Best reading: The shortlist in pictures


By Ann Patchett

Morrow, 276pp, £16.99

Teaching workshops in disasters

In making her first collection of essays this year, Ann Patchett has carried on with the stories and observations of her mature creative output from The Believer to Proof of Life. The old – and new – performers on stage here are vividly written and vividly observed.

Often, the story shifts back and forth between fictionalised versions of herself and those on the same stage. Sometimes her essays are detached remembrances or sometimes they are narrative reconstructions such as her “Rant” section, “Life at the Loss of Soul” and the live chat with readers. Occasionally, she quotes the debates she has heard in the audience.

Mostly, the writing is what makes the collection: unfettered prose, precision in the graphic black & white photo collages, the fact that her voice is warm and spirited in an age of noisy tweets.

Patchett deals with the wider world – crime, race, politics – in a vivid, engaging way. She has a knack for immersing herself in human lives and watching them like a detective.

She does not shy away from the more difficult aspects of human experience: racism, class, abortion, abortion laws and so on. In 2012 she received a law degree and is now teaching crime studies at the law school of Lake Forest College, southern Illinois.

In her “Postmodern Crime Fiction Essay”, she states that “content neutral journalism is more likely to speak to public needs than artistic accomplishment”. This essay demonstrates her boldness of aim and its lucid way in telling a story.

Patchett finds space for, and love for, small moments that have lasting importance to those of us who are not very far from the centre of things. And it is that experience that makes the book.

Ruth Paine is a contributor to the Catholic Herald and the author of Nothing To Lose is Everything, published by Dover

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