New Books January 2024

January is over, the evenings are drawing out again, and we have another New Books post to celebrate! If you’re starting to flag with your New Year’s resolution to read more books (we’ve all been there), then perhaps one of these will take your fancy. We have a mix of poetry and prose, works from Indigenous authors, even some books on magic – quite the eclectic mix!

As always, if you want to keep track of the EFL’s latest acquisitions then you’re more than welcome to check out our New Books Display next to the Enquiry Desk. If you can’t make it into the EFL, or just want to see the bigger picture, then LibraryThing will be your new best friend!

And now, onto the books.

Owen Davies, Art of the Grimoire: An Illustrated History of Magic Books and Spells (2023)

We begin January’s New Books post with something a bit different, a picture book!   Okay, that’s a bit reductionist perhaps, as Art of the Grimoire is definitely a work of academic rigour. However, it is made accessible (and aesthetic) through the use of full-colour pictures with bitesize, but no less-detailed, accompanying explanations. Owen Davies takes you across time, geography, and genre with his clever use of material; this is a great introduction the magic across history or a refresher if you’re simply tired of reading (The horror! The horror!) and want something easier to digest. From yokai to the Necronomicon and even Coptic magic, this is a delight to the senses – get some knowledge whilst feeding the aesthete within you.

Alexis Wright, Praiseworthy (2023)

Praiseworthy by Alexis Wright (Waanyi) is an apocalyptic novel on an epic scale. Clocking in at over 700 pages, this may not be the lightest read but it certainly is worth it. Set in a post-climate change world (sounds familiar), a haze has settled across the town of Praiseworthy, Australia, bringing with it the reckoning of a myriad of intergenerational traumas affecting the Aboriginal inhabitants of the community and Australia at large. Each character stands not only on their own, but also as metaphors to critique and satirise the various ways in which society refuses to acknowledge the Aboriginal people as the original custodians of the land. Marrying together personal and historical, oral tradition and prose, this is a brilliant piece of mythic realism that’s not to be missed if you’re interested in the ongoing settler-colonialism within Australia, or ecocriticism in general.

Victoria MacKenzie, For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain (2023)

I’m sure many of our readers are familiar with Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, but if not then here’s the tea. Margery was the brains behind The Booke of Margery Kempe written in the 1430s, widely considered to be the first autobiography, which details her pilgrimages and encounters with the divine throughout her life. Julian is a similarly religious figure from the same time period, although she chose to express her faith by devoting herself to life as an anchoress after she received visions from God – becoming her Revelations of Divine Love. The two met in real life according the Margery, with her seeking council from Julian, an encounter that this book hinges on. Rather than dismissing their divine visions as mental illness, MacKenzie treats them with compassion and tells us their stories in their own words, providing insight into the treatment of female mystics during the period in an accessible form.

Evelyn Araluen, Dropbear (2021)

We love Indigenous poetry, as you might have seen in our previous blogpost, and this time it’s coming from Australia, with thanks to Evelyn Araluen (Bundjalung). Her debut collection (and what a debut!) features a mix of stanzaic poetry, free verse, and prose, tackling everything from decolonisaton, to Australiana, and even the pandemic. Rather than divorcing herself from some of these difficult to navigate situations, Araluen acknowledges her own inevitable entanglement in them resulting in a deeply personal collection. Some highlights to get you started include: ‘The Inevitable Pandemic Poem’, ‘Bad Taxidermy’, and ‘The Trope Speaks’. There is grief and rage laced into the poems, but also moments of sentimentality and affection, and through it all a deep love for her community.

Ronald Hutton, The Witch: A History of Fear, From Ancient Times to the Present (2017)

Written by Ronald Hutton, a prolific scholar on the study of witchcraft, we come back again to magic and witchcraft. True to his word, Hutton doesn’t just focus on Europe and the witch trials that took place there, instead, he takes us on a detailed ethnographic survey all the way back to Mesopotamia and its demonology, to Coptic magic (for the second time!), finishing on Britain and its Celtic folklore as well. This is a thorough cross-cultural examination of witchcraft, and perhaps not for the faint-hearted, however it is an undeniably interesting area and a great counterpart to Art of the Grimoire if that interested you as well.

New Books December 2023

Welcome back and Happy New Year!

We hope all of our readers had a warm and relaxing festive period (perhaps even making some progress through your to-be-read list) and are now ready to look forward to Hilary. We have once again had a brilliant selection of books pass through our processing table and onto the New Books Display – it’s been difficult to choose just five to highlight! To make things easier, this month we have gone with the theme of contemporary literature, some of which have only been published within the last few months. As ever, we encourage you to take a look at the display the next time you’re in the EFL as you will more than likely find a gem to take home with you. If you can’t get to the EFL, then there’s also our LibraryThing account where we add any new books that make their way to us.

With that said, onto the books!

Zadie Smith, The Fraud (2023)

It has been seven years since Smith’s last novel, Swing Time, and The Fraud has definitely been worth the wait. Set primarily during the 18th century trial of Roger  Tichborne (or a butcher from Wapping depending on who you ask), we follow Eliza Touchet, cousin to then-famous novelist William Ainsworth as she grapples with their past and her future. Two thirds through, the narrator switches to Bogle, Roger Tichborne’s page and supporter – a black man born to enslaved people in Jamaica. Smith explores the hypocrisy of the characters, and no one is spared – Eliza is an abolitionist, but her annuity is paid through her husband’s money made from slavery; Bogle wonders if the respectability he has had to change himself for makes him a fraud. An immersive read, and one that will get you thinking.

Jeanette Winterson, Nightside of the River (2023)

Perhaps in the tradition of mid-winter ghost stories, Winterson treats us to a new collection of short stories on hauntings. She doesn’t simply cover your classic haunted houses (although you will certainly find some in there), additionally, she looks to how new technology can equally be a hotbed for ghostly activity and what this might look like. Interspersed between the short stories are various anecdotes personal to Winterson, considering how she might haunt once she dies, her own experiences with ghosts, and how the future of hauntings might look. A great spooky selection, which simultaneously deals with grief and healing – if you’re a fan of works by M.R. James and his ilk then it’s not to be missed.


