Six of the Best … Constrained Writings

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Writing a novel is bloody hard work, and I would be wary of anyone who said it was easy. I’ve done it twice – there’s a third on the go – and I honestly wonder how I manage to do it at times. However, there are some people who simply aren’t content with just writing a novel. They want to make it harder. Today, we’re talking about constrained writing.

Constrained writing is a literary technique that sees the writer bound by a condition that forbids something, or ensures a particular pattern. One of the most famous of these constraints is a “lipogram”, where a particular letter is forbidden. This seems easy when the letter in question is Q or J, for example – Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven actually features no Z but this doesn’t appear to have been intentional – but to really challenge oneself, you can ban the use of a much more common letter. Or the most common letter of all – E. Gadsby is a 50,000 word novel by Ernest Vincent Wright which was published in 1939 and doesn’t use the letter E at all. Annoying for him, however, there are two in his name. The opening paragraph is as follows:

If Youth, throughout all history, had had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn’t constantly run across folks today who claim that “a child don’t know anything.” A child’s brain starts functioning at birth; and has, amongst its many infant convolutions, thousands of dormant atoms, into which God has put a mystic possibility for noticing an adult’s act, and figuring out its purport.

The thing I find oddest about lipograms is that you think they’ll sound nonsensical, but actually they often read just fine. Unfortunately for Wright, eagle-eyed readers have discovered a few E’s in the book. Nonetheless, it’s an impressive task, and inspired a similar project that I’ll discuss below. Lipograms, however, are not the only type of constrained writing available. There’s of course it’s opposite, the anitlipo, in which each word must contain a specific letter, although I couldn’t find any novel-length examples. For completions sake, a sentence or work containing all the letters of the alphabet is called a pangram. Since most works do this without any effort, the challenge here is to produce the shortest possible, the current record (involving no abbreviations) is the twenty-eight letter sentence, “Jived fox nymph grabs quick waltz”. More on these below.

Alliteration, as we all remember from language lessons, is when a series of words all begin with the same letter or subset of letters, and are difficult to do over prolonged works, although the best one I’ve found is below. Perhaps you would rather not constrain yourself based on letters, but on something apparently more esoteric, like word length. Pilish is where the number of digits in consecutive words match the numbers of pi. Mike Keith wrote a short story called “Cadaeic Cadenza” which used the first 3,835 digits of pi. The novel Not A Wake got to 10,000 places, and is the longest verified pilish work in existence. If you really want to challenge yourself, you can remove an entire aspect of language. In 2004, the French novel Le Train de Nulle Part was written by Michael Thaler and doesn’t use a single verb.

Just when you think you’ve reached a point where it seems they’ve made it difficult enough for themselves, along come authors like Jerzy Andrzejewski and his novel The Gates of Paradise, which contains just two sentences. The novel is about 40,000 words long and the second sentence contains four of them. Or how about Never Again by Doug Nufer, in which no word is used more than once.

And then there are the really tricky ones. Bilingual homophonous poetry is where a poem makes sense in two different languages at the same time by only using homophones. “One syllable article” writing is unique to the Chinese language, using words that are all homophones of one another, meaning it looks normal written down, but spoken aloud will produce a single sound over and over. A particularly famous example is The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den, which has 92 characters, all with the sound “shi”. It doesn’t even have to be words: Peter Carey’s book True History of the Kelly Gang doesn’t use a single comma.

If you feel like trying this out for yourself, then actually it’s a great bit of fun and it can be an interesting writing exercise. The website Quadrivial Quandry is perhaps a good starting place, as it uses the mandated vocabulary style, giving you four words a day to try and incorporate into a single sentence. And no, they’re not easy words. Alternatively, pick a random letter and try and remove it from a page of writing. You could also have a go at twiction, writing stories that can fit into a single tweet (which used to be much more of a challenge when the 140 character limit was in place). Ready that thesaurus!

And so, here are six of the best constrained writing books!

Ella Minnow Pea

In Ella Minnow Pea, we decamp to the island of Nollop, just off South Carolina, where the pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” is preserved on a memorial statue to its creator, Nevin Nollop, and is taken very seriously by the island’s people. When the letter Z drops off the statue, the government ban its usage. This doesn’t affect too much in society, but then the Q drops. And then J. Then D. As letters disappear from the sign, so too they disappear from the novel which is made up of a series of letters between residents, and before too long the islanders find themselves in a position where they can only use the letters L, M, N, O and P. Someone else needs to come up with a new pangram, and fast.

Author Mark Dunn is someone who doesn’t shy away from a challenge, having also written the novel Ibid, which is composed entirely of the footnotes to a work that has been lost. Much of the humour of Ella Minnow Pea comes from the characters altering the language to suit the new rules. While sometimes they just simply remove whole words, other times they change spellings (when F is lost, they begin to spell “after” as “aphter”, for example), and the fear of being found using a banned letter is very real, with themes of totalitarianism and freedom of speech beautifully explored in a unique scenario. Because of its emphasis on language, I therefore find it surprising that it has since been turned into a musical and, as of 2019, a film is in the works. This is, I think, the first constrained writing novel I read, and as such the one I hold in the highest regard. It’s funny, twisted and very unusual.

