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Burntcoat

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An electrifying novel of mortality, passion, and human connection, set against the backdrop of a deadly global virus--from the "astonishing, miraculous" (Daisy Johnson) Man Booker-nominated writer. You were the last one here, before I closed the door of Burntcoat. Before we all closed our doors... In an unnamed British city, the virus is spreading, and like everyone else, th An electrifying novel of mortality, passion, and human connection, set against the backdrop of a deadly global virus--from the "astonishing, miraculous" (Daisy Johnson) Man Booker-nominated writer. You were the last one here, before I closed the door of Burntcoat. Before we all closed our doors... In an unnamed British city, the virus is spreading, and like everyone else, the celebrated sculptor Edith Harkness retreats inside. She isolates herself in her immense studio, Burntcoat, with Halit, the lover she barely knows. As life outside changes irreparably, inside Burntcoat Edith and Halit find themselves changed as well: by the histories and responsibilities each carries and bears, by the fears and dangers of the world outside, and by the progressions of their new relationship. And Burntcoat will be transformed too, into a new and feverish world, a place in which Edith comes to an understanding of how we survive the impossible--and what is left after we have. A sharp and stunning novel of art and ambition, mortality and connection, Burntcoat is a major work from "one of our most influential short story writers" (Guardian). It is an intimate and vital examination of how and why we create--make art, form relationships, build a life--and an urgent exploration of an unprecedented crisis, the repercussions of which are still years in the learning.


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An electrifying novel of mortality, passion, and human connection, set against the backdrop of a deadly global virus--from the "astonishing, miraculous" (Daisy Johnson) Man Booker-nominated writer. You were the last one here, before I closed the door of Burntcoat. Before we all closed our doors... In an unnamed British city, the virus is spreading, and like everyone else, th An electrifying novel of mortality, passion, and human connection, set against the backdrop of a deadly global virus--from the "astonishing, miraculous" (Daisy Johnson) Man Booker-nominated writer. You were the last one here, before I closed the door of Burntcoat. Before we all closed our doors... In an unnamed British city, the virus is spreading, and like everyone else, the celebrated sculptor Edith Harkness retreats inside. She isolates herself in her immense studio, Burntcoat, with Halit, the lover she barely knows. As life outside changes irreparably, inside Burntcoat Edith and Halit find themselves changed as well: by the histories and responsibilities each carries and bears, by the fears and dangers of the world outside, and by the progressions of their new relationship. And Burntcoat will be transformed too, into a new and feverish world, a place in which Edith comes to an understanding of how we survive the impossible--and what is left after we have. A sharp and stunning novel of art and ambition, mortality and connection, Burntcoat is a major work from "one of our most influential short story writers" (Guardian). It is an intimate and vital examination of how and why we create--make art, form relationships, build a life--and an urgent exploration of an unprecedented crisis, the repercussions of which are still years in the learning.

30 review for Burntcoat

  1. 5 out of 5

    Regina

    My reading experience with Burntcoat was a little like dining at a Michelin star restaurant when I would have been fine just swinging by a drive-thru. I could appreciate the mastery and craft that went into the product, but man-oh-man… sometimes less is more. Burntcoat is a literary fiction novel that puts the lit in literary. Written in the second person, it tells the story of English artist Edith as she deals with the long-haul effects of a pandemic virus. It’s not COVID, but it’s like COVID - My reading experience with Burntcoat was a little like dining at a Michelin star restaurant when I would have been fine just swinging by a drive-thru. I could appreciate the mastery and craft that went into the product, but man-oh-man… sometimes less is more. Burntcoat is a literary fiction novel that puts the lit in literary. Written in the second person, it tells the story of English artist Edith as she deals with the long-haul effects of a pandemic virus. It’s not COVID, but it’s like COVID - only worse. Readers are taken from her past to present and back again, as the timeline shifts fluidly in her remembrances. Speaking of fluids, there are a lot of them. Some from the virus’s ravaging of Edith’s quarantine lover, Halit, and some from Halit’s sexual ravaging of Edith. For someone who is pretty averse to sex scenes, it was too much to take. Again, less is more. While it seems that Sarah Hall may not be the right writer for this here reader, many other reviewers have praised Burntcoat for its poetic phrasing and metaphorical storytelling. I applaud Hall for her efforts and those other readers for their appreciation, even if the best thing about Burntcoat for me was the absolutely stunning cover. Now that’s lit. My thanks to the author and Custom House for the advance print copy to review. Burntcoat is now available. Blog: https://www.confettibookshelf.com/

  2. 4 out of 5

    Melissa ~ Bantering Books

    Be sure to visit Bantering Books to read all my latest reviews. Sarah Hall’s slim novel, Burntcoat, is haunting. It’s beautifully written. It’s relevant. And it’s icky. So very, VERY icky. Burntcoat tells the story of fictional British sculptor Edith Harkness. The novel is written in Edith’s voice, as she reflects upon her artwork and the impactful relationships of her life. Having lived through a worse-than-COVID pandemic, Edith’s main focus while recounting her tale is the days of the virus and i Be sure to visit Bantering Books to read all my latest reviews. Sarah Hall’s slim novel, Burntcoat, is haunting. It’s beautifully written. It’s relevant. And it’s icky. So very, VERY icky. Burntcoat tells the story of fictional British sculptor Edith Harkness. The novel is written in Edith’s voice, as she reflects upon her artwork and the impactful relationships of her life. Having lived through a worse-than-COVID pandemic, Edith’s main focus while recounting her tale is the days of the virus and its aftermath, but her narrative encompasses her formative years as well. Edith’s story of fear and seclusion during the pandemic resonates to the bone. Her tone is somber. Resigned. And on the page, she speaks with great candor. But the candor is almost too much. Because Burntcoat is filled with graphic scenes of sex and the physical effects of the virus. Copious amounts of blech are secreted from bodies, enough to sink a boat, and it’s not pretty. It’s gross. Many readers may find the vivid descriptions off-putting. As for me, I’m blocking the yuck. I’m pretending I never read it, instead remembering only Hall’s mastery of the written word and the stunning, evocative intimacy of Burntcoat. I hope others will do the same. My sincerest appreciation to Sarah Hall and William Morrow Custom House for the physical Advance Review Copy. All opinions included herein are my own. Bantering Books Twitter Facebook

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jasmine

    This is the most exquisitely haunting story I’ve read in a long time. Edith Harkness, a renowned sculptor, is living her last days and is reflecting on her life. Edith recalls when she was a young girl, her mother suffered a brain aneurysm and how it altered their life trajectory. To the days when she learned art techniques that would eventually lead her to win awards and more wealth than she knew how to comprehend. To the days when the world shut down, when she and her new love, Halit, went int This is the most exquisitely haunting story I’ve read in a long time. Edith Harkness, a renowned sculptor, is living her last days and is reflecting on her life. Edith recalls when she was a young girl, her mother suffered a brain aneurysm and how it altered their life trajectory. To the days when she learned art techniques that would eventually lead her to win awards and more wealth than she knew how to comprehend. To the days when the world shut down, when she and her new love, Halit, went into lockdown together. This story centres around a COVID-like virus; however, the virus presented here is more severe and the public’s response slightly more dangerous. Edith contracted the virus when it was first circulating, and now some thirty years later is suffering a relapse. The cause of her relapse is unknown to scientists, but what is definite is that Edith does not have long to live. As Edith reminisces on her life, she completes the finishing touches on her magnum opus, knowing that she will never see its final installation. This is a slowly-paced literary work that captured my attention from its opening sentence. The timeline skips around as Edith recalls different instances, but it gets less confusing as the novel progresses. I’d recommend reading it in one or two sittings in order not to be thrown off by the time skips. There are themes on desire, love, lust, art, family, grief, and sickness. I knew I would like this book, but I didn’t think I would LOVE it. I also didn’t know it would be so seductive and intense, but I am not complaining, not at all. The story goes to some very dark places. It steers clear of toxic romantically dark places, but rather explores grim and isolated ones that are quite graphic. I won’t say more than that because I want this story to tear through the hearts of other readers. This was my first Sarah Hall book, but it will not be my last. Thank you to Faber and Faber for the arc provided via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Amalia Gkavea