Tanya Tagaq, Split Tooth (2018)

(Content warning for depictions of sexual abuse and child abuse)

Split Tooth is Tagaq’s debut novel, in which we follow an Inuk woman through the 1970s and ‘80s as she grows up in the Canadian Arctic. Entwining myth, memoir, poetry, and art, this is a hauntingly raw book – as genre defying (or perhaps, melding) as Tagaq’s own music as an experimental Inuk throat singer. Through this mix of media, we encounter a community struggling through the effects of colonialism, where sexual abuse and substance use is the norm, but where there is still a hard beauty to the Canadian North and the folklore entwined with it. This is not a gentle book or an easy read by any means; it is thought-provoking, disconcerting, disturbing. But that’s the point.


Francis Spufford, Cahokia Jazz (2023)

Spufford treats us to an alternate history, in which Cahokia (a pre-colonial Mississipian city) was never abandoned, and instead became a flourishing (if gritty) city run by Takouma (what Native Americans are called in the novel). Set in the 1920s, a murder has been committed and it is up to our protagonist, Joe Barrow, to solve it before rioting from the Ku Klux Klan ruins the relative peace of Cahokia and tears the city apart. If you’re a fan of world-building, then you might enjoy this novel, particularly as it comes equipped with two maps of Cahokia to help visualise Barrow and his colleagues’ journey.




Yiyun Li, The Book of Goose (2022)

Much like Split Tooth, this is another novel that has an atmosphere of strangeness that permeates the narrative. The book follows the friendship of Fabienne and Agnès, from their childhood living in post-World War II France into adulthood, as narrated by Agnès herself. The two form something of a partnership: Fabienne creates fantastical, disturbing stories which she tells Agnès to write down, and eventually publish. Agnès becomes the face for the book upon Fabienne’s insistence and leaves Fabienne behind – physically at least. One cannot survive without the other, this is a story of friendship, obsession, and exploitation.

New Books November 2023

It’s been an eclectic mix of books this month – but then isn’t it always with the breadth of literature our readers study! There’s no common theme this month, unlike November, we have simply chosen some of our recent fiction additions to highlight.

As we enter winter vacation, our lending policies have changed slightly. From November 27th, all loanable books will be due back on January 16th – so you’ll have plenty of time to cosy up with a book during the festive period. You can find more information in this blog post, but if you have any further questions do feel free to send us an email or chat to us in-person at the Enquiries Desk.

With all that being said, onto the books!

Mourning Dove, Cogewea, The Half Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range (1981)

You may notice that one of our recent displays at the EFL was on Native American literature (you can find pictures on our social media here). In that vein, Cogewea is aFront cover of 'Cogewea: The Half-Bloof' featuring a painting of an Indigenous woman looking over her shoulder on a traditional quilted background great addition to the EFL’s collections, not only as one of the first fiction novels written by an Indigenous woman but in the themes it covers as well. Mourning Dove (Okanogan) takes on the difficult task of writing a Western, a genre notorious for its disparaging depictions of Indigenous people – not to mention women. However, she manages this task magnificently, marrying together the Western genre with the internal struggle that Cogewea grapples with as someone who is caught between both Indigenous and White blood. Cogewea did not have an easy to path to publication: it was finished by Mourning Dove in 1912 but not published until 1927 (and only when her publisher was threatened with legal action). Even once published she was accused of not being the author! As November is Native American Heritage Month, I would challenge anyone to pick up a book written by an Indigenous author; if Cogewea intrigues you, you might also enjoy other Indigenous writing from the early 20th century such as Zitkála-Šá’s essays, or Waterlily by Ella Deloria.

Rebecca Stott, Dark Earth (2022)

Dark Earth covers a lightly trod period of historical fiction aimed at women, known to many as the Dark Ages (although I hasten to add that no medievalist would ever call itFront cover of 'Dark Earth' featuring an illustration of two women back to back, one holding a sword and the other flowers. this!). Set in approximately 500CE, post the Roman occupation of Britain, we follow two sisters – Blue and Isla – as they navigate being a woman in a world in which there’s little room for them; Stott depicting their respective gifts of herbalism and smithing as unacceptable for women in Anglo-Saxon society. After some serious personal and political upheaval (we won’t expand on that lest we get into spoiler territory), the sisters flee to the ruins of Londinium in order to survive the wrath of the merciless Seax Lord, Osric, and his son. However, they will have to leave the comfort of their found community in Londinium to save them. If you enjoy feministic retellings of history such as The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, you will likely enjoy this. However, if you want something to evoke the ghostly feeling of the ruins of Londinium, then perhaps you might be interested The Ruin, an elegy in the Exeter Book from 700-800CE describing the crumbling remains of a once great ancient city.

David Bradley, The Chaneysville Incident: A Novel (1981)

John Washington, our protagonist, is a black man and professor of history – not unlike the author himself. He is unwillingly thrown into uncovering the true circumstances ofFront cover of 'The Chaneysville Incident', featuring a papercut style illustration of a white candle on a background of orange and red his father’s death, using his training as a historian to piece together the clues while uncovering deeper, darker secrets along the way. Oscillating between the past and Washington’s present, we witness the multigenerational trauma of racism and slavery and how it affects how Washington perceives himself and his family history. It’s gripping from the very first page, a true must-read for anyone interested in the ongoing and complex history of racism in the United States, and how cultural identities are forged in the face this. If you enjoy Toni Morrison’s works, such as Song of Solomon, or Let us Descend by Jesmyn Ward, this might be the book for you.

Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream (2014)

Translated from Spanish, a young woman lies dying in a rural Argentinian hospital. Her daughter is nowhere to be seen – instead a young boy named David is at her side, andThe front cover of 'Fever Dream', featuring an illustration of a horse where only the head is visible, covered up by the title and authors name in distorted text. she can’t shake the lingering feeling that she needs to remember what happened to her and her daughter. Some of the main themes of Fever Dream are parental anxiety, the effects of pesticides and industrial-scale farming, and the transmutation of the soul. If this sounds like a bizarre mixture of themes, perhaps even a fever dream, that would be because it is – and that suits the novel just fine. Told in dialogue, the book’s sparse prose is disorienting at times, adding to the relentless tension creeping in the background of the novel. It’s not quite a midwinter ghost story, but if you’re looking for something to leave you unsettled and looking over your shoulder this December, then this might be the book for you. Great for fans of The Grip of It by Jac Jemc or Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (which was quite literally written in a fevered state!)

Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (2015)

Station Eleven is a strange read in a post-Covid world, somewhat predicting the lead-up to lockdown in its opening chapters with hospital beds overflowing and conflictingFront cover of 'Station Eleven' featuring an illustration of a deer in silhouette, in a frame of plantlife with deserted buildings in the background reports on statistics. Luckily for us, however, we have fared slightly better than those in the book in which most of humanity has been wiped out by the Georgia Flu (loosely based on Swine Flu). St. John Mandel expertly weaves together the stories of a diverse mix of people across the decades following the pandemic, looking at the bonds of community that can form in the wake of disaster (because “survival is insufficient”) and how these communities can become twisted. A great read if you’re a fan of works like Severence by Ling Ma, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

(Nb. There are depictions of sexual violence so please proceed with care!)


New Books October 2023

A belated (but no less warm) welcome to all our new and returning readers this term! We have had a huge range of new arrivals in the last month or two, from young adult fiction to a multitude of medieval offerings – and even a book about mermaids. However, in the wake of Black History Month coming to an end, we have picked out a range of books from Black authors that have arrived at the EFL in October. It should be noted that this is simply a jumping-off point for literature written by Black authors, and that you can find much more in the library at large – see our LibraryThing feed for more. We are also open to requests, which you can email to us until our request form opens up again – usually it is located here.

Claude Mckay, Romance in Marseille (2020)

Published posthumously nearly 90 years after it was initially written, we are introduced to Lafala. He is a West-African sailor who loses both of his lower-legs to frost-bite after being locked in a freezing room aboard the trans-Atlantic freighter he had been stowing away in. Set during the Jazz Age, we follow Lafala’s life post-amputation, delving into themes of disability, queerness, and the legacy of slavery. Romance in Marseille was considered too transgressive for its time which is why it took so long to be published, even after the death of McKay. I would, however, like to warn readers that there are some anti-Semitic instances in the novel and would suggest proceeding with care.

Eds. Mojisola Adebayo, Lynette Goddard, Black British Queer Plays and Practitioners: An Anthology of Afriquia Theatre (2023)

Next we have more queer literature by Black British authors in the form of a collection of seven plays. These radical plays explore a whole range of LGBTQ+ experiences in Black British queer theatre, taking the reader from the 1980s through to the present day. Sandwiched in-between are conversations between Black LGBTQ+ artists, who discuss how the plays featured have influenced their work, and consider how they may affect the future as well. Not to worry if you are a newcomer to the genre, however, as this edition begins with a thorough introduction which gives a great amount of socio-political context so you can get the most from each play.

Eds. Paul Field et al. Here to Stay, Here to Fight: A Race Today Anthology (2019)

Race Today was a monthly British periodical that ran between 1969-1988, considered to be the leading voice for Black politics in the UK at the time. In its contributions it drew together giants such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and many more. Well-read during its run, the publication gave unique insight into how socio-political factors such as class, race, and gender affected everything nationally and internationally. At the time of publication of the anthology, it was difficult to access Race Today, and so it was ground-breaking for anything to come of it. However, this year the entire archives were published here on The anthology is a great starting point, however, we highly encourage you to dip into the full publication as well!

Ed. Harvey Young The Cambridge Companion to African American Theatre 2nd Edition (2023)

Hot off the press and newly updated from its 2012 predecessor, we have the latest and most comprehensive overview of African American theatre to date. Covering from the 1800s to the present day, this new edition includes new chapters exploring how recent political movements (such as Black Lives Matter) have affected the theatre space, and how queer identity and African American theatre intersect. This would be a great accompaniment to Black British Queer Plays and Practitioners: An Anthology of Afriquia Theatre to compare how performance art by Black creators has developed and diverged across the pond versus in Britain!

Jane Rhodes, Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century (2023)

An (unfortunately) lesser known figure in North American history, Mary Ann Shadd Cary was an eminent figure in the women’s suffrage movement in America. She was the first Black North American woman to edit and publish her own newspaper (The Provincial Freeman), as well as one of the first women at Howard University to received a degree in law, and an activist, setting up a desegregated school in Canada 100 years before desegregation happened in America. If she sounds like a powerhouse, it’s because she is – and we could all do with learning a little more about her.


New Books Summer 2023

Even though many of our readers have now left Oxford for the vacation, the new books haven’t stopped pouring into the library. We’ve been working hard to get them all out on the library’s shelves, ready for everyone to come back for the start of Michaelmas Term!

Because we’ve had so many new books arrive at the library (nearly 150!), this month’s new book post is a little different. We’ve selected a few books which show the huge range of genres, subjects and ideas represented among the new books, from poetry and fiction to literary studies and criticism. Click here to see the new books for this month, or keep reading to see the titles featured in this month’s new book post. Alternatively, you can visit our LibraryThing page to browse all the new arrivals.

If you can’t wait until September to start reading, the library is open 9am-5pm on weekdays until Friday 11 August. The library is closed from Monday 14 to Monday 28 August, re-opening at 9am on Tuesday 29 August. Find all the details about our vacation opening hours and contact details on our website.

We hope everyone is enjoying a restful vacation, and look forward to seeing you all back in the library soon!

The Books

You may have heard that we’re making some changes to our library system this summer, and that includes some behind-the-scenes changes to SOLO. One of the consequences of this is that the permalinks to find items on SOLO will be changing.

Because of that, we’ve not provided direct links to the catalogue in this month’s new book post. Instead, keep reading to see a list of titles and whether they’re available as an e-book, which you can use to conduct your own SOLO searches. If you’re having trouble finding anything, just get in touch with the library – we’re happy to help!


