning

Cover imageI’ve not read anything by Laura Beatty before but I found Lost Property’s synopsis intriguing. A woman finds herself in a state of despair at her country’s apparent indifference to the suffering and poverty on its streets and decides she must find a way to understand how such a state has come about. This witty yet profound novel of ideas takes us across Europe in a second hand camper van on a road trip through history, following our unnamed narrator’s quest for meaning.

Our narrator is a writer living in London with her partner who organises tours to Greece. After an exchange with the beggar who’s set herself up close to our narrator’s flat, complete with a banner labelled ‘BritAnnia’, our narrator finds herself in a dark place. What has become of her country which goes about its business, turning away from people sleeping on the streets? She and her partner pack up their belongings and take off for France. Rupert is a pragmatist, happy to go along with his partner’s quest while accepting the state of the world she finds so troubling. As our narrator explores European nations’ intertwined histories on her laptop, their journey takes them through France, on to Italy then into Slovenia and the Balkans until they reach Greece and come face to face with the refugee crisis. They volunteer in a camp on the island of Chios where our narrator finally lets go of the fear that has gripped her. Along the way, they encounter a multitude of historical, literary and mythological characters, from Eustace II who fought alongside William the Conqueror to Jean of Arc, from Christine de Pizan to Hermes. By the end of this odyssey, our narrator has found a degree of peace and understanding about what nationhood means to her.

That rather trite synopsis is a feeble attempt to encapsulate this ambitious novel. Beatty pokes gentle fun at Eustace who takes up residence in the campervan and interjects cynical smart remarks into our narrator’s conversation with Rupert, making her device palatable for those of us who might feel a wee bit uneasy with it. Our narrator’s idealism is neatly counterbalanced by Rupert’s pragmatism, allowing Beatty to explore both sides of the argument. Her writing is often striking, her historical vignettes illuminating and vivid, although occasionally delivered with a little too much detail for me. Inevitably, given that the search for the meaning of nationhood is at its heart, I couldn’t help reading Lost Property as a Brexit novel although its scope is far wider than that. It’s not an easy read – it’s hasn’t been easy to write about and I fear I haven’t done it justice – but it’s a richly rewarding one, and it’ll make you think.

Entanglement by Katy Mahood: Chance, circumstance and love

Cover imageOh, I do love a dual narrative. If executed well it can be an immensely satisfying device, setting up readers for the moment when the two storylines cross and become one. Maggie O’Farrell was my go-to for this kind of novel for some time: her earlier books are a masterclass in the technique. David Nicholls’ One Day is another fine example and Laura Barnett took it a step further with The Versions of Us, offering three routes for Eve and Jim. Katy Mahood’s Entanglement is in a similar vein, following two couples over thirty years and ending on a significant day for each of them.

As she and her husband wait for their train at Paddington Station, Stella locks eyes with a man and shares a flash of recognition although neither of them can quite work out why. Wind the clock back thirty years to 1977 and Stella is arriving at Paddington, eager to share the news of her pregnancy with John. Both are post-graduate students: he in quantum physics, she in literature. Given that it’s the ‘70s, Stella knows she’ll have to suspend her studies while John continues to make his name but she’s yet to grasp the grinding exhaustion and incipient resentment bringing up a toddler will provoke. Then John is struck down with a virus and the golden future they’d envisioned on their wedding day is no longer in prospect. Meanwhile, Charlie prepares for his sister’s wedding not far from where Stella and John were married, anxious about his alcoholic mother and the man his vulnerable sister is marrying. Their day will be devastated by a pub bombing. Beth returns from France, marrying Charlie against her well-heeled family’s wishes. These two will have a much-loved daughter, just like Stella and John, but Charlie’s work offers far too many opportunities for drink. Both couples face challenges that one will overcome and the other will not. Thirty years after Stella arrived in Paddington bursting with news,  all four will be brought together by circumstance although they may not entirely recognize it.

Entanglement is about chance and the randomness of life, about love and the way we become caught up in our relationships with others. Stella, John, Beth and Charlie criss-cross each other’s paths over the thirty years Mahood’s debut spans leaving traces they may never entirely understand. By necessity, it’s a novel which entails suspending any disbelief in coincidences which abound throughout although none of them were implausible for me. Mahood smoothly shifts perspective from character to character but it’s Stella and Charlie that power this story forward from that opening shared moment at Paddington as we move inexorably towards the point where the two families become entangled. Engaging characters, empathetically developed, neatly brought together in an absorbing story which ends on a note of hope: I loved it, swallowing it in one greedy gulp. Already looking forward to Mahood’s next one.

