The Combined Maze by May Sinclair *****
The scenes within The Combined Maze, which is incidentally one of Agatha Christie’s favourite books, are deftly set, and Sinclair’s prose is measured and clear. A palpable tension is steadily and marvellously built within the novel, which presents a fascinating study of unconventional married life and parenthood. Relevant to the modern world, The Combined Maze deals in part with postnatal depression, financial struggles, and adultery, amongst other topics of interest. The character constructs are fascinating, and the denouement is incredibly realistic. May Sinclair astounds me; she is unwaveringly aware of people, and all of the tiny yet significant details which shape and affect them. The Combined Maze is novel which could certainly do with a resurgence!
Fair Exchange by Michele Roberts ***
I very much enjoyed Roberts’ Daughters of the House, and adored the short story collection entitled Playing Sardines, so when I spotted Fair Exchange on the shelves of an Oxfam Bookshop, I had no doubts about it coming home with me. I had interest in its story from the first, and it proved the perfect tome to take on a train trip to Edinburgh. Everything about Fair Exchange was so well-realised at first, and the story, with its inclusion of Mary Wollstonecraft as a character, was very interesting. Then, a few little niggles began to creep in. The scenery was nicely evoked, but it did not feel as realistic as it is in a lot of her work, not as prevalent. I was willing to set aside a couple of character discrepancies and the sometimes jolting structure of the piece, but that final, awful twist ruined the book somewhat for me.
Selling Manhattan by Carol Ann Duffy ***
Ordinarily I love Duffy’s work, but <i>Selling Manhattan</i> just didn’t grab me. It is her second collection, and one can see that her voice, which later becomes so original and startling, is beginning to emerge. There simply wasn’t the level of engagement here which I am so used to in Duffy’s work. There is much playing around with the form, but it feels more of an experimental collection than one of her best.