Bulley, Victoria Adukwei, Quiet (2022). Also available as an e-book.

Davidson, Peter, Arctic Elegies (2023).

Dudley, Nikki, I’d Better Let You Go (2021).

Fowler, SJ, The selected scribbling and scrawling of SJ Fowler: asemic poems (2020).

Howe, Sarah, Loop of Jade (2015).

Le Guin, Ursula K., Collected Poems (2023).

Marson, Una, Una Marson: Selected Poems (2011).

Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna, Collected Poems (2022)

Oswald, Alice, Nobody (2019)

Prynne, J. H., Kernels in Vernal Silence (2020)


Literature: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century

Behn, Aphra, Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister (1987). Also available as an e-book (different edition).

Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative (2018). Also available as an e-book (different edition).

Finberg, Melinda C. (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Dramatists (2009).

Gay, John, Trivia: or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London (2016). Also available as an e-book (different edition).

Middleton, Thomas, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (2007). Also available as an e-book.


Literature: Nineteenth Century

Beckson, Karl, Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890s: An Anthology of British Poetry and Prose (2005).

Bronte, Charlotte, Jane Eyre (2022). Also available as an e-book.

Collins, Wilkie, The Moonstone (2019). Also available as an e-book.

Cox, Michael, and R. A. Gilbert (eds.), The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories (2003).

Lady Dilke, The Outcast Spirit: and Other Stories (2016).

Doyle, Arthur Conan, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (2009). Also available as an e-book.

Doyle, Arthur Conan, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (2023). Also available as an e-book.

Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sherlock Holmes: Selected Stories (2014). Also available as an e-book.

Gaskell, Elizabeth, Mary Barton (2012). Also available as an e-book (different edition).

Kipling, Rudyard, The Mark of the Beast and Other Fantastical Tales (2007).

Nesbit, E., Horror Stories (2016).

Scott, Walter, Ivanhoe (1997). Also available as an e-book.

Seacole, Mary, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (2005).


Literature: Twentieth Century

Buchan, John, The Thirty-Nine Steps (2009). Also available as an e-book.

Giono, Jean, The Man Who Planted Trees (2022).

Hurston, Zora Neale, Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir (2010).

Isherwood, Christopher, Goodbye to Berlin (2022).

Kincaid, Jamaica, At the Bottom of the River (2022).

Kincaid, Jamaica, The Autobiography of my Mother (2022).

Lehmann, Rosamund, Weather in the Streets (2018).

Marechera, Dambudzo, The House of Hunger (2022).

Morrison, Toni, Jazz (2001).

Murdoch, Iris, The Black Prince (2013).

Naipaul, V. S., The Mimic Men (2011).

Orwell, George, Decline of the English Murder (2009).

Orwell, George, Inside the Whale (2022).

Pym, Barbara, Excellent Women (2022).

Rhys, Jean, Wide Sargasso Sea (2000).

Sackville-West, Vita, Seducers in Ecuador & The Heir (2018).

Selvon, Sam, The Lonely Londoners (2021).

Sillitoe, Alan, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (2008).

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I., In the First Circle (2009).

Wilson, Angus, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (2011).

Wyndham, John, The Midwich Cuckoos (2008).


Literature: Twenty-first Century

Baume, Sara, Seven Steeples (2022). Also available as an e-book.

Daoud, Kamel, The Meursault Investigation (2015).

Masud, Noreen, A Flat Place (2023).

Morgan, Clare, Scar Tissue (2022).

Shamsie, Kamila, Home Fire (2018).

Spiegelman, Art, In the Shadow of No Towers (2004).


Literature: Travel- and Nature-Writing

Aldersey-Williams, Hugh, Tide (2017).

Bullough, Tom, Sarn Helen: A Journey Through Wales, Past, Present and Future (2023).

Clark, Timothy, Ecocriticism on the Edge: The anthropocene as a threshold concept (2015). Also available as an e-book.

Hoare, Philip, The Sea Inside (2014).

Mabey, Richard, Turning the Boat for Home: A Life Writing about Nature (2019).

Macfarlane, Robert, The Lost Words (2017).

Mackintosh-Smith, Tim (ed.), The Travels of Ibn Battutah (2016).

Torma, Franziska (ed.), A Cultural History of the Sea in the Global Age (2023).


Literary Studies: Old English and Medieval Studies

Jeffs, Amy, Storyland: A New Mythology of Britain (2021).

Jeffs, Amy, Wild: Tales from early medieval Britain (2022).

Karkov, Catherine E., and Nicholas Howe (eds.), Conversion and Colonization in Anglo-Saxon England (2006).

Newman, Barbara, The Permeable Self: Five Medieval Relationships (2021). Also available as an e-book.

Niles, John D., God’s Exiles and English Verse: On the Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry (2018). Also available as an e-book.

Owens, Susan, Imagining England’s Past: Inspiration, Enchantment, Obsession (2023).

Robertson, Elizabeth, Early English Devotional Prose and the Female Audience (1990).


Literary Studies: Politics, Philosophy and Culture

Davies, Stephen, Art and Its Messages: Meaning, Morality, and Society (1997).

Federici, Silvia, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (2021).

Matthews, Steven, and Matthew Feldman (eds.), Samuel Beckett’s “Philosophy Notes” (2020).

Odell, Jenny, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019). Also available as an e-book.

Quashie, Kevin, Black Aliveness, or A Poetics of Being (2021). Also available as an e-book.

Spires, Derrick R., The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Early Print Culture in the Early United States (2019). Also available as an e-book.

Tatar, Maria, The Heroine with 1,001 Faces (2021).


Literary Studies: Imperialism and Colonialism

Ulka Anjaria (ed.), A History of the Indian Novel in English (2015). Also available as an e-book.

Erica R. Edwards, The Other Side of Terror: Black Women and the Culture of US Empire (2021). Also available as an e-book.

Philip Steer, Settler Colonialism in Victorian Literature: Economics and Political Identity in the Networks of Empire (2020). Also available as an e-book.

Winter Jade Werner, Missionary Cosmopolitanism in Nineteenth-Century British Literature (2020).