    ‘’Those who tell stories survive.’’ ‘’Is it possible to be saved, like Scheherazade seducing the enemy with tales? Do stories make sense in a disordered world?’’ A tragic change inflicts the most important person in your life, your mother. A worthless father withdraws from your life. And then, you become an artist. You need to experience and express, to support and confess. You need to understand in order to find yourself. Burntcoat. As in ‘’burn your skin’’. Burn your prejudices. Cleanse yours ‘’Those who tell stories survive.’’ ‘’Is it possible to be saved, like Scheherazade seducing the enemy with tales? Do stories make sense in a disordered world?’’ A tragic change inflicts the most important person in your life, your mother. A worthless father withdraws from your life. And then, you become an artist. You need to experience and express, to support and confess. You need to understand in order to find yourself. Burntcoat. As in ‘’burn your skin’’. Burn your prejudices. Cleanse yourself of the ills of the past. Start anew. For as long as Life allows you to exist. ‘’We could talk about most things. But there were native compartments full of history I couldn’t access, and in which I would never belong; you contained seas that shared no tides here.’’ A young man from Turkey, Halit. His name means ‘’eternal’’. They fall in love at first sight. Yes, it can happen. In an instant, like a heavy blow of the wind. Like an earthquake that makes you question your entire being. When two people come together against the world, there is always hope for the future. Even if it is only reserved for the ‘’happy few’’. ‘’I’m still a halfling on the moors, finding berries, cupping from the underground river, making things out of reeds and thorns. The world exists through recreation, how it is perceived. You were a tear in all that, a gift of sudden truth. Because of you I could say, with certainty, I believe in it, all.’’ The quiet and restless beauty of the moors cannot hide that Nature has become a lethal threat. Yet love prompts you forward. A modern plague has been born and the land is heading back to the Middle Ages. A deadly virus is destroying the world but your heart opens. Violence, madness. Human beings become monsters. The spirit and soul of a house become a cocoon that will protect two souls that have found each other amidst unthinkable chaos. I cannot describe how deeply I connected with Edith and how piercingly I could understand the depth of her feelings. For her feelings are mine as well and I could ‘’hear’’ her soul as I can ‘’hear’’ mine. In a time when certain emotions are growing within me more and more, Edith’s voice became my voice. *Necessary stop to rant: Those who complain about the supposedly ‘’strong’’ sex scenes? You must be nuns or ‘’strongly’’ repressed. Or simply ridiculous. Judging by the Goodreads mob that has been plaguing the reading community for a couple of years now, I’d go with the third option. So, please stop. You lower our IQ levels! * As I was reaching the end, I started reading slower and slower. I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to face the resolution that was looming. Threateningly. When a novel manages to make my heart ache (literally, I felt excruciating pain), then that is all I need to know that I have found a new literary home. For personal reasons - which may become obvious to you when you read Sarah Hall’s masterpiece and my poor attempt to review it - Burntcoat became my home. Edith mirrored my own choices, its darkness and hope and love spoke to the very depths of my soul. For me, it was so much more than a book. It was the mirror to a new path that is currently beckoning to me. It was the part of myself viewed in an autumn dream born during the summer that recently departed. A dream that has become a beautiful, albeit difficult, reality… ‘’I never brought you to the valley. Lying on the bed, when we walked together, I described it, the sheer granite slabs, the fast brackish water and luminous moors. You never took me home either. Between coordinates is where we existed. Perhaps that’s true for all relationships. In the end, we want versions we can’t have, rearrangements in time. We want someone wise or well scarred from the other side to say how it is, and what will happen, to be re-childed.’’ Many thanks to Faber and Faber Ltd and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.word...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ceecee

    Burntcoat is a novella of the recollections of Edith Harkness now aged 59 and facing a death from something resembling Long Covid. She is an artist of renown and Burntcoat is her huge studio where she lives, works and will ultimately die. It recounts memories of her mother Naomi and of her childhood, her training in the art of Shou Sugi Ban, burnt wood, a technique she learns in Japan, her love affair with Halit of Bulgarian/Turkish origin and the impact of a terrible pandemic known as AG3 - nov Burntcoat is a novella of the recollections of Edith Harkness now aged 59 and facing a death from something resembling Long Covid. She is an artist of renown and Burntcoat is her huge studio where she lives, works and will ultimately die. It recounts memories of her mother Naomi and of her childhood, her training in the art of Shou Sugi Ban, burnt wood, a technique she learns in Japan, her love affair with Halit of Bulgarian/Turkish origin and the impact of a terrible pandemic known as AG3 - novavirus. First of all, there is absolutely no doubt that this is beautifully written. In places it’s lyrical, there are some original and powerful images that will stick in my mind for a long time they’re so stunningly creative. Her mother Naomi I find especially fascinating and the sections where she is in the narrative are the ones I most enjoy. I love the art element, the huge pieces she creates (think scale of the Angel of the North) are visually amazing and are described so well you can see them in your minds eye. Her passionate affair with Halit is very emotionally charged and intense. However, unfortunately the book has a number of sections I do not care for. The non linear format takes some getting used to and initially it’s very confusing. The pandemic which is worse than Covid and seems more like a plague, is utterly depressing with descriptions that are graphic and unpleasant. There is a lot of gratuitous sex that seem unnecessary and it just gets too much especially as the author has already made clear the passion Edith and Halit feel for each other. Overall , it’s a disturbing book in many ways and leaves me feeling very unsettled which is probably the intention. I’m sure other readers will love this book but it’s one I only like parts of. With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Faber and Faber for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    I am burnt, damaged, more resilient. A life is a bead of water on the black surface, so frail, so strong, its world incredibly held. This is, I think, the most intense and powerful response to Covid and the extraordinary experience we've all been through in the last sixteenth months that I've read. Hall has written an emotionally-charged novel that is tribute, extended nightmare, love story and - somehow - manages to claw back some kind of human dignity and strength in the face of the inevita I am burnt, damaged, more resilient. A life is a bead of water on the black surface, so frail, so strong, its world incredibly held. This is, I think, the most intense and powerful response to Covid and the extraordinary experience we've all been through in the last sixteenth months that I've read. Hall has written an emotionally-charged novel that is tribute, extended nightmare, love story and - somehow - manages to claw back some kind of human dignity and strength in the face of the inevitability of death. I'm deliberately keeping this review short because I think each reader deserves to experience the trajectory of the story for themselves. But I'd say this is fiction that is almost masquerading as autofiction and has something of the sensitive thoughtfulness of a Deborah Levy or Rachel Cusk while at the same time pondering the intersection of art (the narrator is a sculptor) with individual and public crisis. All I'd say is... read it. Many thanks to Faber & Faber for an ARC via NetGalley.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer

    Sarah Hall has to her name a Booker shortlisting (in 2004), a Booker longlisting (in 2009) and a selection as a Booker judge (in 2017 – a very odd year when the judges first I think respected what the prize should be about by picking the most acclaimed English language novels, only to then dump almost all of them at the shortlist stage) – and this book is published by Faber (who average 2 books a year on the 2016-21 longlists) so this book may well be a strong 2022 Booker contender. The author is Sarah Hall has to her name a Booker shortlisting (in 2004), a Booker longlisting (in 2009) and a selection as a Booker judge (in 2017 – a very odd year when the judges first I think respected what the prize should be about by picking the most acclaimed English language novels, only to then dump almost all of them at the shortlist stage) – and this book is published by Faber (who average 2 books a year on the 2016-21 longlists) so this book may well be a strong 2022 Booker contender. The author is also a well known short story writer and the only one ever to win the BBC short story prize twice. She is also a writer of dystopian fiction – her “The Carhullan Army” was listed for the Arthur C Clarke Science Fiction award – and that is I think the most relevant comparison here. The novel is told as first person recollections, ones which vary over time, by Edith Harkness. As a child her writer mother suffered a catastrophic brain bleed which caused huge damage and left her mentally incapacitated – causing Edith’s father to ultimately leave and Edith to grow up very fast. Now nearing 60 she is a sculptress famous for her work with charred wood (using the Japanese art of Shou Sugi Ban). Some thirty years previously she won a lucrative art award – the Galeworth medal – for her huge and controversial free standing installation “The Witch” (think “The Angel of the North”) and with the proceeds decided to buy a huge old building/industrial warehouse – the eponymous Burntcoat which becomes her live-in studio. Burntcoat seems to me to be based in a City which draws heavily on the author’s current home of Norwich but transported to her birthplace of Cumbrian – where most of her novels are set. There she started an intensely sexual relationship with Halit – a Bulgarian Turk and the two are together when a deadly virus – later known as Nonavirus and then AG3 – sweeps the world causing mass deaths (far more than COVID – around one million in the UK) and huge direct disruption (rather than the indirect chaos wrought by COVID). Years later the AG3 version of long-COVID is also much more serious – with the virus capable of killing its victims decades after their infection – a fate which Edith now faces as she also looks to complete an installation which will mark the virus and its victims. If I had a reservation about this book – and to be honest it is quite a strong reservation – it is that I do not really see why a novelistic response to COVID has to be about a very different virus. I recently read Sarah Moss’s “The Fell” and while it does not have anything the artistic ambition or imagination of this novel it was brave enough to actually deal with the real situation we have been living through – and to try to capture the experience of COVID (or more accurately lockdown) at a very specific time and place (England, November 2020 and the unexpected national lockdown). Perhaps as this is a book about abstract art then the abstraction is appropriate but I felt it was unsatisfactory and for me rather (if not completely) diminished the power of the novel. I think this was not helped by what seemed to me anomalies: despite the virus racking the world it seems that the first cases in the UK are “mistaken in the hospitals as something virulent and seasonal” (contrast and compare to what happens with actual viruses); later we are told that compensation is paid to both relatives of victims and to survivors “There have been mass suits – millions paid out” – putting aside whether this would really happen surely that should be “billions” (if not tens or hundreds of billions) – all of this weakening the verisimilitude of the novel and hence its impact – at least for me. And I also felt that the novel was gratuitously sexual – a good example is in a brief discussion of people buying and then (again much quicker than actually occurred) dumping pet dogs which leads to a really rather ridiculous scene. Overall I think this is a novel which will appeal to many but which did not to me as I think the choice of dystopian fiction was both overly conservative and lacking impact. My thanks to Faber and Faber for an ARC via NetGalley

