Burntcoat audiobook review by Sarah Hall – love, loss and lockdown | Books
In Sarah Hall’s sixth novel, Edith Harkness is an acclaimed sculptor who specializes in large, often uncomfortable works of public art. The piece that made its name is a 40-foot witch nicknamed Hecky who stands “high as a church steeple” above a freeway, terrifying and delighting passing motorists. Edith lives in a vast, once abandoned warehouse in the north of England named Burntcoat, where she creates a memorial for the millions who have died from a deadly virus.
This pandemic-themed book is not set in the time of Covid but in a fictional future that echoes our present. It is read by actress Louise Brealey, whose tone of melancholy and nostalgia reflects the stress and increasing alienness of Hall’s prose. The tale goes back and forth, illustrating Edith’s lockdown, much of it spent in the throes of ecstasy with a new lover, Halit, and a research trip to Japan where, courtesy of a instructor named Shun, she learns an ancient technique of building wood by burning it.
More importantly, we go back to Edith’s childhood when her mother, Naomi, suffers a cerebral hemorrhage that leaves her permanently altered. Unable to cope, Edith’s father leaves the family and mother and daughter must navigate their new reality on their own, trading their townhouse for a secluded cottage on the moor where they “[grow] around each other like vines. Vividly written and read, Burntcoat expertly captures the introspection of life in lockdown while providing remarkable ruminations on sexuality, creativity, and the legacy we leave behind.
burnt coat is available from Faber6h 7min
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