Literary Studies: Shakespeare and Early Modern Theatre Studies

Bourne, Claire M. L., Shakespeare / Text: Contemporary Readings in Textual Studies, Editing and Performance (2021). Also available as an e-book.

Shakespeare, William, The First Folio of Shakespeare: The Norton Facsimile (1996).

Stern, Tiffany (ed.), Rethinking Theatrical Documents in Shakespeare’s England (2019).

Syme, Holger Schott, Theatre History, Attribution Studies, and the Question of Evidence (2023). Also available as an e-book.

Wright, Laura Jayne, Sound Effects: Hearing the Early Modern Stage (2023).


Literary Studies: History of Literature, Biography, and Other Topics

Bhanot, Kavita, and Jeremy Tiang (eds.), Violent Phenomena: 21 Essays on Translation (2022).

Bostridge, Mark (ed.), Lives for Sale: Biographers Tales (2005).

Caruth, Cathy (ed.), Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995).

Puchner, Martin, The Written World: How Literature Shapes History (2018).

Sloan, John, Andrew Lang: Writer, Folklorist, Democratic Intellect (2023).

Sullivan, Hannah, The Work of Revision (2013).

New Books June 2023

Just because we’re into the Long Vacation doesn’t mean the new books have stopped pouring in here at the library! We’ve had a wide range of new arrivals this month, including fiction from around the world, studies foregrounding culture, gender and race, and a selection of poetry.

Keep reading to find out more about a few titles which caught our eye, or visit our LibraryThing page to browse all the new arrivals. Vacation loans are now in full swing, meaning any books borrowed don’t have to be returned until October, so if you’d like to pick up any of these intriguing titles you might want to act fast!

Cover image for 'Season of Crimson Blossoms' by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. The cover has a blue background, with an abstract image of a woman in profile wearing a red hijab with black circles in place of her face.Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Season of Crimson Blossoms (2017) 

In this debut novel, Ibrahim tells the story of an illicit affair between a 55-year-old widow, Binta, and 26-year-old ‘Reza’, a street gang leader. Set in the conservative, predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria, the novel explores both Binta and Reza’s relationship and the world around them. With a backdrop of political violence and domestic squabbles, Ibrahim takes his time to tell the story of Binta and Reza. This slow, unhurried pacing, combined with a ‘gorgeous tapestry of language’, creates a rich narrative exploring ‘love, heartbreak, hope, desire, the human condition and our collective humanity’. 


Cover image for 'Culture' by Martin Puchner. The cover has a yellow background with floral motifs on it. There is a red diamond shape in the middle, split into four smaller diamonds: at the top, a line-drawing of a bust of Nefertiti; on the left and right, geometric patterns; and at the bottom, a Chinese drawing of a person.Martin Puchner, Culture: A New World History (2023) 

In a political landscape bounded by extremes, Puchner makes the case for the necessity – and long-standing fact – of cross-cultural exchange. In 15 ‘lively case studies’, he traces the movement, interpretation and re-interpretation of objects and ideas across time and space, encompassing Egypt, Jerusalem, Ethiopia, the Ottoman Empire, Tokyo, Berlin and more. With his assertion that ‘everyone is influenced by someone’, Puchner makes a powerful case for the fact that cultural transfer is to be found ‘at the heart of the story of human expression’. 

Also by Puchner at the EFL: Stage fright: modernism, anti-theaticality, and drama (2002); Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, manifestos and the avant-gardes (2006); The Written World: How Literature Shaped History (2018).  

Cover image for 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy. The cover has a grey background, with a red flame shape in the centre. In the flame shape are blacked-out silhouettes of a man and a boy walking.Cormac McCarthy, The Road (2022). 

The Road is McCarthy’s tenth novel and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007. It is a bleak story of a father and son’s fight to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. We’re never told what disaster has happened but, ‘faced with such loss’, it’s almost irrelevant. It’s a story not only of survival, but of what makes that survival meaningful; the father repeatedly reassures his son that they are ‘the good guys’. The prose is almost as sparse as the landscape they travel through, with ‘an economy of words, even an economy of thought, that parallels [the story]’. But despite the horror, a certain beauty remains: ‘In creating an exquisite nightmare, it does not add to the cruelty and ugliness of our times; it warns us now how much we have to lose.’ 

McCarthy died earlier this month at the age of 89. 

Also available as an e-book (2009 edition).  

There are many works by McCarthy available at the EFL. You can browse them on SOLO. 

Cover image for 'The Great White Bard' by Farah Karim-Cooper. The cover is an image of a painting of a Black person, with the title in large white letters on top. Farah Karim-Cooper, The Great White Bard: Shakespeare, Race and the Future (2023) 

Karim-Cooper is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London, and Co-Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe. That background in education is reflected in the book’s aim ‘to restore the swan of Avon as a playwright for all’. She is careful to understand Shakespeare within his Tudor context while emphasising that this was not an all-white England, and argues that Shakespeare’s work remains relevant to modern readers and audiences. The challenge is to consider ‘how students … or actors of colour … can get to grips with the excessively valued and quite sublime poetry that just happens to, at times, diminish their own bodies’. 

Also by Karim-Cooper at the EFL: The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch and the Spectacle of Dismemberment (2016). She has also edited a number of volumes about Shakespeare, which you can find on SOLO. 

Cover image for 'Bread and Circus' by Airea D. Matthews. The cover has a light blue background, with a composite silhouette of a person's face in profile, made up of images includes photos of body parts, a circus tent, and the suits (club, space, heart, diamond) of a desk of cards.Airea D. Matthews, Bread and Circus (2023) 

Bread and Circus is ‘a hybrid and palimpsestic memoir-in-verse‘, ‘a bold poetic reckoning with the realities of class and race and their intergenerational effects’. As an economics student, Matthews became ‘fascinated and disturbed’ by the ideas of Adam Smith, and here she issues a ‘direct challenge’ to his theories. She demonstrates how Smith’s emphasis on self-interest as the driver of capitalism falls apart when the individual becomes a commodity. From the perspective of the different roles she has performed through her life, Matthews ‘asks what it is to have survived, indeed to have flourished’ amidst this capitalist failure – ‘and at what cost’. 

