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May 18, 2016

Mini Reviews: He Wants and Middenrammers

he wantsAlison Moore follows up her Booker-shortlisted The Lighthouse with He Wants, a novel that is an exercise in withholding and revelation. As the title suggests, this is a book about yearning. Lewis Sullivan has lived a quiet life and cannot articulate just what he longs for to either himself or to his reader, although the reader going back through the seemingly quiet text will notice that all the signs are there, in previously invisible flashing lights, even, and it’s quite remarkable that a “quiet” text can be such a minefield upon rereading. The narrative follows Lewis over the course of a single day whose pattern is disturbed by the arrival of a stranger in town…except that he’s not a stranger at all, but Lewis’s former schoolmate. And while the novel’s web became too tangled by the end—story threads about Lewis’s daughter and also a local thug distracted from the central story, too much coincidence—the climax is perfectly, subtly performed, and beautifully written. DH Lawrence fans in particular should take note. Plus, Rachel Cusk loved it.

**

middenrammersJohn Bart’s debut novel, The Middenrammers, suffers from being a novel with a political agenda, which works in places to undermine the impact of the characters on the page who are not necessarily enlivened by their own will. It’s the story of a young doctor who arrives in a Yorkshire town to practice at the town’s maternity hospital in 1970, and finds himself up against forces working to restrict women’s access to contraception and abortion. Things are a little too black and white—the evil-doers in this book are so totally evil but—as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote in her novel, Americanah—“like life is always fucking subtle.” And whenever I was feeling frustrated by the lack of subtlety, Bart would go and blow me away with a stunning scene, like the one in which the doctor has his arm stuck inside a woman’s vagina to keep the cord from prolapsing, and must move through the entire hospital in this awkward manner to get her to surgery. And he portrays the devastating impact of restricting women’s reproductive freedom, and shows too how such restrictions are part of systemic project of oppression of women and the poor. Despite my few reservations, I really enjoyed this fast paced novel, read it in a day, and think it would appeal to anyone who’s been a fan of Call The Midwife.

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