New Books March 2023

The end of another month brings another blog post highlighting just a few of the books which arrived at the library in March. From short fiction to memoirs, historical studies to explorations of the power of narrative and storytelling, there’s lots of variety in this month’s new book selection.

As ever, this is only a snapshot of the new books that have arrived at the library. Check out the whole selection on LibraryThing!

Cover image for 'Treacle Walker' by Alan GarnerAlan Garner, Treacle Walker (2022).

Treacle Walker is a ‘short but profound‘ novel, shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize. Garner’s work is often divided by publishers and booksellers into children’s literature and adult’s literature, though Garner has said he doesn’t see such a distinction – and Treacle Walker undoubtedly blends the two.

While the story is about a child, ‘its philosophical meditations and terrifying climax mean it is definitely for adults’. It is ‘a flinty fable about a convalescent boy visited by a rag-and-bone man’, exploring themes of time, our relationship to the present and its roots in an older mythic and folkloric past.

There are many works by Garner at the EFL – you can find them on SOLO.

Cover image for Victorian Prism: Refractions of the Crystal Palace, edited by James Buzard, Joseph W. Childers, and Eileen GilloolyJames Buzard et al. (eds.), Victorian Prism: Refractions of the Crystal Palace (2007).

The Great Exhibition of 1851 is synonymous with the Crystal Palace, the great glass-and-iron cathedral to science which housed it. This collection of essays takes an interdisciplinary approach to the Exhibition’s significance, legacy, and impact around the world.

Reviewers generally agree this is an interesting collection. Some criticisms include a lack of thematic coherence, with the loose concept of ‘modernity’ doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Others note an uncritical use of sources in parts and an assumption that the reader will already know ‘the basic story‘. That said, it offers interesting and valuable interdisciplinary perspectives on the Crystal Palace’s significance and legacy.

Cover image for Black Vodka by Deborah Levy.Deborah Levy, Black Vodka (2017).

Black Vodka is a collection of ten short stories, set across a handful of European cities. No matter which city Levy’s characters find themselves in, they are complex, flawed and surprising people, disconcerting to each other and to us.

These are ‘fragmentary, elliptical’ stories which ‘refuse to settle down into something immediately recognisable’. The stories and characters are layered and elusive, seeming to reveal something yet leaving the sense that much more has been concealed. With her ‘incantatory, gorgeous writing’ and ‘coiled, polished sentences’, Levy has created a powerful exploration of what drives us together, and what keeps us apart.

Also by Levy at the EFL: Hot Milk (2017); The Man who Saw Everything (2019).

Cover for Metamorphosis: A life in pieces, by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst.Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Metamorphosis: A Life in Pieces (2023).

In 2017, Douglas-Fairhurst was diagnosed with MS. In Metamorphosis, he recounts his response to this diagnosis, and how turning to literature helped him.

With writing full of ‘elegance, wit and insight‘, Douglas-Fairhurst explores the power of stories. As a professor of English at Oxford, turning to books was an instinctive response. He ‘read furiously‘, finding ‘no shortage of authors and characters as beleaguered as him‘. Through this bibliotherapy, Douglas-Fairhurst has created not just a record of illness, but a funny and raw exploration of the relationship between literature and life.

Also by Douglas-Fairhurst at the EFL: Victorian Afterlives: The shaping of influence in nineteenth-century literature (2002); Becoming Dickens: The invention of a novelist (2011); The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the secret history of Wonderland (2015); The Turning Point: A year that changed Dickens and the world (2021).

Cover image for 'Romantic Women's Life Writing: Reputation and afterlife', by Susan Civale.Susan Civale, Romantic Women’s Life Writing: Reputation and Afterlife (2019).

Civale presents case studies of the life writing by and about four Romantic women: Frances Burney, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Robinson, and Mary Hays. She fully contextualises each woman’s life writing, exploring their other work, their biographies, and their social, cultural and intellectual contexts.

Crucially, Civale considers not only the women’s writing but how their readers responded to it, from the texts’ publication right through the long nineteenth century. She notes that this is a key departure from the existing historiography. It is this which makes Civale’s work such a fascinating study of women’s life writing in the Romantic period and beyond.

This book is also available as an e-book.

Cover image: 'Seduced by the Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative', by Peter BrooksPeter Brooks, Seduced by Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative (2022).

Brooks laments what he calls the ‘storification of reality‘ – the omnipresence of narrative which turns us into uncritical consumers of information. But instead of attacking narrative, he offers ‘a potent defence of attentive reading and its real-world applications‘.

Some critics have pointed to the preponderance of old, white, male authors in Brooks’s examples of novels; others have wondered why he doesn’t consider other media – especially narrative creation and consumption on the internet. These criticisms notwithstanding, this remains a powerful demonstration of the power of narrative and the dangers of our over-reliance on it.

There are many works by Brooks at the EFL – you can find them on SOLO. These other works include Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (1985), Brooks’s first study of the significance of narrative.

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