Cover image for 'The Trouble with White Women' by Kyla Schuller. The cover has a yellow background with a pink-toned image of a woman on the left hand side. The title is in large black letters across the cover.Kyla Schuller, The Trouble with White Women: A Counterhistory of Feminism (2021) 

In this work, Schuller aims to ‘demonstrate the case for the end of white feminism, and its replacement by intersectional feminism’. To that end, the book is structured around comparisons between the writing of white feminists and intersectional feminists. Schuller makes clear that she sees ‘white feminism’ as a political position rather than an identity, one which upholds both the patriarchy and white supremacy. This is an incredibly rich account, full of ‘complexity, contradiction and nuance’ which succeeds in its aim to bring to the fore intersectional feminists whose work and ideas are not as celebrated as they could be. 

New Books May 2023

The end of Trinity Term is slowly approaching – but the new books haven’t been slowing down at all! As ever, we had lots of new books at the library in May. Find out more about a few which caught our eye this month below, or head over to LibraryThing to browse all the latest arrivals.

Cover image: The Norse Myths that Shape the Way We Think by Carolyne Larrington. The background image is a drawing of orange flames, with a man in a red cloak and winged helmet on the right hand side, standing over the body of a long-haired woman with a winged helmet. The title and author's name are in a white box in the middle of the coverCarolyne Larrington, The Norse Myths that Shape the Way We Think (2023)

This is the third entry in a series exploring ‘Myths that Shape the Way We Think’ – the first two looked at Celtic and Greek myths respectively (both can be requested from the offsite store). In this book, Larrington explores the contemporary resonances and popular reimaginings of Norse mythology. It’s a fascinating study, full of examples drawn from the myths themselves, historical and archaeological findings, and popular culture, including Marvel, Tolkien, video games and even death metal.

There are many works by Larrington available at the EFL. You can find them on SOLO.

Cover image: Liberation Day by George Saunders. The cover has a cream background, with black silhouettes of birds in flight. The author's name is in black text at the top, and the title is in black text in the middleGeorge Saunders, Liberation Day (2022)

Liberation Day brings together nine short stories by Saunders – four are new for this collection, the other five having previously appeared in the New Yorker. The stories feature characters who are trapped, imprisoned, and suspended, often by ‘their own foolishness’. Themes of ‘brainwashing, thought control and mindless violence’ underpin the collection, reflecting the state of modern American politics. Though revelling in un-reality, these stories are nothing less than political; Saunders suggests it is impossible to be otherwise.

Also by Saunders at the EFL: Tenth of December (2014); Lincoln in the Bardo (2017).

Cover image: Searching for Juliet by Sophie Duncan. The image is of Juliet about to take her life. She is wearing a red dress, and her face has been painted over with red paintSophie Duncan, Searching for Juliet: The Lives and Deaths of Shakespeare’s first tragic heroine (2023)

This engaging study explores the cultural imaginings and re-imaginings of Juliet in Western culture since the sixteenth century, from Shakespeare’s original sources to Taylor Swift and beyond. Duncan’s in-depth knowledge of, and passion for, this ‘tragic heroine’ shines through; she even spent time as one of Juliet’s Secretaries in Verona, answering letters seeking love advice from the city’s Juliet Club. The result is a compelling cultural history ‘as vital and provocative as the character herself’.

Also by Duncan at the EFL: Shakespeare’s Women and the Fin de Siècle (2016).

Cover image: I Used to Live Here Once by Miranda Seymour. The background is yellow, with a cut-out black and white photo of Jean Rhys on the left. The title and author's name are on the right.Miranda Seymour, I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys (2022)

Like much of the recent scholarship on Rhys, this biography considers Rhys’s upbringing in and exile from the Caribbean as key to her writing without making the ‘mistake’ of using fiction to fill in biographical gaps. While Seymour does not shy away from any detail of Rhys’s life, she does not present Rhys as a victim. Instead, she writes with ‘an acute empathy’, drawing a ‘highly readable, sympathetic portrait’ of a complex woman.

Also by Seymour at the EFL: A Ring of Conspirators: Henry James and his literary circle, 1895-1915 (1988); Robert Graves: Life on the edge (1995); Mary Shelley (2000).

Many of Rhys’s works are available at the EFL. You can browse them on SOLO.

Cover image: Courting India by Nandini Das. The cover image is of a Mughal king and his court, with a smaller figure in Jacobean dress at the bottom left corner. Nandini Das, Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire (2023)

Courting India follows Sir Thomas Roe, seventeenth-century ambassador to India, investigating his impressions of the Mughal court through a wealth of literary sources. Roe is often interpreted as the herald of empire, yet he achieved very little; Das is more interested in Roe’s embassy as an ‘unpropitious moment of intercultural contact’. It is the cultural legacy of Roe’s time in India, of the images and truisms which bled into British understandings of India and empire, which remains Das’s focus.

There are many works by Das available at the EFL. You can find them on SOLO.

Cover image: The Bees by Laline Paull. The background is yellow with a copper honeycomb pattern on top. The title is in the upper middle with the author's name below. The honeycomb section beneath the title is filled in black, with an image of a bee in the centre.Laline Paull, The Bees (2015)

The Bees is Paull’s debut novel, nominated for the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. The story follows Flora 717, a sanitation bee who must contend with the orthodoxy of the hive and its injunction to ‘accept, obey, serve’. The novel combines a bee’s fairytale biography, an examination of dystopian totalitarianism, and an exploration of the importance of bees in human lives, with an undercurrent of race and difference – all through the lens of ‘our appealing insect heroine’. 

