Book reviews: New from Julianne Pachico, Rachel Cusk, Olivia Laing
The Anthill by Julianne Pachico is published in hardback by Faber & Faber, priced £12.99 (ebook £8.99. Available May 6
JULIANNE Pachico's The Anthill follows childhood friends born in Medellin, Colombia; Lina is returning after two decades away, while Matty stayed throughout the intervening period of national violence. From the start, their reunion is marked by caginess and deception. Are they hiding from suspicion, or is this just the emotional impact of years apart? The mysteries gradually resolve, but Pachico is intelligent enough not to offer simple explanations. The story flirts with fantasy and horror without ever fully leaving the real world. While the characters' emotional breakdowns are traced in all their vivid complexity, the book can also be read as a national parable for Colombia, a country in the throes of the challenging move from brutal civil conflict to a peaceful society. As the story skips between different scenes, Pachico's experience as a short story writer is evident and contributes to an intense and artful read.
Joshua Pugh Ginn
Second Place by Rachel Cusk is published in hardback by Faber & Faber, priced £14.99 (ebook £6.66)
IN THE new novel from Rachel Cusk, writer of the Outline trilogy, and darling of the literary world, M is the narrator, an insecure 50-year-old, living with her second husband Tony in the marshes next to the sea. She invites L, a famous artist who she admires, to come and stay with them and use their beautiful surroundings as inspiration for his work. He arrives with his much younger companion and ends up staying, as a pandemic rumbles on in the background, rendering people unable to travel and much of his art significantly less valuable than before. Second Place is achingly aspirational and M is knowingly dislikable but fans of Cusk's previous work will know to expect that and won't be disappointed. The interactions between the characters are strained and uncomfortable but the writing flows beautifully.
Everybody by Olivia Laing is published in hardback by Picador, priced £20 (ebook £9.99). Available now
IN THIS exploration of what it means to be free, Olivia Laing delves deep into the human body. She doesn't just study bones and organs, but the link between the horrifying treatment bodies receive and the power they hold to cut the shackles. Drawing on influential names from the past century – including Sigmund Freud, Susan Sontag, Christopher Isherwood, Andrea Dworkin, Malcom X and Nina Simone – she assesses and compares their contributions (or damage they have done) to various freedom movements. The life of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich is used as a structural backbone for the investigation, but the concept of the body shines through as the main character. While the book can jump from one thing to the next, the injection of Laing's own experiences and opinions throughout keep it thought-provoking and engaging. Everybody inadvertently offers an honest history lesson with a truly specific focus, as well as a nod to present and future struggles.