The Sunday Times Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with the University of Warwick Shortlist: Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Cover imageFiona Mozley’s Elmet has already snagged the attention of several literary prize judges: it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction earlier this year and shortlisted for 2017’s Man Booker Prize. Set on the fringes of what was once a mining village, it’s about Daniel and Cathy whose father has built a house on land owned by a ruthless landlord.

Daniel and Cathy have lived in the copse close to the railway since Granny Morely died when Daddy was out on one of his trips to who knows where. Cathy’s now just fifteen and Daniel’s fourteen. They no longer go to school, growing vegetables and foraging food alongside their father, a giant of a man who earns money from bare knuckle fights and settling disputes with his fists. Daniel knows very little about their mother, just a few memories of her infrequent visits which suddenly stopped. He wonders about asking Vivien to whom Daddy sends them for a makeshift education. Daniel and Cathy watch and listen, alert to any exchanges between Daddy and the rest of the village. They’re both outsiders but while Daniel is happy to cook and read with Vivien, Cathy takes her cue from her father. When Mr Price turns up, Daddy understands that he’s to have no peace. Together with an ex-miner, Daddy hatches a plan to overthrow this village tyrant ensuring fair wages and rents for all the families in thrall to him. Both know there’s not much hope of success but neither envisage the events that will culminate in Daniel’s desperate quest to find his sister.

Told through Daniel’s childlike voice, Elmet is reminiscent of a fable with the mythical figure of Daddy, the proud giant fiercely protective of his children, at its centre. Underpinning the narrative is a constant menace which contrasts with Daniel’s gentle voice, a menace that explodes into graphic violence at its conclusion in a scene not for the fainthearted. There’s a strong sense of social justice running through this novel. Men are so desperate to supplement their meagre benefits that they’ll work for a pittance; rents are high and evictions commonplace. Power is wielded by the few who mete out their own brutal form of justice. It’s a world where a young woman, confident in her own strength, lives in terror of violence. This is an extraordinarily impressive debut – bleak, beautiful and visceral. I wonder what Mozely will come up with next.

Just one more review as a shadow judge for me – Adam Weymouth’s Kings of the Yukon which I’ll be posting next week. I’m off to the bloggers’ event at the Groucho Club on Saturday then we shadow judges will be getting together on Monday to come up with our winner.

f you’d like to read two of my fellow shadow judges’ reviews of Elmet Paul’s is at HalfManHalfBook and Amanda’s is at Bookish Chat. You can find out more about the award by visiting www.youngwriteraward, following @youngwriteryear or keep up with us shadow judges at #youngwriterawardshadow.

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss: The Man Booker wish that got away

Cover imageRegular readers may already have noticed that I’m a fan of Sarah Moss’ writing – Names for the Sea, Bodies of Light, Signs for Lost Children and The Tidal Zone have all been given an outing here – and with Ghost Wall, it seems she’s surpassed herself. A mere 150 pages long, this novella is a powerful exploration of controlling violence and its consequences, all wrapped up in a tense, atmospheric piece of storytelling.

Seventeen-year-old Sylvie has been dragooned into a summer project by her father, a bus driver and enthusiastic amateur historian. Together with three students and their professor, she and her parents will live as Ancient Britons in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall, cooking what they forage and dressed in rough spun tunics. Sylvie’s used to Bill’s didactic ways. She knows more about their subject than Molly, Pete and Dan who are playing at re-enactment, sloping off to the local Spar for covert supplies and spending the odd illicit evening in the pub. Molly applies her nail varnish and changes her matching bra and pants regularly, frivolities Bill wouldn’t permit Sylvie or her mother, Alison. Women disgust him. Easily offended by the slightest show of knowledge other than his own, Bill takes his frustrations out on Alison who’s relegated to cooking their meagre meals. As the hot summer days wear on, Sylvie and Molly become close. Molly becomes increasingly unsettled by marks on Sylvie’s body, marks she tries to hide. Flush with their success at the recreation of a ghost wall, used by the Ancient Britons in an attempt to repel the Romans, the professor and Bill are intent on another, more sinister re-enactment.

Told through Sylvie’s voice, Ghost Wall is a much tighter piece of fiction than the four previous novels I’ve read by Moss. Bill’s menacing control of both Sylvie and Alison pervades the book – from Sylvie’s shame to the sneering voice in her head – offset with a degree of waspish humour and gloriously evocative descriptions of the landscape in hot weather:

Louise was a friend of the Prof, a semi-retired lecturer in textile arts who now spent her days making things by hand, the hard way, for the amusement of people bored by safe drinking water, modern medicine and dry feet.

