So Brightly at the Last
Clive James’s recent death unleashed a tide of obituaries that stressed how he was perhaps the most versatile writer of his generation. His desire, however, was to become “a fairly major minor poet”, and in this original biography Ian Shircore uses James’s poems as a means of investigating his motivations and sensibility. Through figures as mixed as his poetry editor Don Paterson and John Donne, and poetic subjects such as Princess Diana, James came to believe that “a poem is any piece of writing that can’t be quoted from except out of context”.
RedDoor Press, 304pp, £18.99
Turning the Boat for Home
This book by the éminence grise of British nature writing brings together 32 pieces from a 50-year career. During that time Richard Mabey has been a part of most of the major shifts and concerns in our relationship with the natural world. There are essays here on the threat to boglands from commercial foresting (the subject of the earliest piece in the book, from 1987), and on foraging, and studies of such figures as Gilbert White and the nature artist Andy Goldsworthy. They are all part of what Mabey persuasively sees as a commonwealth, shared by all living things.
Chatto & Windus, 288pp, £18.99
On the Up
With redundancy looming and rumours that the council estate she lives on has been earmarked for redevelopment, Sylvia, a mother of two children under the age of three, isn’t feeling hopeful. Alice O’Keeffe’s funny and compassionate debut novel shows a deep understanding of contemporary urban life, and covers themes of dependence, parenthood, post-natal depression, social housing and the wealth divide. Once Sylvia comes to realise the power of local communities, her life is transformed.
Coronet, 336pp, £16.99
This article appears in the 18 Dec 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Days of reckoning