In brief: The Schoolhouse; Look Here; Taking a Long Look – review

A gripping mystery novel by Sophie Ward, Ana Kinsella’s love letter to London and a collection of Vivian Gornick’s insightful essays on culture

The Schoolhouse

Sophie Ward
Corsair, £16.99, pp304

Ward’s philosophically inclined debut novel, Love and Other Thought Experiments, was longlisted for the 2020 Booker prize and drew comparisons with the work of Doris Lessing, Voltaire and Sartre. Her second is disconcertingly straightforward, weaving together an investigation into the disappearance of a schoolgirl with the story of one of the last people to see her, a librarian named Isobel, who is still traumatised by events at the experimental school she herself attended 15 years earlier. Queerness and deafness sit alongside themes of resilience and trust, making for an evocative, well-paced narrative that’s sure to win her new readers.

Look Here: On the Pleasures of Observing the City

Ana Kinsella
Daunt Books, £9.99, pp224 (paperback)

Fashion journalist Ana Kinsella’s debut is an idiosyncratic mashup of interviews, memoir and flanerie, all shaped by the same sharp, empathic gaze that characterises her loyally followed newsletter, The London Review of Looks. Here is a book to make you love London – with all its synchronicity and serendipity, with the sheer sense of possibility generated by being part of a population of 9.5 million. To traverse its twisting streets, she writes, is “to move through time itself” – and not just history but personal history, too. If Look Here occasionally lacks polish, its freshness and charm are ample compensation.

Taking a Long Look: Essays on Culture, Literature and Feminism

Vivian Gornick
Verso, £9.99, pp288 (paperback)

This compulsive collection functions as a primer to a mind whose vitality is hard to match. Spanning 40 years – what Gornick calls her “apprenticeship” – its essays roam purposefully from figures such as the literary critic Alfred Kazin – a man “eaten alive by his own demons” – to the neglected black writer Kathleen Collins and her exploration of “the astonishment of human existence”. Meanwhile, an account of belonging to a reading group offers the most enrapturing distillation you could wish for of why we read – and write. Literary fashion may have restyled the reputations of some of those Gornick scrutinises, but her insights have lost none of their brilliance.

• To order The Schoolhouse, Look Here or Taking a Long Look go to Delivery charges may apply


Hephzibah Anderson

The GuardianTramp

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