The Unmapped Country: Stories & Fragments by Ann Quin – review

The adventurous spirit of a cult author from the 1960s animates tales of sex and psychiatry

Reduced to an anomalous footnote in British literary history – a female, working-class, avant-garde author – Ann Quin is all too often taken as read. Yet her work is as open-ended as those sentences she regularly produced that trail off into silence, casting a spell instead of spelling out; floating away on their reserve of potentiality. As open-ended, indeed, as her life, which she took at the age of 37, swimming out to sea off Brighton’s Palace Pier in 1973. She left behind four novels – including her celebrated debut, Berg (1964) – along with scores of short-form pieces, some which now appear in a thrilling new collection of miscellanea.

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The Abode of Fancy by Sam Coll review – an all-embracing debut

There are shades of Rabelais as well as all the Irish greats in this freewheeling doorstopper about hard-drinking oddballs and fantastical creaturesWe have all met him: the precocious Irish student who can talk the hind legs off a donkey and would be a shoo-in for the next Joyce if only he deigned to put pen to paper. Sam Coll did put pen to paper, and then some. And then some more, until he had completed 69 chapters spanning almost 500 pages. Born in 1989, he was still an undergraduate at Trinity College Dublin when the first draft was produced. The Abode of Fancy, his all-embracing debut, is fiendishly difficult to summarise: it is episodic and digressive, yet everything is skilfully connected. There are two main plot lines. The first revolves around Simeon Collins, a young student who shares his initials with the author, and the washed-up, world-weary older friends in ...

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett review – a stunning debut

This immersive collection, narrated by a rural recluse, finds the extraordinary and the dreamlike in everyday life

Claire-Louise Bennett’s highly acclaimed debut, initially published in Ireland earlier this year, is a collection of 20 stories – the shortest of which runs to a couple of sentences. They are all told, it seems, by the same female character, whose semi-reclusive existence the tales revolve around. Reading them is an immersive experience. We come to share the “savage swarming magic” the narrator feels under her skin by focusing at length on her “mind in motion” (the only exception being the final story, told in the third person). For all this propinquity, we would be hard-pressed to recognise her, should she suddenly emerge from her rural retreat. One of the most striking aspects of this extraordinary book is how well we get to know the narrator – whose brain and body we inhabit – ...

Roland Barthes’ challenge to biography

The great critic’s life can certainly be seen in his work, but – as one would expect from the man who pronounced the Author dead – in more complicated ways than we are used to

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a piece on Roland Barthes shall be prefaced by a sarcastic reference to The Death of the Author. Especially when the centenary of his birth is commemorated with the publication of a third biography. Tiphaine Samoyault – who had access to a wealth of fresh material – is no ordinary biographer, however. Her premise is that a writer’s life is understood by what it lacks, as much as by the events it encompasses. She highlights the dangers of trying to explain the work through the life, or vice versa, as they are two “heterogeneous realities”. She also wastes no time in reminding us that the death of the ...