Walking up there, it feels as if you’re being offered on an open hand to the weather, though when you look down there are plenty of soft little hiding places, between the marsh grass in the boggy dips and in the heather, vibrating with bees, on the slopes.

The novella’s climax is horrifying: hard to read yet impossible to tear yourself away from it. This is such an impressive piece of work. At the end of my Man Booker wish list I said that I might well read a gem published before the deadline that I would regret not including and this is it. Once again, however, the judges disagreed.

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller: A nice slice of British gothic

Cover imageBitter Orange is Claire Fuller’s third novel and it’s the third I’ve reviewed here. Our Endless Numbered Days made it on to my books of the year list in 2015 and I included Swimming Lessons on my (then) Baileys prize wish list last year. I’m something of a fan, as you can tell, so expectations were a tad high for her new one but I’m glad to report that Fuller has outdone herself. Set largely during the summer of 1969, Bitter Orange tells the story of three people thrown together by circumstance, two of whom have been commissioned to write a report on a dilapidated, abandoned English country mansion. As the summer wears on, an intimate friendship develops but who is telling the truth and who is not?

Fran lies on her deathbed recalling her summer at Lyntons twenty years ago. In 1969, just a few months after the domineering mother she had cared for most of her life had died, Fran was commissioned to survey the garden at Lyntons for its American owner. From her bare attic bedroom she watches two people caught up in disagreement: Peter whose job is to survey the house’s interior and his partner Cara, vividly alive and apparently Italian, or so Fran thinks. Fran barely sees either of these two for days until she’s invited to dinner by Cara, arriving trussed up in her mother’s formal wear to find Cara and Peter in déshabillé, no signs of dinner in preparation. Lonely, socially awkward and naïve, Fran assumes these two to be deeply in love but as she’s pulled into their orbit, listening to Cara’s story of how they got together then finding herself Peter’s confidante about Cara’s instability, Fran begins to wonder what the state of their relationship really is and increasingly drawn to Peter. Slowly but surely tensions rise.

Fuller sets her readers up for an absorbing but suspenseful read, throwing up questions at every turn while spilling clues and foreshadowing the future. Fran is a satisfying narrator, hinting at unreliability by telling us that her illness has destroyed her memory but that the events of 1969 are clear and vivid to her. She’s an expertly drawn character: a self-proclaimed voyeur, an outsider ripe for the intimate seduction of friendship that Cara seems to offer. Fuller treats us to a luxuriously long reveal which suits the novel’s vividly evoked sultry heat well, delivering a satisfying climax at its end. I would have enjoyed Bitter Orange whatever the weather but it turned out to be the perfect read for the early days of July when the UK was in the grips of a heat wave which looks set to make a reappearance.

Putney by Sofka Zinovieff: Where are the grown-ups?

Cover imageThe press release for Sofka Zinovieff’s Putney proclaims it to be this summer’s must read which made me wonder if it might be one of those slip-your-brain-in-neutral beach reads you see piled up at the airport but that proved not to be the case at all. Instead, it’s an intelligent, subtle novel which explores the fallout of sexual abuse all wrapped up in an engrossing piece of storytelling, so good that I included it on my Man Booker wish list.

When young composer Ralph visits the Putney home of a successful novelist keen to see his work put to music on stage, he catches sight of Daphne and is immediately aroused by her boyish beauty. Daphne is nine and Ralph is twenty-seven. Ralph begins to pay visits to Daphne when her parents are out, bringing her presents, writing her love notes and telling her that their friendship is to be a secret. It’s some time before Ralph kisses Daphne but when he offers to take her to visit her mother’s relatives in Greece he knows exactly what he plans to do, telling her it’s to be an adventure. Daphne is twelve and he is thirty. It’s the ’70s and Daphne is the child of bohemian parents caught up in their own affairs, sexual and otherwise, airily pronouncing that it’s up to their children to find their own way and looking anywhere but what is happening under their noses.

Forty years later, Ralph is still married to Nina, still cherishing memories of Daphne as a child as he undergoes chemotherapy, oblivious to the chaotic, rackety life she’s led as an adult. Ensconced in a flat a mere stone’s throw away from her childhood home, Daphne works on a collage commemorating her time with Ralph prompting her to get in touch with her childhood best friend. It’s Jane who points out to Daphne that her own daughter is the same age Daphne was when Ralph met her, and Jane who leads Daphne to an understanding of what happened to her. What ensues echoes the historical abuse scandals that dominated the headlines not so long ago.

