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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

In brief: The Ballast Seed; Miss Aldridge Regrets; Dinner Party – review | Books

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Rosie Kinchen
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £18.99, pp208

When journalist Kinchen realised she was pregnant with her second child after her first had barely reached toddlerdom, she felt “ambushed”. Anxieties about keeping her job as her household’s highest earner and an unshakable feeling that she was insufficiently maternal became crippling once she’d given birth. Medication helped but it was horticultural therapy that she really responded to, and this intelligent, careful memoir splices her discovery of scrappy urban green spaces with reflections on the life of Marianne North, an aristocratic 19th-century adventuress and botanical artist who “preferred vegetables” to the idea of matrimony. “This is not a self-help guide,” Kinchen declares; even so, its tales of plants, friendship and the immense solace of plunging your hands into the soil will resonate with many.

Louise Hare
HQ, £14.99, pp432

Hare’s well-crafted second novel oozes glamour. It is set in 1936 aboard a luxury liner bound for New York. When a member of a wealthy American family is murdered, it feels horribly familiar to one Lena Aldridge, a young Soho nightclub singer who is bound for Broadway. Lena has secrets of her own. Not only is she “passing” as white, but she also had to get out of London fast after a murder at the club, its victim none other than the philandering husband of her childhood best friend. Did someone mention Agatha Christie? Yes, but with the welcome bonus of subtle reflections on race and class.

Sarah Gilmartin
One, £8.99, pp270 (paperback)

There will always be room for another novel about toxic familial dysfunction, and Gilmartin’s bestselling debut enlivens that inherently claustrophobic material with darkly humorous set pieces and page-turning pace. It opens in 2018, as thirtysomething Kate puts the finishing touches to a dinner party. Soon, her family will begin arriving, coming together to mark the 16th anniversary of her twin’s death. As the narrative ducks back into the past, and peers ahead to consider whether there can ever be healing, it is galvanised by tension between the pull of home and the urge to escape.



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