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alwynne

    Sarah Hall began writing Burntcoat on the day England first locked down in March 2020. It’s an intense, claustrophobic piece displaying many of the features associated with Hall’s fiction: a strong female protagonist, a northern setting and generous amounts of meticulously-detailed sex. Like Sarah Moss’s The Fell, this is first and foremost a pandemic novel, but it’s edgier, somehow more organic and yet slicker than Moss’s vision of post-Covid society – genteel in comparison to Hall’s. Hall’s st Sarah Hall began writing Burntcoat on the day England first locked down in March 2020. It’s an intense, claustrophobic piece displaying many of the features associated with Hall’s fiction: a strong female protagonist, a northern setting and generous amounts of meticulously-detailed sex. Like Sarah Moss’s The Fell, this is first and foremost a pandemic novel, but it’s edgier, somehow more organic and yet slicker than Moss’s vision of post-Covid society – genteel in comparison to Hall’s. Hall’s story’s narrated by Edith, a successful middle-aged, British sculptor. Edith comes across like a composite of artists like Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin, vulnerable but fiercely feminist, keenly aware of the challenges of being a woman creating art, of the difficulty of negotiating male-dominated spaces. It’s slenderly plotted, although it reminded me at times of Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in the way that information’s drip-fed, elliptical, requiring readers to piece together what’s happening from the narrator’s fragmented offerings. The novel’s setting’s some version of the real but the circumstances in which a novel virus, AG3, takes hold are far more dramatic - perhaps because its actions and consequences are distilled and filtered via Edith’s experiences. Hall’s imagined virus’s deadlier than Covid-19, it takes hold slowly then quickly spreads in fiery bursts until society’s on the verge of collapse. As usual, Hall doesn’t shirk from making broader political points here: Edith’s account of events parallels England’s handling of Covid although elements are exaggerated for maximum effect. Hall highlights instantly recognisable features through the scenes witnessed by Edith: aggressive racism; rampant individualism and hoarding; street protests and deniers; a collapsing health system presided over by a tottering, ineffectual government, marked by its indecision and cronyism. Edith herself is damaged, a survivor of a difficult childhood and now a marked woman whose body’s harbouring a likely-fatal, post-viral disease. But what preoccupies her is the memory of her fierce, almost visceral connection with Halit, the man she met before the pandemic took hold, the one she locked herself away with when everything started to fall apart. Halit’s a Muslim immigrant, a local restaurant owner, cut off from his home and family, and for Edith a source of mysterious loss and lingering grief. Burntcoat's a powerfully expressed, lyrical novel that touches on important issues of creativity and how we might process death on such vast scales. What manner of reparation? What forms of art? What kinds of monuments can be built that adequately address the aftermath of astounding loss? These are all relevant, significant questions but perhaps too complex, too ambitious for a novel of this size and nature to properly address. Edith’s character’s an intriguing one but at the same time not entirely convincing, although aspects of Hall’s portrayal of someone dealing with illness and bereavement ring true. Halit, another fugitive from a traumatic past, is a much blurrier figure a little stock, a little too conveniently, obviously other. There’s a tendency too for Edith to express herself via pseudo-philosophical, gnomic observations, which I found slightly overblown and irritating at times. Overall it’s an interesting, compulsively readable book but not an entirely satisfying one perhaps because it’s trying to tackle far more than it can reasonably handle. Thanks to Netgalley UK and publisher Faber & Faber for an arc

  9. 4 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    I’m the wood in the fire. I’ve experienced, altered in nature. I am burnt, damaged, more resilient. A life is a bead of water on the black surface, so frail, so strong, its world incredibly held. Sarah Hall's 6th novel, Burntcoat, is a beautifully written story of artistic creation, love (and lust), and the aftermath of medical trama both personal (a severe stroke) and societal (a Covid-like epidemic). On the latter, she said of the book's origins, when the publishing deal with Faber & Faber was I’m the wood in the fire. I’ve experienced, altered in nature. I am burnt, damaged, more resilient. A life is a bead of water on the black surface, so frail, so strong, its world incredibly held. Sarah Hall's 6th novel, Burntcoat, is a beautifully written story of artistic creation, love (and lust), and the aftermath of medical trama both personal (a severe stroke) and societal (a Covid-like epidemic). On the latter, she said of the book's origins, when the publishing deal with Faber & Faber was announced: On the first day of lockdown in March last year I woke up very early and started writing. That morning, everything felt eerily shrouded and in jeopardy. I remember a similar feeling from childhood. You’d wake to heavy silence, a sense of event. Some spring snow would have obliterated the valley overnight, and you’d have to dig out. Every morning, I got up and wrote while it was still dark. I was homeschooling my daughter, so I only had those hours. I’m not saying I was particularly equipped. But some part of me — a kind of first responder — wanted to work. I’ve been heartbroken by the last year, in so many ways. We all are. Like Burntcoat’s protagonist, I know art can’t really offer a cure. But I had to write this book. The novel is narrated by Edith Harkness, aged 59. Edith is a prize-winning sculptress, working on huge installations inspired by the Japanese art of Yakisugi (also known as Shou Sugi Ban), charring word to preserve it. Her most famous piece an Angel-of-the-North type installation, the Witch, by the side of a major road: In the interview I was asked if my proposal was realistic, whether it would exceed the funding, who my influences were. My answers were brief, disengaging. González, Gentileschi, Oppenheim– her Bern fountain with its tufa and lichen. See: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/m... The Witch won a major prize which funded her acquisition of Burntcoat, a huge abandoned building that she turns into her residence and studio (the building actually based on the former Eastern Electricity building in Norwich: https://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/news/... I was twenty-nine when I bought Burntcoat. I’d just won the Galeworth medal, and a staggering amount of money. The Witch had been standing at the Scotch Corner junction for a year, her controversy also rampant. Hecky had divided the nation. She was magnificent, unique, a testament to the creativity of the north. She was an eyesore, an obscenity, there were petitions to remove her. ... Burntcoat stands at the edge of the old industrial part of the city, where the riverbank links workers’ cottages, trade buildings and docks. Friends with houses in the Victorian wards thought I was mad to want to live here, until I explained how much space I needed. The building’s records are incomplete so I don’t know what its primary purpose was. Storage, auction, an exchange for cattle and cargo brought upstream from the estuary, or perhaps it was used to mend masts. It was half-ruined when I bought it, full of pigeon shit, cans and condoms. Almost two centuries of disrepair and illicit use had left it scarred, historically unlisted and cheap. The name is inexplicable in the deeds– some eponymous merchant’s, an incendiary event. I admit, it was the name that made me want the building, as well as the proportions. Such things shouldn’t be meaningful, but they are. Even renovated, Burntcoat is ugly by most standards, a utilitarian warehouse, but it stands beside the river’s lambency– a hag in a bright mirror. Sometimes people pause on the road outside, trying to read the writing on the bricks. This section of river is slow and opaque, calke-green, with acidic willows above the metal sidings, chained entry points and steps that disappear down into the water. Graffiti on the bridges. Skeins of debris and oil on the surface. The old wooden boathouses have been demolished or have buckled with rot, the mills converted into chic flats now. Some years before the novel opens the country, indeed the world, has been hit by a Covid-like epidemic: The virus has shed its initial and older names. They were frightening, incorrect, discriminatory. Hanta. Nova. Now it is simply AG3. It is contained; an event in a previous era from which we continue to learn. Contingency planning. Social tracking. Herd control. The picture of the pathogen– orange and reticulated– has become as recognisable as the moon. Children sketch it in science lessons, the curious arms, proteins and spikes. The civic notices listing symptoms, and the slogans, look vintage. ... The images are so strong from that time. The nurse standing in the empty aisle, her back to us, hair dishevelled and her uniform crumpled, the weight of the shopping basket, though it is empty, pulling her body downwards. The Pope, kneeling in the rain in a deserted St Peter’s Square. Cuban volunteer doctors exiting the plane in Naples, where a new variant has become unstoppable, their faces like bronze casts, the hands of the airport workers frozen mid-applause. And a plane full of equipment sitting on the runway at Heathrow, its cargo door closing, caught in some snare of bureaucracy. The Welsh doctor who has cut the bottom off a large water cooler and placed it over his head as a mask– ripples in the plastic amplifying the ripples in his brow; he would be among the first medical staff to die. I’ve looked at those images often, the spontaneous moments– which seem to frieze history, to make it, in a fixed moment, epic, still kinetic with human dynamics. Although the Novavirus/AG3 is an order of magnitude worse than Covid - over one million dead in the UK alone, with a consequent more severe collapse in the social order such as mass cremations and riots - and this is also a virus which remains latent in the victim, in temporary remission but not cured, and ultimately, even if years later, fatal. Now Edith is finishing her final piece of work - another monumental piece as a memorial to those who died and will still die - final because the virus is resurfacing in her system and Edith knows she is dying. The novel's timelines shift in Edith's recollections as she looks back on different parts of her life, most notably: - the after-effects of her mother's severe stroke, which leaves her transformed mentally and physically, and leads Edith's father to leave the family home: When I was eight, my mother died and Naomi arrived - Edith using Naomi to refer to her mother after the stroke; - her artistic career, including time spent in Japan which has fused her with something of an East-Asian philosophy of life as well as inspiring her work, including a visit to the real-life island of Teshima and its art museum designed by Ryue Nishizawa; https://www.architectural-review.com/... When I entered Teshima, a domed installation Shun had insisted I visit, I understood some form of perfection had been achieved. The space was total, its own mind. Through the oculi, sky itself was art, and light travelled in moons across the wall. Groundwater rose through a million pressure holes in the floor, and droplets shifted towards others, joining, trickling, playing with their own constant difference. It was chaos and peace. Nothing had prepared me for the emotion I felt there, the acceptance, finding myself in tears and becoming part of the flood. - and her sexually-intense relationship with Halit, of Bulgarian-Turkish origins, one puncuated by the virus: I have two names , you told me the first night, one given at birth, one by the government. ... I’m a mix. I moved countries. My English teacher was Scottish. I’ve actually been here ten years. I’m sorry– I didn’t ask your name. It’s Edith. Edith. That’s nice. You introduced yourself, formally, succinctly gave the reasons for dual citizenship, your family’s expulsion during childhood. The explanation seemed rote, as if it had been given many times. I’m called after my grandfather. What’s your other name– the Christian one? Konstadin Konstadinov. He’s the one who is officially here on the documents. Overall, a powerful story, psychologically intense and with crystalline prose. Two of Hall's previous novels have been Booker longlisted, and this feels an early contender for the 2022 Prize. If I had a reservation, and it is quite a significant reservation, it is that for an apparently Covid-inspired novel, it is based on a much more severe version of Covid, which felt unnecessary. Thanks to the publisher via Netgalley for the ARC