This subject could so easily have been mishandled. Salacious details, stereotypical characters, black and white judgements – it’s a minefield but Zinovieff explores her subject with consummate skill. She unfolds her story from the perspectives of Daphne, Ralph and Jane, flashing backwards and forwards from the ’70s to the present day. Each character is carefully and credibly realised: handsome, successful Ralph seems far from a monster but his depravity is slowly unfurled, his self-delusion maintained to the end. Daphne’s grooming is both chilling and believable. As Zinovieff switches from character to character so our understanding of the damage Ralph has done deepens. Daphne’s daughter with her social conscience and her disgust with Ralph is a bright counterpoint to the devastating consequences of his behaviour. Putney is a thoroughly accomplished novel, both thought-provoking and absorbing. I take my hat off to its author for tackling such a tricky subject with compassion and intelligence.

Girl, Balancing by Helen Dunmore: An unexpected, very welcome treat

Cover imageIn his touching Foreword to Girl, Balancing and Other Stories, Helen Dunmore’s son, Patrick Charnley, tells us that she had discussed with him the possibility of a collection of short stories to be published after her death. Charnley mined his mother’s papers and laptop, gathering together thirty-three pieces written in the two decades since Dunmore’s last collection was published. Demonstrating the empathy that characterised so much of his mother’s work, Charnley tells us that the family’s delight in what he found is one of our reasons for publishing the collection, to share this work with Mum’ s readers, many of whom, too, must feel that their enjoyment of Mum’s writing has been cut short.

The first of the collection’s three sections, The Nina Stories, is made up of three linked pieces beginning with the comfort of warm olive oil in a sore ear and ending with an assertion of a young woman’s independence in the face of danger.

The Present starts with the teasing humour of ‘Taken in the Shadows’ in which the narrator contemplates John Donne’s portrait, the object of many a fifteen-year-old’s desire, imagining his ankle itching as he sits for it before recounting the miseries of a life spent in poverty. Three favourites from this section for me include ‘All Those Personal Survival Medals’ which turns a burning childhood humiliation into a life-saving triumph, ‘A Night Out’ in which two women, prematurely widowed, find unexpected friendship and the poignant ‘Portrait of Auntie Binbag, with Ribbons’ in which a young girl is faced with the result of her family’s dismissive perception of her aunt.

The Past takes us from the wartime passion of ‘Rose, 44’ which sees a young woman’s hopes for her black American lover violently quashed to ‘With Shackleton’ in which a woman inwardly rails against her mother-in-law’s pride as she misses her husband, off on an expedition soon after her miscarriage to ‘Grace Poole Her Testimony’ in which Dunmore has fun with Jane Eyre, throwing a very different light on Rochester and his daughter’s governess.

Many of the themes running through these stories will be familiar to Dunmore fans. Family, friendship, memory, love and passion, and, of course, women and their place in the world are all adroitly explored. Several are set in Bristol where Dunmore had lived and worked for many years: ‘A View from the Observatory’ which recalls an illicit moonlit visit to the camera obscura on the Downs is a particular delight with its air of menace, deftly handled in Dunmore’s characteristic style. As ever with Dunmore, so much is said in a few precisely chosen words: in ‘Duty Free’ a woman reflects on the youth of the soldiers passing through on their way to Afghanistan but with characteristic restraint Dunmore makes no mention of what may happen to them. You won’t be surprised to hear that there are a multitude of lines I could have quoted but here are a few which seem to me to capture Dunmore’s wonderful facility with language and acute observation:

There were lots of drawings of a bare man who looked as if he didn’t know he hadn’t got any clothes on thinks an eleven-year-old at an exhibition

Our students like modules which demand opinions rather than extensive reading an academic wryly observes

I would stare down to see if my badness was flickering away across the dust like a snake remembers a woman of her childhood beating

They were offering smiles now, and Christmas greetings, as if they were all survivors of a wreck and had been hauled up on to the same raft expresses the relief of family Christmases almost over

I’m driving in the dark. There’s not another car in sight. I haven’t seen one for miles. Only my own headlights, brushing the loneliness

Even if a woman has always coloured her hair, she won’t be able to fool anyone after her death 

There’s not one dud in this collection. I’m sure Dunmore’s many fans will be as grateful to her family as I am for sharing this final, unexpected treat.