Published by Custom House on November 2, 2021
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Bantering Books Rating:
An electrifying novel of mortality, passion, and human connection, set against the backdrop of a deadly global virus--from the "astonishing, miraculous" (Daisy Johnson) Man Booker-nominated writer.
You were the last one here, before I closed the door of Burntcoat. Before we all closed our doors...
In an unnamed British city, the virus is spreading, and like everyone else, the celebrated sculptor Edith Harkness retreats inside. She isolates herself in her immense studio, Burntcoat, with Halit, the lover she barely knows. As life outside changes irreparably, inside Burntcoat Edith and Halit find themselves changed as well: by the histories and responsibilities each carries and bears, by the fears and dangers of the world outside, and by the progressions of their new relationship. And Burntcoat will be transformed too, into a new and feverish world, a place in which Edith comes to an understanding of how we survive the impossible--and what is left after we have.
A sharp and stunning novel of art and ambition, mortality and connection, Burntcoat is a major work from "one of our most influential short story writers" (Guardian). It is an intimate and vital examination of how and why we create--make art, form relationships, build a life--and an urgent exploration of an unprecedented crisis, the repercussions of which are still years in the learning.
Bantering Books Review
Sarah Hall’s slim novel, Burntcoat, is haunting. It’s beautifully written. It’s relevant.
And it’s icky. So very, VERY icky.
Burntcoat tells the story of fictional British sculptor Edith Harkness. The novel is written in Edith’s voice, as she reflects upon her artwork and the impactful relationships of her life. Having lived through a worse-than-COVID pandemic, Edith’s main focus while recounting her tale is the days of the virus and its aftermath, but her narrative encompasses her formative years as well.
Edith’s story of fear and seclusion during the pandemic resonates to the bone. Her tone is somber. Resigned. And on the page, she speaks with great candor.
But the candor is almost too much. Because Burntcoat is filled with graphic scenes of sex and the physical effects of the virus. Copious amounts of blech are secreted from bodies, enough to sink a boat, and it’s not pretty. It’s gross. Many readers may find the vivid descriptions off-putting.
As for me, I’m blocking the yuck. I’m pretending I never read it, instead remembering only Hall’s mastery of the written word and the stunning, evocative intimacy of Burntcoat.
I hope others will do the same.
My sincerest appreciation to Sarah Hall and William Morrow Custom House for the physical Advance Review Copy. All opinions included herein are my own.