  10. 5 out of 5

    Janelle

    This is an intense read particularly in the latter half or so of the book when the narrator, Edith meets and falls in love with Halit. Then there’s a global pandemic. It’s written in a nonlinear and in some places dreamlike way, to start with I found it confusing but it gets into a style that was suited to a woman looking back, remembering her childhood (also a difficult time as her mother suffered brain damage after a haemorrhage), her early adult years and now post pandemic facing probable dea This is an intense read particularly in the latter half or so of the book when the narrator, Edith meets and falls in love with Halit. Then there’s a global pandemic. It’s written in a nonlinear and in some places dreamlike way, to start with I found it confusing but it gets into a style that was suited to a woman looking back, remembering her childhood (also a difficult time as her mother suffered brain damage after a haemorrhage), her early adult years and now post pandemic facing probable death from the virus recurring. Love, family, coping with illness and disability, humanity particularly in the face of calamity and disruption, art, memory and loss are some of the many themes here.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    The name is inexplicable in the deeds — some eponymous merchant’s, an incendiary event. I admit, it was the name that made me want the building, as well as the proportions. Such things shouldn’t be meaningful, but they are. Even renovated, Burntcoat is ugly by most standards, a utilitarian warehouse, but it stands beside the river’s lambency — a hag in a bright mirror. Sarah Hall apparently began writing Burntcoat on the first day of the UK’s COVID-related lockdown in March of 2020 (finding t The name is inexplicable in the deeds — some eponymous merchant’s, an incendiary event. I admit, it was the name that made me want the building, as well as the proportions. Such things shouldn’t be meaningful, but they are. Even renovated, Burntcoat is ugly by most standards, a utilitarian warehouse, but it stands beside the river’s lambency — a hag in a bright mirror. Sarah Hall apparently began writing Burntcoat on the first day of the UK’s COVID-related lockdown in March of 2020 (finding time to work in the early hours before homeschooling her daughter) and everything about this novel struck me as a perfect literary response to what Hall (and the rest of us) lived through over the last year. I have appreciated other recent novels that serve to record some of the specific details of the living-through-a-pandemic experience, but Burntcoat is the first I’ve read that puts that experience through the crucible of artistic sensibility and turns the details into art. This novel engaged me on every level, the language provoked and delighted me, and I think it’s as near a perfect response to these crazy times as we are likely to get. (Note: I read an ARC through NetGalley and passages recorded may not be in their final forms.) People say timing is everything, and it’s true. You arrived just as that brilliant, ill star was annunciating. I imagine you as a messenger. You were the last one here before I closed the door of Burntcoat, before we all shut our doors. Opening upon a scene a couple of decades in the future, 59-year old Edith Harkness — world famous sculptor; master of the Japanese Shou Sugi Ban technique of burning wood to seal it against decomposition — discovers that the AG3 novavirus, which had lain dormant in her since surviving a devastating pandemic as a young woman, has reactivated, giving her only days to live. As Edith puts the finishing touches on what is to be her final commission (a memorial piece to the millions lost to AG3, her own name already inscribed there), her memory floats over the major events of her life: a childhood with a mother left brain-damaged from a stroke (an event which caused her father to abandon them); Edith’s early years as a student and an artist; the first public commissions that gave her the small fortune to buy the industrial building “Burntcoat” (which she turned into a massive studio with a small apartment above); but especially, the intense relationship that she had started with a local restaurateur just before the lockdown began. As the streets teemed with food riots and racist attacks, and the government and health care system seemed on the brink of collapse, Edith and Halit retreated to her fortress-like building to wait out the storm. There are many graphic sex scenes (between Edith and Halit and in memories of her former lovers) but they never felt gratuitous or cheap; being thrown together as a pandemic rages outside the walls of Burntcoat is a baptism by fire and this relationship burned intensely. (It seems particularly appropriate that Halit is a Muslim immigrant from Turkey [by way of his family’s expulsion from Bulgaria], and as he is isolated from his family back home, his relationship with the white Englishwoman prods at the cultural differences between them while underscoring their meaninglessness.) Is it possible to work with a material so long and still not understand its condition? We are figures briefly drawn in space; given temporary form in exchange for consciousness, sense, a chance. We are ready-mades, disposables. How do we live every last moment as this — savant dust? Finding the meaning in life through art — and especially as women fighting for space in male-dominated fields — is a recurring theme here. Edith’s mother was a popular novelist before her stroke (and it isn’t until the future scenes that her books will be reassessed as “works of merit”, the “Gothic label stripped off like cheap varnish”; a dismissive term that had been “used for women whose work the establishment enjoys but doesn’t respect” as only “men are the existentialists”.) In Edith’s art school, she was the only woman interested in metal-working (and she was mocked for it), it was considered transgressive when she later wanted to learn the art of Shou Sugi Ban (women obviously have trouble controlling fire), and when her first public commission was revealed (the massive Scotch Witch rising triumphantly out of the gorse at a highway junction island, complete with provocative gashes at the mouth and crotch), male revulsion must be quelled by the female patron who funded the project who quips that it’s the perfect response to millenia of marble statues with their little white penises. The theme seems to relate to Hall herself, carving out those few hours to write every morning before domestic demands called her away from her work; and creating incisive meaning from the chaos of our times is exactly what she achieves here — the specifics don’t relate to me and my life, but every bit of it spoke to me deeply. I’m still a halfling on the moors, finding berries, cupping from the underground river, making things out of reeds and thorns. The world exists through recreation, how it is perceived. You were a tear in all that, a gift of sudden truth. Because of you I could say, with certainty, I believe in it, all. I love the words and the sentences and the story they add up to; I was moved emotionally and intellectually; provoked and challenged. I loved every bit of this.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    [3+] In Burntcoat, Edith, the narrator, looks backwards at her childhood, relationships, art and the pandemic in a way that keeps the reader at a distance. Although I admire the poetic quality of Hall's writing, it was swollen with descriptions that I stumbled over, losing momentum. The parts that resonated most with me were about Edith's art - and the process of her sculpting with burnt wood. The graphic sex felt almost clinical to me, as did the descriptions of illness. Perhaps I felt more det [3+] In Burntcoat, Edith, the narrator, looks backwards at her childhood, relationships, art and the pandemic in a way that keeps the reader at a distance. Although I admire the poetic quality of Hall's writing, it was swollen with descriptions that I stumbled over, losing momentum. The parts that resonated most with me were about Edith's art - and the process of her sculpting with burnt wood. The graphic sex felt almost clinical to me, as did the descriptions of illness. Perhaps I felt more detached because the pandemic described didn't feel right - not COVID-19, yet similar enough that I found myself comparing. I'm still glad I read it. Thank you to Custom House Publishing for sending me an ARC.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sofia

