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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.

Durante estes dois anos de pandemia fui incapaz de ler obras sobre vírus, contágios e epidemias, pelo que “A Peste”, “Estação Onze”, “O Véu Pintado” e outros que vi terem muita procura ficaram totalmente fora do meu radar. Sarah Hall has certainly crafted a fine novel here, although in many places it didn’t resonate with me. Overall , it’s a disturbing book in many ways and leaves me feeling very unsettled which is probably the intention. The timeline is not linear, and confusion was magnified as we bounced back and forth and all over the place…from past to present to future. 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).

I was just saying to Susan that The Fell didn’t particularly appeal to me, partly due to the slight disappointment of Summerwater compared to Moss’ previous novella, Ghost Wall. You introduced yourself, formally, succinctly gave the reasons for dual citizenship, your family’s expulsion during childhood. 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. Oddly enough, I loved the shape-shifting aspect of it, to the point where I wondered whether the various threads might have started off as short stories in their own right.

While lockdown hovered just out of eyeline in Rachel Cusk’s Second Place and provided a coda to Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You, its presence is far from a garnish in Sarah Hall’s new book, a tale of sex and death told by a sculptor, Edith, whose heady liaison with a Turkish restaurateur, Halit, meets a fork in the road with the advent of a deadly virus that liquefies victims from inside. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images View image in fullscreen Military curfews are introduced as society collapses in Burntcoat. That explicitness also appears in the detailed description of the process of deterioration Halit and Edith go through, due to the disease ('pain porn'!

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. As a result, her radical artwork – a gigantic squatting woman – duly takes up its position by the Scotch Corner junction, the gateway to the North East. 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. 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. Nothing had prepared me for the emotion I felt there, the acceptance, finding myself in tears and becoming part of the flood.

Either reaction is understandable: producing art because you can’t sit still or throwing your hands up in despair. A kind of answer comes in sculpting the virus itself, as she does when commissioned to make a memorial for the dead.Edith falls in love with Halit, a Turkish immigrant chef, and when a dangerous pandemic strikes (AG3-novavirus is clearly not COVID, and it's even more aggressive), the country goes under lockdown, civil unrest follows and Halit moves into Edith's artist mansion, Burntcoat, where Edith makes vast art pieces. As a storyteller and an artist, Edith struggles to express her experiences and her feelings - and didn't we all during the pandemic? 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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