In brief: All Among the Barley; This Really Isn’t About You; Histories – reviews

Melissa Harrison’s lyrical coming-of-age story, Jean Hannah Edelstein’s unflinching cancer memoir, and consultant oncologist Sam Guglani’s interlinking stories from a busy hospital ward

All Among the Barley
Melissa Harrison

Bloomsbury, £16.99, pp352

It is autumn 1933 and 14-year-old Edie is living on her family’s farm in Suffolk. Edie prefers books to the company of other children, is prone to superstition and is often chided by her parents for living in “the more vivid world inside my head”. The arrival of a glamorous Londoner, Constance, to document rural traditions is at first exciting for Edie but it gradually becomes clear that Constance has more sinister, political motivations. The novel is a beautiful evocation of the rhythms and pressures of rural life in the interwar years, as well as a powerful and lyrical coming-of-age story from a writer who is fast establishing herself as one of the best contemporary exponents of the pastoral novel.

This Really Isn’t About You
Jean Hannah Edelstein

Macmillan, £12.99, pp272

In 2014, Jean Hannah Edelstein’s father died from cancer. Soon after, she learned that she had inherited the gene for Lynch syndrome, which would be likely one day to cause her to have cancer, too. Edelstein’s memoir takes us into the biographies of her father and grandfather, and the decade prior to her father’s death – her professional struggles, romantic encounters and attempts to settle somewhere she can call home. It is an unsentimental, unflinching account of dealing with grief – not just for loved ones but pre-emptively for the author herself – told with honesty, self-effacing wit and poignancy.

Sam Guglani

Quercus, £12.99, pp128

Set over the course of a week in a busy hospital, the interlinked stories in Histories are narrated by a range of voices, from consultants and student doctors to nurses and cancer patients. Guglani, a consultant oncologist, avoids enmeshing his stories in medical procedures or the political plight of the health service, although these are the inevitable backdrop to some of the narratives. Instead he focuses on the humanity of his characters, portrayed without judgment or criticism, which leaves the reader sympathising with even the most pompous individuals. Told in sparse, poetic prose, Histories is thought-provoking, unsettling and deeply affecting.

• To order All Among the Barley for £12.49, This Really Isn’t About You for £11.04, or Histories for £11.04, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99


Hannah Beckerman

The GuardianTramp

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