    She couldn't fit in the suitable hole, she was asked to hide but she couldn't. Hall's use of Art as a reminder of the primal, of the wild, of the us we are made to hide is something to read. Maybe that is why we need to make and have art in our lives because it exposes the hidden, the other perspectives which we so need to survive with our sanity intact. Hall puts this duel between the wild and 'civilised' self to the test. And oh what a test, Pandemic anyone. So what happens to all our self agon She couldn't fit in the suitable hole, she was asked to hide but she couldn't. Hall's use of Art as a reminder of the primal, of the wild, of the us we are made to hide is something to read. Maybe that is why we need to make and have art in our lives because it exposes the hidden, the other perspectives which we so need to survive with our sanity intact. Hall puts this duel between the wild and 'civilised' self to the test. And oh what a test, Pandemic anyone. So what happens to all our self agonising when we come up against a virus that does not give a hoot what our name is or what we want to do. First things first, we fight to survive, it might be that we have to fight this fight all alone and yes die alone like so many did and continue to do because of Covid19. What do we cling to? What helps us make it through? My first Sarah Hall. I find that I like her or let us say her writing touches me. She writes about the wild stuff. Of us untamed, feral. And yes guess who needs a Hecky in her life, I do, I do. Such a great creation, I would love to see her. An ARC gently given by author/publisher via Netgalley

  14. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    3.5 Informed by and written during our time of pandemic, the November book for the Nervous Breakdown Book Club is another selection worthy of the “club’s” name. The story of a fictional pandemic, it’s told by an artist looking back on her experiences as she creates a commissioned sculpture to memorialize the victims. Her relationships with her partner and her mother are paramount, though she reflects on others as well. The story is written to a “you,” who is the aforementioned partner—at least at 3.5 Informed by and written during our time of pandemic, the November book for the Nervous Breakdown Book Club is another selection worthy of the “club’s” name. The story of a fictional pandemic, it’s told by an artist looking back on her experiences as she creates a commissioned sculpture to memorialize the victims. Her relationships with her partner and her mother are paramount, though she reflects on others as well. The story is written to a “you,” who is the aforementioned partner—at least at first. Addressed later is a different “you,” one she realizes has been with her since she was a young girl. This is my first Hall, so I don’t know if it’s indicative of her style or not. I liked its thoughts and ideas, especially those concerning the role of storytelling and artmaking while facing down death. It gets one of my ambivalent ratings because I didn’t always connect to the story’s execution, though I appreciated its relevancy, its ambition, and the visceral rendering of the toll illness takes on the body and on caretakers. Hall has done all this in not many pages, effectively utilizing white spaces instead of chapters.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    It took me a little while to fall into the rhythm of Hall's writing and to find my footing with the style of Burntcoat - the timeline jumps around a bit with little warning - but once I'd got there I found this hard to put down. Set in a contemporary UK which is ravaged by a pandemic (sound familiar? The virus in Hall's novel is called by another name, AG3/Novavirus, but its effects are all too similar.), we follow a sculptor, Edith, who lives above her studio in London - a crumbling warehouse ca It took me a little while to fall into the rhythm of Hall's writing and to find my footing with the style of Burntcoat - the timeline jumps around a bit with little warning - but once I'd got there I found this hard to put down. Set in a contemporary UK which is ravaged by a pandemic (sound familiar? The virus in Hall's novel is called by another name, AG3/Novavirus, but its effects are all too similar.), we follow a sculptor, Edith, who lives above her studio in London - a crumbling warehouse called Burntcoat which she has renovated and retreated to in the wake of something of a downward spiral following her professional success. Without wishing to provide any spoilers - I feel like the book is complexly structured and it may be reductive to try and explain exactly what it's about - this is a novel about coping with the emotional and physical destruction ravaged by a pandemic, and rebuilding one's live in the wake of physical trauma. It's also a love story, and one I found to be truly moving in a number of ways. I hope to see this on prize lists this year and next, and look forward to checking out more of Hall's writing. Thank you Netgalley and Faber & Faber for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chris Haak

    'Burntcoat' is an intense novel about a Covid like pandemic, but worse. But luckily it's far more than that. It's also a beautiful and often feral story about a once in a lifetime love, a mother-daughter relationship that is different from usual ones and it's a book about art, creation and craftsmanship. Hall's writing touches all your senses and in particular is very visual, especially when it comes to her descriptions of love, art and nature. Sarah Hall is a superb writer and this was just so 'Burntcoat' is an intense novel about a Covid like pandemic, but worse. But luckily it's far more than that. It's also a beautiful and often feral story about a once in a lifetime love, a mother-daughter relationship that is different from usual ones and it's a book about art, creation and craftsmanship. Hall's writing touches all your senses and in particular is very visual, especially when it comes to her descriptions of love, art and nature. Sarah Hall is a superb writer and this was just so good! Another 5 star novel! Thank you Faber & Faber and Netgalley for the ARC.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Neil