New Books April 2023

We’ve got lots of lovely new books (and DVDs!) at the EFL, ready to welcome everyone back for Trinity Term. If you’re worried you might have missed out on some of the new arrivals while away from Oxford for the vacation, don’t worry – catch up on all of them over on LibraryThing, or keep reading to see a few selections that caught our eye in April …

Cover image for The Wife of Willesden by Zadie SmithZadie Smith, The Wife of Willesden (2021)

Chaucer’s Alison, the Wife of Bath, has a long history of being interpreted and reinterpreted – she is Chaucer’s ‘most enduring and appealing character‘. In Smith’s retelling, Alison is reimagined as Alvita, ‘an unashamedly sex-positive woman in her mid-50s’. Over the course of a lock-in at the local pub, Alvita tells her story of living life her way, refusing to be told what she can and cannot do by husbands, society, religion – or anyone else for that matter.

The Wife of Willesden is Smith’s debut play, written to tie in with the Borough of Brent’s year as London Borough of Culture. As much as it celebrates Alvita, it is also a love-letter to Willesden and its vibrant community – a common thread in much of Smith’s work.

There are lots of works by Smith at the EFL. Browse them on SOLO.

Cover image for Queer Disappearance in Modern and Contemporary Fiction by Benjamin BatemanBenjamin Bateman, Queer Disappearance in Modern and Contemporary Fiction (2023)

In this study, Bateman works to find an alternative to what might be termed ‘queer progressive narratives’ in contemporary fiction. By placing modernist classics by authors including E. M. Forster and Willa Cather in conversation with contemporary queer and environmental fiction, Bateman ‘refuses the common wisdom that queerness becomes louder and prouder over time, delineating instead a minimalist and daydreaming subjectivity wherein queerness finds escape, respite, and varied opportunities for imaginative reverie’.

Ultimately, Bateman brings together literary studies, queer theory, and the environmental humanities to offer critical alternatives to ‘coming out’ narratives, to revise theories of gender and sexual performativity, and to explore a world in which ‘queer disappearance’ might be just as important as queer presence.

This title is also available as an e-book.

Also by Bateman: The Modernist Art of Queer Survival (2017, e-book).

Cover image for Black Female Playwrights: An anthology of plays before 1950, edited by Kathy A. PerkinsKathy A. Perkins (ed.), Black Female Playwrights: An Anthology of Plays before 1950 (1990)

This anthology brings together nineteen plays from seven African American women, written between roughly 1910 and 1940. While this selection cannot be comprehensive, it is nonetheless representative of the works African American women were producing in the early twentieth century and the importance of these playwrights in the development of African American drama more generally. Perkins presents the plays alongside biographies of the seven playwrights which outline ‘each writer’s education, dramatic interests, and achievements‘, in addition to an Introduction to the collection which outlines the historical background of these playwrights’ work. The result is an anthology which forms a valuable starting point for explorations of ‘a neglected segment of black theatre‘.

Also by Perkins: Contemporary Plays by Women of Color: An Anthology (1996).

Cover image for The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.Robert Jones Jr., The Prophets (2021)

The Prophets, Jones’s debut novel, explores queer love between two enslaved men in the antebellum south. With lyricism and a ‘rich, distinctive‘ style lending itself to comparisons with Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, Jones delivers ‘an outstanding novel […] but also a great sweep of history‘, all while compensating for that history’s elision of the human. The nucleus of the story is the love between Isaiah and Samuel, but their world is also populated by a plethora of characters, each ‘richly evoked, rendering the complexity of their desires and depravations‘.

This is far from an easy read. But what Jones has created, amid the horror and cruelty, is a testimony to the fact ‘that humans do still love, even when the most terrifying threats hang over them’.

Cover image for Changing Satire: Transformations and Continuities in Europe, 1660-1830, edited by Cecilia Rosengren, Per Sivefors, and Rikard WingardCecilia Rosengren, Per Sivefors, and Rikard Wingard (eds.), Changing Satire: Transformations and Continuities in Europe, 1660-1830 (2022)

This collection of essays brings together literary scholars and art historians to trace developments in satire from the seventeenth through to the early nineteenth centuries. Over this period, satire became less genre-driven and increasingly visual, flourishing in various formats. The contributions to this collection consider works of satire by well-known figures like Swift and Milton, as well as lesser-known manuscript sources and prints from the period. While there is a general focus on England, the collected essays also consider satire across Europe, in France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. The result is a fascinating study which maps the development of satire, revealing it ultimately to be a key vehicle for the transgression of boundaries.

This title is also available as an e-book

Cover image for The Farwell, directed by Lulu WangThe Farewell, dir. Lulu Wang (2020)

The Farewell is a ‘beautifully bittersweet‘ comedy starring Awkwafina as Billi. Born in China but raised in the USA, these two aspects of Billi’s identity start to clash when she and her extended family return to China to say goodbye to their matriarch, Nai Nai – but no-one has told Nai Nai that she is terminally ill. The result is a witty, funny, and ultimately endearing exploration of identity, culture and family.

Many DVDs arrived at the library this month – you can browse the latest arrivals on LibraryThing. Portable DVD players can be borrowed from the enquiry desk. Alternatively, you can view films in the computer room; just ask at the desk if you’d like help getting set up.

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.

New Books February 2023

February may be the shortest month, but there has been no shortage of books arriving at the library! With a number of anthologies as well as fiction, poetry, and literary studies all making their EFL debut, there’s plenty to choose from. Keep reading to find out more about a few select highlights, or browse all our new books on LibraryThing.

Cover for Forbidden Journeys, edited by Nina Auerbach and U. C. Knoepflmacher.Nina Auerbach & U. C. Knoepflmacher, Forbidden Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Women Writers (1993).

This anthology brings together eleven stories by Victorian women writers, all of which were previously inaccessible to readers in modern published forms. They are presented here with their original illustrations, along with critical introductions and biographical notes which illuminate their historical and social context.

Auerbach and Knoepflmacher group the stories into four sections. The unifying theme is subversion, both of the tropes of traditional children’s literature and of the gendered expectations placed upon Victorian women.

Some reviewers have questioned Auerbach and Knoepflmacher’s commentaries. They’ve queried how subversive women’s association with fairy tales could be, given the genre’s association with domesticity and childcare, as well as a general contemporary acceptance of children’s literature as appropriate for women writers. Others have wondered whether the concerns of late twentieth-century feminism drive the editor’s commentaries, rather than the texts or the authors themselves. Forbidden Journeys is nonetheless a fascinating collection, though it perhaps reveals as much about late twentieth-century reappraisals of fairy tales as it does about the Victorian women who wrote them.

