Thursday, October 28, 2021


Burntcoat by Sarah Hall
11/2/21; 224 pages

Burntcoat by Sarah Hall is a recommended novel about art and relationships set in an unnamed British city during a global pandemic.

Sculptor Edith Harknes, 59, overcame her difficult childhood to become an artist. Now she has retreated inside her large studio named Burntcoat to isolate herself with her lover Halit while they wait out the virus that is devastating the population. Society collapses around them as they become closer and focused on each other. Then Halit becomes infected. This novel is partly a love letter to art, Naomi (Edith's mother), and Halit. It is about art, expression, life, love, relationships and endings.

The writing can be beautiful, lyrical, and compelling. Some of the descriptions about Edith's art and the Japanese art of Shou Sugi Ban, a process of charring wood to bring out the beauty, are love stories to the artistic process, which merges well with what is also Edith's love letter to her relationship with Halit. The closeness to the creative process is enchanting and mesmerizing. These are the parts of the novel that shine.

However, the format of the novel can be exasperating, disjointed, and challenging. The story is told as first person recollections and the narrative passages are presented in a nonlinear fashion, which left me feeling disconnected. Edith is writing to an unnamed "you" which becomes an increasingly discordant part of the novel since the "you" could be the reader or someone else. Both of these creative choices in the organization of the narrative prose increasingly became aggravating. Finally, while many reviewers appreciate the pandemic setting, it doesn't work for me.

In conclusion, this is a novel that features exquisite writing and descriptions but may put some readers off based on the format of the narrative.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

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