    "But it was in the brushing stage that his artistry showed. He would turn back his sleeve, never soil it. The motions were beautiful. Under the charred coat, the true grain was revealed, in dark vectors and knots, patterns so suggestive they became stories." This quote refers to the ancient Japanese art of Shou Sugi Ban in which the surface of cedar wood is charred until it turns black. The original purpose of Shou Sugi Ban was to weatherproof and preserve the wood, but it has become popular as a "But it was in the brushing stage that his artistry showed. He would turn back his sleeve, never soil it. The motions were beautiful. Under the charred coat, the true grain was revealed, in dark vectors and knots, patterns so suggestive they became stories." This quote refers to the ancient Japanese art of Shou Sugi Ban in which the surface of cedar wood is charred until it turns black. The original purpose of Shou Sugi Ban was to weatherproof and preserve the wood, but it has become popular as a design element in the home. In the quote, an artist is is brushing the charred coat to reveal the beauty in the wood beneath. Edith Harkness is a sculptor whose works are based on this ancient Japanese art with her most famous work being the Witch, a huge installation that is reminiscent of The Angel of the North. It was the prize money from this work that enabled her to buy Burntcoat where, at the time of the book, she is living alone making, as the blurb says, her "final preparations". As she prepares, she looks back on periods in her life: her childhood with a mother who suffered a life changing medical condition, her early artistic career and, most significantly for this book, her relationship with a man called Halit with whom she lived at Burntcoat during a global pandemic. This is not a happy book although it does try to instil some human dignity in the midst of suffering and death. It may not be happy, but it is powerful and it is intense. In the interests of honesty, there were times when I found it all a bit too intense. In fact, I had to wait a while after finishing the book before trying to write anything about it. I knew going into the book that it was inspired by COVID and written during lockdown, but I hadn’t reckoned with the emotional and mental response I would have: it turns out that (and I didn’t know this about myself) I was not really ready to cope with books about pandemics that paint such a bleak prognosis (the virus in this book has a twist in its tale that took me to a dark place). So, ultimately, having given the book a bit of time to settle, I am giving it 5 stars because it takes what we have all lived through over the last 18 months and turns it into a work of art that generates, at least in me, a gut response unlike the response I have had to any book that I can think of. At the time of reading it was hard work, but on reflection it is a thing of beauty. And in the intensity it finds time to look at how we find meaning in life through art (important to me as a photographer who aims to create something artistic rather than a record of events) and at the struggle women face to find acceptance in a male-dominated arena. The Stereophonics released an album in 2003 called “You Gotta Go There To Come Back” and this is a bit what reading this book feels like. It takes you to a difficult place, but it brings you back. Maybe you could say it chars the surface but then polishes it to create something stronger and more resilient. My thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    Burntcoat is a sensual and exhilarating novel of mortality, passion and human connection, set against the backdrop of a deadly global pandemic in which we are starkly reminded about the vastly underestimated power of art and love to light the way during times of crisis; and it is Hall’s first novel in several years. You were the last one here before I closed the door of Burntcoat. Before we all closed our doors. In an unnamed Northern British town, the virus is spreading, and like everyone else, Burntcoat is a sensual and exhilarating novel of mortality, passion and human connection, set against the backdrop of a deadly global pandemic in which we are starkly reminded about the vastly underestimated power of art and love to light the way during times of crisis; and it is Hall’s first novel in several years. You were the last one here before I closed the door of Burntcoat. Before we all closed our doors. In an unnamed Northern British town, the virus is spreading, and like everyone else, celebrated sculptor and recent retiree 59-year-old recluse Edith Harkness retreats inside. She isolates herself in her immense studio, known as Burntcoat, with Halit, the lover she barely knows. As life outside changes irreparably, inside Burntcoat Edith and Halit find themselves undergoing the same profound changes: by the histories and responsibilities each carries and bears, by the fears and dangers of the world outside and by the progressions of their new and burgeoning relationship. And Burntcoat will be transformed too, into a new and feverish world, a place in which Edith eventually comes to an understanding of how we survive the impossible--and what is left after we have--as well as the hope of thriving going forward. This is a compelling and wholly original read that surprised me in the sense that it explores loss, grief, remission and our trials and tribulations as human beings in a way that I have never read it touched upon quite like before. A sharp and stunning novel of art and ambition, mortality and connection, Burntcoat is a major work from a hugely underappreciated writer. It is an intimate and vital examination of how and why we create--make art, form relationships, build a life--and an urgent exploration of an unprecedented crisis, the repercussions of which are still years in the learning. A powerful, moving yarn about the importance of staying grounded, loving and living, and with rich prose and incredible description it immerses you in a story that was not only written during our very own pandemic but that examines the cultural, social, political and economic impacts such a crisis can have before ruminating on the issues we have on a more personal, rather than collective, level. It's taut and intense, reflective and passionate, this is a book about connection and transformation. The story of two new lovers confined, it is a sublime and scorching experience, an elegy burning with resistance, which no reader will forget.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    When the pandemic first began, my reading friends and I shared a lot of dark humor about the campy books that would surely be spawned (“Love in the Time of COVID”, anyone?) Now the first literary book inspired by COVID is here—and it seems there was no need to worry. Burntcoast it is extraordinary, proving once again (to quote the first line) that “those who tell stories survive.” And few writers tell stories as well as Sarah Hall, author of The Wolf Border. The book is about a lot of things: the When the pandemic first began, my reading friends and I shared a lot of dark humor about the campy books that would surely be spawned (“Love in the Time of COVID”, anyone?) Now the first literary book inspired by COVID is here—and it seems there was no need to worry. Burntcoast it is extraordinary, proving once again (to quote the first line) that “those who tell stories survive.” And few writers tell stories as well as Sarah Hall, author of The Wolf Border. The book is about a lot of things: the uneasy alliance between life and mortality, the ways we morph and adjust to accommodate our definition of life, and how everything becomes altered in nature, damaged and resilient—whether it’s a work of art or the human heart. Its main character, Edith, inhabits a moment in history that greatly resembles ours: Britain, and indeed the world, has fallen prey to a virus (called Nova) that is even more contagious and fatal than COVID-19. A talented sculptor who has already achieved awards and fames, Edith purchases Burntcoat, a utilitarian warehouse she calls a “hag in a bright mirror”. Edith is no stranger to the capriciousness of life. She was forced to adapt and fill the gaps when her mother, Naomi, suffers a massive brain aneurysm, forever transforming her and welding Edith’s concept of how a life can be diminished and still be worth living. Later, she meets Halit, a Turkish refugee with whom she has a sensual love affair. While the virus, which unlike the refugee, has no respect for borders—“perfectly composed, star-like, and timed for the moment of greatest chaos”— rages outdoors, she and Halit create their own perfect truth, passionately making love and in doing so, affirming life. As Edith reflects, “The body is a wound, a bell ringing in emergency—life, life, life. Throughout the book, Edith achingly remembers the stories—stories from her unconventional childhood, stories of past abusive loves, stories of her creation of a masterwork of art—with a special emphasis on how and why we live and create in unprecedented times. Burntcoat is an amazing book, perfectly crafted to resonate with these times of fear, uncertainty, and search for meaning. I owe an enormous thanks to Harper Collins, who provided me with an advance reader’s copy in exchange for a decidedly honest review.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    What can I even say about this beautiful novel? My heart hitched a number of times, as Edith’s grief was palpable. Burntcoat reads like a melancholic love letter to a recipient who will never see it. We, as readers, have the privilege of indulging in the narrator’s insightful and sorrowful observations. It hurts, but its power and poignancy were welcome here. The main character of Burntcoat reflects back on the most meaningful connections of her life, one involving her mother and another involvin What can I even say about this beautiful novel? My heart hitched a number of times, as Edith’s grief was palpable. Burntcoat reads like a melancholic love letter to a recipient who will never see it. We, as readers, have the privilege of indulging in the narrator’s insightful and sorrowful observations. It hurts, but its power and poignancy were welcome here. The main character of Burntcoat reflects back on the most meaningful connections of her life, one involving her mother and another involving a lover who she was just getting to know as a terrible virus (not COVID, but there are similarities) ravages the world. They isolate together and find it strengthens their bond. The story largely encompasses loss, both in conventional and non-conventional ways. The narrator vividly portrays the art that can be found in the shambles; the way pain can be made into something indelible that tells your story, even if no one else understands. While its breathtaking prose and thought provoking passages captivated me, I truly did not enjoy the explicitly detailed sex scenes. I did anticipate sensuality, but this was an entirely different animal. I didn’t feel these graphic, edgy descriptions aided the narrative. I do believe certain descriptions could have exemplified the intimate connection between Edith and Halit in a way that would have enhanced the book’s beauty, but those were not the descriptions this book provided. Regardless, I loved Burntcoat. While it wasn’t the perfect read for me because of the aforementioned details, it is something that will sit with me forever. I’ve no regrets about consuming all that it offered. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 I am immensely grateful to Bibliolifestyle, William Morrow & Custom House for my gifted copy. All opinions are my own.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Sarah Hall’s Burntcoat is, simply, a great and remarkable pandemic novel. Hall captures the isolation, helplessness, humiliation, and horror of being ill and fruitlessly trying to care for an ill loved one during the total collapse of a modern health care system; the long-term debilitation of surviving the illness made even worse by the skepticism of medical professionals; and the societal and personal before and after pandemic dividing lines. Hall’s descriptions evoke the most famous and affect Sarah Hall’s Burntcoat is, simply, a great and remarkable pandemic novel. Hall captures the isolation, helplessness, humiliation, and horror of being ill and fruitlessly trying to care for an ill loved one during the total collapse of a modern health care system; the long-term debilitation of surviving the illness made even worse by the skepticism of medical professionals; and the societal and personal before and after pandemic dividing lines. Hall’s descriptions evoke the most famous and affecting paintings about the plague, such as the 14th century Tournai Citizens Burying the Dead During the Black Death and Arnold Böcklin’s 1898 horrifiying Plague, and feel ekphrastik. Better, more vivid, and more gutting descriptions of the pandemic will not be written. If Hall had built Burntcoat only around the pandemic, it would be a remarkably successful novel. But the pandemic is only one of several powerful organizing themes in Burntcoat. Hall tells the stories of Burntcoat through the memories and the first person voice of Edith Harkness, following her from age eight until age fifty-nine. Edith’s progression as an artist in and of itself is fascinating, with Hall’s descriptions of Edith’s painstakingly constructing a massive boat replica and her training in Japan in the techniques of cedar-burning After returning to England to mourn for her mother, Edith becomes a renowned sculptor, forging huge modern sculptures similar in scale if not style to Andy Scott’s Arria and Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North. Following the pandemic, Edith begins ”the second half of my life, everything since, has been downstream. I’ve made different choices, tried to make amends.”. Her post-pandemic life includes her recognition and commission for a pandemic memorial: future high honors are hinted. Edith is only one of two remarkable/powerful/unique women portrayed by Hall in Burntcoat, with her mother, Naomi, the other. Naomi’s massive brain bleed transformed both Naomi and Edith’s relationship and their lives together. Here’s Edith: ”When I was eight, my mother died and Naomi arrived.” Hall’s description of Naomi after her brain bleed is every bit as convincing as her descriptions of pandemic life, as is Hall’s descriptions of Naomi’s recognition as a cult novelist. I intend to return to Burntcoat, and revise these thoughts. Burntcoat teeters between a mishmash and a carefully constructed collage. The time progression can be confusing. But the faults of Burntcoat are far outweighed by its strengths. Along with Gary Shteyngart’s very different Our Country Friends, Burntcoat memorializes the pandemic. PS, I read Sarah Hall's 2004 Booker shortlisted The Electric Michelangelo, which was truly original and fascinating. Reading Burntcoat reminds me that I need to start reading more of her earlier novels and short story collections.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Proustitute (on hiatus)

    Beautifully written, but very uneven and often all over the place. 