There are numerous works by Auerbach and by Knoepflmacher at the EFL – click the links to browse them on SOLO.

Cover image for The Oxford Book of The Sea, by Jonathan Raban.Jonathan Raban, The Oxford Book of the Sea (2001).

When the subject of your anthology covers seven-tenths of the earth’s surface, no-one is going to be entirely satisfied with your selections – making it all the more impressive that reviewers almost unanimously agree that this remains an excellent anthology.

Raban organises his selections chronologically, ‘from bitter Anglo-Saxon to wry Updike, without the breakwaters of chapter divisions’. But that structural continuity doesn’t mean there’s been no change in literature about the sea. In fact, underpinning Raban’s selections is a growing attention to and curiosity about the sea, especially after the Enlightenment.

With such a large topic, one anthology is never going to cover everything. There is a geographical focus on British, with the addition of some American, writing – while this makes the subject infinitely more manageable, Raban notes that ‘the French sea, the German sea, the Japanese sea are importantly different places’ and an equally rich anthology could be compiled on each (p.xvii). All the same, ‘although the ideal Book of the Sea, the whole sea and nothing but the sea, has yet to be written, this foretaste of it makes a very agreeable companion’.

There are numerous works by Raban at the EFL – you can browse them on SOLO.

Cover image for Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver.Barbara Kingsolver, Demon Copperhead (2022).

Demon Copperhead – winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2023 – takes Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield as its inspiration. Those familiar with Dickens’s work will recognise not only many characters but many of the events in the titular Demon’s life, as Kingsolver transposes the Victorian poverty, suffering and injustices that Dickens exposed to her own home territory of Appalachia, and a community in the grip of the opioid crisis.

Kingsolver paints a grim picture of ‘a society so ailing, the word bleak is a cheerful way to describe it’. The novel is rescued from becoming merely a grim melodrama by the wry humour and weary cynicism of its narrator, Demon. Many have praised Kingsolver’s characterisation of Demon and her use of ‘the natural poetry of the American vernacular’, a key element of Demon’s charm.

Comparisons will always be drawn between Demon Copperhead and David Copperfield – though not always favourably. Like Dickens, Kingsolver has produced a damning critique of society’s marginalisation of the most vulnerable. It is a striking and compelling examination of poverty and addiction ‘tucked away in the richest country on earth’.

Other work by Kingsolver at the EFL: Flight Behaviour (2013); Unsheltered (2019).

Cover image for Was It for This, by Hannah Sullivan.Hannah Sullivan, Was It for This (2023).

Was It for This is Sullivan’s second collection – her first, Three Poems, won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2018. Encompassing themes of home, tragedy, and the passage of time, this collection is just as stunning as her debut.

The collection contains three poems. The first focuses on the Grenfell fire in 2017, blending the personal with the collective and political as Sullivan, who lived nearby at the time, is wrenched from the ‘cocoon’ of new motherhood and confronts the tragedy. The second explores home: the places Sullivan has lived, the generational chasm synonymous with home ownership, and the memories our homes hold. The third and final poem, Happy Birthday, is preoccupied with ageing and the passage of time.

Sullivan’s poems are powerful and emotional, so compelling that ‘the masterful architecture of her writing is almost invisible’. Her poetry often shifts into prose, as she ‘moves instinctively between forms as if stepping from one room into another’ – fitting, in a collection to which homes are so central. All these elements come together beautifully, as they ‘combine to consecrate the orindary among the exceptional’.

Other work by Sullivan at the EFL: The Work of Revision (2013); Three Poems (2018).

Cover image for The Decameron Projected, edited by the New York Times Magazine.New York Times Magazine (ed.), The Decameron Project: 29 New Stories from the Pandemic (2020).

In the fourteenth century, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote The Decameron. The story takes place during the Black Death which ravaged Europe at that time, following a group of young people who flee Florence, hole up in a country retreat, and share stories to entertain one another – and to process the enormity of the plague.

In 2020, the New York Times Magazine revived the idea and structure of The Decameron in response to COVID-19. They gathered an international group of authors, each of whom crafted their response to the pandemic in the form of a short story. The stories were first published in the New York Times Magazine in July 2020, and are now brought together in this edition.

The stories all have fascinating premises, though the quality of their execution varies; these are after all rapid-fire responses to immediate crisis. The definitive COVID novel is yet to be written – and we almost certainly need more distance from the pandemic before it can become reality. But while we wait, these stories show the power of fiction, and its ability to help both storyteller and listener process anxiety and the isolation which the pandemic brought.

Cover image for The Wife of Bath: A Biography, by Marion Turner.Marion Turner, The Wife of Bath: A Biography (2023).

Following her biography of Chaucer in 2019 (available at the EFL and online), Turner has written another biography. This time, she focuses not on the poet but on one of his creations: Alison, the Wife of Bath.

It may seem strange to write a biography of a fictional character, but what Turner has achieved is a compelling account of both the ordinary medieval women Alison represents and her literary legacy in the 600 years since Chaucer wrote her. Turner argues that Alison is the first fully-rounded character, male or female, in English literature, presented in all her complexity. This complexity has been celebrated, demonised and censured, according to the values of her various interpreters, but ‘at no point has she been a neutral figure’.

Chaucer wrote Alison as ‘a rounded character with an interior life’, and it is this which draws readers to her. Yet adaptations of the Wife of Bath have more often than not depicted her as a monster or reduced her to fit within narrow gender stereotypes – as Turner says, ‘it is only in very recent years that new adaptations are no longer less progressive than the original’. Nevertheless, the Wife of Bath – and our fascination with her – persists; ‘her voice is now louder than ever’.

Also available as an e-book.

Turner discussed this book in a piece for The Conversation – we’ve republished it on the EFL blog.

Other work by Turner at the EFL: A handbook of Middle English studies (2013); Chaucer: A European Life (2019).