“This was maybe the most formally adventurous of the books on our list of finalists. It’s about the early stages of women’s search for liberation and social, sexual, and specifically artistic emancipation. Its chronological range is from the 1880s to the 1920s and 30s. It’s a kind of mosaic documentary novel. It takes real lives, not only famous ones—like Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, or Sarah Bernhardt—but also lives which have been lost to history, of women who fought against patriarchal norms and heterosexual expectations in the late Victorian era and the early 20th century. It puts these stories together into a remarkable jigsaw, where we can both appreciate them for what they are and see how these isolated struggles connect into what will become a wider movement.
It’s also about how to tell the stories of people who have been either erased by history or somehow betrayed or stereotyped by conventional kinds of reminiscence. It’s quite a moving book. It’s sometimes an angry book, but it’s also stylistically and structurally very sophisticated and extremely intriguing.”
Best Political Novels of 2023, recommended by Boyd Tonkin