 While Sarah Hall’s prose shines here and carries the reader through, Burntcoat bites off far more than it can chew in its slim pages: we have the narrator, Edith, recalling her brain-damaged, once-famous author mother; her lover just during COVID lockdown begins (with, admittedly, some of the best written erotic scenes I’ve read in some time); how the virus spreads and breeds fear and unease in a small town; life as an artist o Beautifully written, but very uneven and often all over the place. 

 While Sarah Hall’s prose shines here and carries the reader through, Burntcoat bites off far more than it can chew in its slim pages: we have the narrator, Edith, recalling her brain-damaged, once-famous author mother; her lover just during COVID lockdown begins (with, admittedly, some of the best written erotic scenes I’ve read in some time); how the virus spreads and breeds fear and unease in a small town; life as an artist of the grand scale, huge objects carved of wood and larger-than-life; and even a brief stint in a cult chanting mantras and listening to a guru. All of this gets packed in and recalled in spurts of memory that feel unfocused, rushed, and ultimately lacking a cohesive flow to satisfy the reader. In some ways, while reading, it felt to me as if Hall began to write another novel entirely when lockdown took place, and incorporated COVID into a novel in which it didn’t belong—still, there’s something perversely reassuring about reading about lockdown, quarantine, a pandemic, while we’re still in the midst of one. If anything, this will add to the trove of fiction that is beginning to be published—and which surely will continue for some time—that deal in some way with our experience over the past two years with COVID. 
3.5 stars

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    When, in 2020, with the onset of Covid-19, the world started shutting down and whole populations were being shut inside, literature was – at least for some of us – a way of escaping the terrors of the present or, perhaps, trying to make sense of them. Gothic, horror and post-apocalyptic fiction seemed particularly adept at reflecting the all-pervasive end-of-times atmosphere. Burntcoat by Sarah Hall is, however, one of the first novels – and, although admittedly a bold claim, possibly the first When, in 2020, with the onset of Covid-19, the world started shutting down and whole populations were being shut inside, literature was – at least for some of us – a way of escaping the terrors of the present or, perhaps, trying to make sense of them. Gothic, horror and post-apocalyptic fiction seemed particularly adept at reflecting the all-pervasive end-of-times atmosphere. Burntcoat by Sarah Hall is, however, one of the first novels – and, although admittedly a bold claim, possibly the first literary masterpiece – to be written during lockdown and to explicitly reference Covid-19. It is narrated by 59-year old Edith Harkness, a survivor, who surveys the life-changing pandemic with the benefit of intervening time. The images Edith describes are familiar, even though the virus featured in the novel is actually much deadlier than the “novel coronavirus”, leading to one million deaths in the United Kingdom alone: "The virus has shed its initial and older names. They were frightening, incorrect, discriminatory. Hanta. Nova. Now it is simply AG3. It is contained; an event in a previous era from which we continue to learn. Contingency planning. Social tracking. Herd control. The picture of the pathogen– orange and reticulated– has become as recognisable as the moon. Children sketch it in science lessons, the curious arms, proteins and spikes. The civic notices listing symptoms, and the slogans, look vintage ... The images are so strong from that time. The nurse standing in the empty aisle, her back to us, hair dishevelled and her uniform crumpled, the weight of the shopping basket, though it is empty, pulling her body downwards. The Pope, kneeling in the rain in a deserted St Peter’s Square." Edith is a visual artist. Her expertise lies in the creation of large-scale wooden sculptures, using a technique learnt in Japan. A major success in her 20s finances her acquisition of Burntcoat, a large riverside warehouse-like building at the outskirts of an unnamed British town. Burntcoat is at once her studio and her residence, a labour of love. On the announcement of lockdown, it is to Burntcoat that she retires, accompanied by restaurant-owner Halit, the new-found lover with whom she has just started a relationship. Edith’s story, just like many of the present generations, will be marked by the pandemic. We meet her at the opening of the novel, putting the finishing touches on a commission meant to mark the victims of the pandemic, which prompts her recollections of that painful event. But Edith’s story is not just about the lockdown months, about the deaths and devastation. It is also about other aspects of her life – such as growing up with her mother, an author recovering from a severe stroke; the loss of her father, who abandoned the family when they most needed him; the growth of Edith’s artistic career. But, as one would expect, the novel keeps circling around those (literally and figuratively) feverish months. At one point in the novel, Edith is discussing Naomi’s work with her agent Karolina. Critics have reassessed her mother’s writing, she tells us, … the label of Gothic stripped off like cheap varnish. Karoline once said to me the term is used for women whose work the establishment enjoys but doesn’t respect. Men are the existentialists. Leaving aside for the moment the problematic implication that the Gothic is cheap (alas, a centuries-old prejudice), this sounds much like an apology for Hall’s own novel. Indeed, although not primarily fascinated with “the ghostly, the ghastly and the supernatural”, to borrow Dale Townshend’s succinct definition of the Gothic, the novel does visit the tropes of the genre, exploiting them to great effect. The symptoms of the virus skirt body horror. The violence and breakdown of society echo post-apocalyptic fiction. Burntcoat itself might not be plagued by literal ghosts, but it is visited by illness and death and haunted by memories, a contemporary urban version of the possessed Gothic mansion. But Burntcoat is also, defiantly, a novel about life, love, and lust. Edith’s ground-breaking creations find a parallel in the (very explicit) sex scenes, which hungrily, almost desperately, challenge the impending siege of the virus. Just like her narrator Edith, in Burntcoat Sarah Hall has given us a poetic tribute to the all those who have suffered losses during Covid. I perfectly understand that describing a work as a tribute is ambivalent praise. Because, admittedly, tributes tend to stick to safe ground, to seek a “common denominator” which will gain as wide approval as possible. Edith certainly doesn’t do so with her transgressive works. Similarly, Hall comes up with a work which might challenge some sensibilities, but which is also incredibly moving and ends, albeit without any sentimentality, on a note of cautious hope. https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/20...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Renee Godding

    5/5 stars “I’m the wood in the fire. I’ve experienced, altered in nature. I am burnt, damaged, more resilient. A life is a bead of water on the black surface, so frail, so strong, its world incredibly held.” Burntcoat is next in the long line of COVID/pandemic-inspired novels to come out over the past 1,5 years. As I’ve had mixed feelings towards the majority of them, I went in a little apprehensive. I can tell you right now, that this is beyond a doubt my favourite lockdown-novel I’ve read. Told 5/5 stars “I’m the wood in the fire. I’ve experienced, altered in nature. I am burnt, damaged, more resilient. A life is a bead of water on the black surface, so frail, so strong, its world incredibly held.” Burntcoat is next in the long line of COVID/pandemic-inspired novels to come out over the past 1,5 years. As I’ve had mixed feelings towards the majority of them, I went in a little apprehensive. I can tell you right now, that this is beyond a doubt my favourite lockdown-novel I’ve read. Told in dual timelines, 59-year old Edith Harkness reflects on her life and imminent death, both of which have been marked by the pandemic she survived in her twenties. In a 2020-timeline, much like our own, a novel respiratory illness named AG3-novavirus sends the world into lockdown. Edith and her new boyfriend Halit find their young relationship challenged by an extended quarantine period together in the apartment above Edith’s wood-sculpting studio (aptly named Burntcoat). In a secondary timeline, that could be much like our own in 30 years, Edith returns to Burntcoat, suffering from the symptoms of what’s essentially a severe-form of long-AG3: a relapse of the disease encountered decades earlier, that it universally fatal. Surrounded by her burnt-wood sculptures for which she’s since gathered much acclaim, Edith reflects on the memories lived here, and the permanent stains they’ve burned onto her own life. I struggle when reviewers throw this word around too often, but it feels wholly justified in this case to do so: Burntcoat is a masterpiece. It’s the definitive “lockdown-novel”; we can stop writing them now. It’s also so much more than that. It’s a deeply intense, claustrophobic and at times almost physical exploration of body, art, and the intensity in which we connect to others under pressure. Body is a central theme throughout this novel, the way we experience it, carry it, and occasionally surrender it, whether that be to desire, sickness or the care of another human. It’s present in Edith’s memories of taking care of her disabled mother; in the thin line where loss of control and preservation of dignity touch. It’s present in the progression of relationship between Edith and Halit: one initially based off frantic, physical desire, and pressurised into something more. As difficult a theme as this can be to explore, Sarah Hall manages it in an insightful and confident way, all in under 300 pages. Chapeau. Befitting of such a difficult theme, I was at times uncomfortable reading this novel. For example, during the parts where the narrative becomes a little more fragmented, mirroring Edith’s fragmentary state-of-mind during her illness. It’s not easy to read, yet fits perfectly into the story. The same could be said for some of the more graphic sex-scenes that some readers seem to have fallen over. In my opinion, they were completely fitting within the aforementioned exploration of body, and therefore I didn’t mind them. Overall, Burntcoat might well be one of my favourite pieces of literature of 2021. A perfectly crafted, intense story that burned its way into my marrow and will haunt me for a long time to come… Many thanks to Faber&Faber for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Burntcoat is out on October 7th 2021.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Katie Long

    Wow. I couldn't possibly put into words how this novel affected me, so I will leave you with Sarah Hall's own words... "Yes, of course, I'm the wood in the fire. I've experienced. Altered in nature. I am burnt, damaged, more resilient. A life is a bead of water on the black surface, so frail, so strong, it's world is incredibly held." Wow. I couldn't possibly put into words how this novel affected me, so I will leave you with Sarah Hall's own words... "Yes, of course, I'm the wood in the fire. I've experienced. Altered in nature. I am burnt, damaged, more resilient. A life is a bead of water on the black surface, so frail, so strong, it's world is incredibly held."

  26. 4 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    “Do stories make sense of a disordered world?” asks Edith Harkness, a renowned sculptor of large installation pieces. Edith lives in her warehouse/art studio in the UK (Cumbria?), called Burntcoat, where she creates her pieces for display in prestigious places. In this intense and passionate novel, told in alternating times of her life, Edith does attempt to make sense of a chaotic world through her narrative, where she talks to “you.” Hall does not reveal the “you” for a while, so just hang in “Do stories make sense of a disordered world?” asks Edith Harkness, a renowned sculptor of large installation pieces. Edith lives in her warehouse/art studio in the UK (Cumbria?), called Burntcoat, where she creates her pieces for display in prestigious places. In this intense and passionate novel, told in alternating times of her life, Edith does attempt to make sense of a chaotic world through her narrative, where she talks to “you.” Hall does not reveal the “you” for a while, so just hang in there and enjoy the ride. Sarah Hall’s impassioned story swept me off my feet, like all her novels do! There’s a pandemic virus that mirrors our times called Novavirus, similar to Covid, but much, much worse. The story is dystopian, tragic, and despite a vaccine, so many have already died, as the symptoms are typically extreme. Sometimes Edith is speaking from lockdown, at other times, she speaks of her mother, who suffered a stroke, and who once told her “Those who tell stories survive.” She tells of a relationship with an immigrant chef with piercing tenderness and sensuous language. “When we pulled apart it felt like drowning. We could only breathe with our mouths held together.” Her love for Halit will burn all the way through your soul. If I needed an author to write a sex scene for me, I’d ask Sarah Hall to do it! When Edith isn’t talking about family, the virus, lovers, or haters, she reflects on art. One of her large sculptures is a 40-foot witch named Hecky, which can be seen on the motorway. Some people are repulsed by it, those who don’t accept her expressive art. “There is art, the item, or the concept. And there is the story of the art, which is not its interpretation, not its meaning.” Hall is exceptional at voice; whatever she says I want to hear. “…we see and read our small, inconsequential lives, and realise we are, in part, curator.” And curate she does! As Edith reflects on her life at the age of 59, there’s a lot to mine about Sex, Love, Death, Creativity, Virus, and Art. Yes, all in caps (to me). Look how she combines Virus and Art: “Perfectly composed, star-like, and timed for the moment of greatest chaos.” Throughout this chaotic era, Edith gives us an epic journey, beautified by her descriptive lyricism. When she talks about a person who “Eats the dark,” she adds, “and shitting it out on everyone.” Her metaphors can break my heart in a million little pieces or put it back together again. For literary readers, this is a must-read. Thank you to Harper Collins for sending me a galley for review. It is one of my favorites for 2021.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    'The body is a wound, a bell ringing in an emergency -- life, life, life.' 'The body is a wound, a bell ringing in an emergency -- life, life, life.'

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ruben

    I am quite impressed and saddened by this dark and wise novel about a sculptor looking back at her life and in particular living through a Covid-like pandemic locked down with her lover. She is a survivor and lives to tell the story, although she never fully recovers from the virus herself. The novel captures the most fearful moments of the pandemic very well, imagining how it could have been even worse than it was and speculating about the potential future fallout in a thought-provoking way. Th I am quite impressed and saddened by this dark and wise novel about a sculptor looking back at her life and in particular living through a Covid-like pandemic locked down with her lover. She is a survivor and lives to tell the story, although she never fully recovers from the virus herself. The novel captures the most fearful moments of the pandemic very well, imagining how it could have been even worse than it was and speculating about the potential future fallout in a thought-provoking way. The writing is very good, even though it took me some time to get into - I did not pick up on some things and only now, browsing through it after finishing, the elements fall into place. The style is less accessible than that of the authors on the blurb (Daisy Johnson, Sarah Perry), although it is clear why these two were asked to support it. Highly recommended (but don’t expect to be a much happier person afterwards).

  29. 4 out of 5

    MisterHobgoblin

    I have read a couple of Sarah Hall’s previous novels and not quite gelled with them. For some reason I was seduced by Burntcoat’s cover and some of the spruiks from writers I respect. I went for it, but perhaps I should have run with my head, not my heart. Burntcoat is the oddly named converted warehouse used by internationally renowned artist Edith Harkness. Edith constructs major public art projects and is working on The Witch, an iconic motorway installation that might be a Scottish version of I have read a couple of Sarah Hall’s previous novels and not quite gelled with them. For some reason I was seduced by Burntcoat’s cover and some of the spruiks from writers I respect. I went for it, but perhaps I should have run with my head, not my heart. Burntcoat is the oddly named converted warehouse used by internationally renowned artist Edith Harkness. Edith constructs major public art projects and is working on The Witch, an iconic motorway installation that might be a Scottish version of The Angel of the North – made out of burnt wood, rising from the bushes. Yes, I know. The mental image of a woman rising from the bushes does not immediately make me think of witchcraft, but perhaps I have been on too many overland holidays. This art construction project involves techniques from Japan, burning the wood to preserve it. Meanwhile, Emily shares her space with Halit, a Turkish kitchen worker, and together they shield from a deadly virus that is sweeping the world and is definitely not Covid. A million Britons will die – some from the fever and some from the residual aftereffects. Long Notcovid. And she reminisces of a past love called Ali, and a childhood marked by the illness of her mother Naomi. All this is told in a fragmentary way with non-linear narratives. For the most part, the actual narrative is lucid, but there are digressions into metaphysics that never felt worth unravelling. Sometimes this fragmentary style can be used to great effect, gradually building a complete picture. Other times it just feels like hiding a story that doesn’t cohere, hiding details for the sake of it. So here, for example, the author goes to great lengths to delay the reveal that Halit is Turkish, although frequent use of Turkish will give that away for those who recognise the language. Except, for some reason, he is also half Bulgarian. Or leaving it for some time to reveal that Ali is short for Alistair rather than being of Arabic origin – I mean, why? Or being intentionally unspecific about the geographic location. There are redeeming features. Some of the individual scenes are well constructed. Ali’s doorstep tantrum, perhaps. Edith’s slightly strange relationship with her mother. Plus, most mercifully, Burntcoat is short. Overall, though, there is just this sense that Burntcoat is trying too hard to be arty without too much real substance behind it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Beverly

    Many thanks to Custom House/William Morrow for the ARC. I’m not sure what it says about me that I enjoyed the pandemic time on the page more than the love relationship. This is a a thoughtful book that insidiously grows on you. I’m going back now to read “Madame Zero,” which has been sitting in my shelves for a long time.

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