A Void

A Void by Georges Perec is one of the most famous lipogrammatic novels in the world, but what makes it even more impressive is the frequent translations. Originally published in 1969 in French as La Disparition, the novel follows a group of friends who are trying to find their companion Anton Vowl, but the novel doesn’t contain a single letter E (except the four unfortunately found in his name). At around three hundred pages in length, this is a particularly awesome accomplishment, and I struggled to do it just in my short review of the book, so I can’t imagine the pain of doing it for a whole, fully-functional novel. It was finally translated into English in 1995 by Gilbert Adair, but his was not the first attempt and three other translations – called A Vanishing, Vanish’d! and Omissions all exist.

The book has since been translated into various other languages, with every translator imposing a similar rule on themselves. Because E is such a prevalent letter in many languages, that’s usually the one that gets removed, but the Spanish version removes the A, Russian the O and Japanese the I. In 1972, Perec penned a novella called Les revenentes which uses E as the only vowel. He joked that he used up all those that he’d saved during the writing of La Disparition. This, too, was translated into English with the title The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex.

Alphabetical Africa

Ages ago an archaeologist, Albert, alias Arthur, ably attended an archaic African armchair affair at Antibes, attracting attention as an archaeologist and atheist. Ahhh, atheism … anyhow, Albert advocated assisting African ants. Ants? All are astounded. Ants? Absurd.

Something strike you as odd about that? That’s a paragraph from the opening chapter of Walter Abish’s Alphabetical Africa. The first chapter sees every word beginning with A. In the second, words beginning with A and B are both allowed, and so on. It all starts to sound kind of normal by about chapter nine when words beginning with I get introduced. In the middle, everything is allowed and then, starting from Z, the primary letters disappear once more. It sounds difficult enough, but when you consider that many basic words can’t appear until really late in the text (“the” in chapter 20, “what” in chapter 23, “you” in chapter 25), it seems impossible.

Despite all this madness, a plot still shines through about a journey through the African landscape, an invasion by Zanzibar and torture by Queen Quat. Because of the limitations, some of the plot can be predicted, such as knowing when Zanzibar’s troops will arrive and when Queen Quat will have to disappear from the narrative, but it doesn’t make it any less absurd and wonderful.

Eunoia

Christian Bok’s Eunoia (named for the shortest word in English to contain all the vowels) is perhaps the strangest on this list, as it does the opposite of A Void but five times. Each of the five main chapters uses one vowel each, which allows each letter to showcase its personality, as they all produce startlingly different sounds. Here are five sentences, one from each chapter, that reveal what a mad project this is…

A law as harsh as a fatwa bans all paragraphs that lack an A as a standard hallmark.

He engenders perfect newness wherever we need fresh terms.

Sighing, I sit, scribbling in ink this pidgin script.

Dons go crosstown to look for bookshops known to stock lots of top-notch goods.

Ubu mulcts surplus funds (trust funds plus slush funds).

Bok gives himself further rules, too. Each chapter is about the art of writing, must avoid excessive repetition of words and use as many as possible (the postscript says 98% of available words are used) and the letter Y is entirely banned too, so it can’t serve in its part-time position as a vowel.

And if that wasn’t mad enough, in the final chapter called “Oiseau” (the shortest word to contain all the vowels in French) contains further insanity, including a poem called “Vowels” where the only letters available are those in the word vowels, a lament to the letter W, and a list of all the words in English that contain no vowels at all. This is perhaps the most ambitious constrained writing project here, if not ever.

let me tell you

All of these books are obviously hampered by a limitation of the words they can use, but what if we bring it down to the words used by one person specifically. In let me tell you by Paul Griffiths, we get the story of Hamlet but from the point of view of Ophelia – but only using the words that Shakespeare gave her in the original text. Opening with “So: now I come to speak. At last. I will tell you all I know…”, she discusses her love for her father, and her confusion regarding the Prince of Denmark himself, all the while increasingly feeling like she needs to escape the narrative she’s trapped in. With such a restricted vocabulary, the novel takes on musical qualities as words reappear over and over again in different contexts. This concept is so great, I wonder if I couldn’t be applied to other fictional characters – the smaller the role, the tougher the challenge.

Green Eggs and Ham

Dr Seuss was famous of books with simple language and catchy rhyme schemes, but perhaps his most famous title was written as the result of a bet between Seuss and his publisher, Bennett Cerf. Following on from The Cat in the Hat which used 236 different words, Cerf bet Seuss that he couldn’t complete one with even fewer. Green Eggs and Ham was published in 1960, with just 50 different words used in the whole text. Despite this stringent limitation, by 2001 it had become the fourth-best-selling English language children’s hardcover of all time, and by 2014, over eight million copies had been sold.

And for those who are really curious, the 50 words are:

a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you


Thanks for joining in and reading this new entry in my new series, Six of the Best. This will (hopefully) be a twice-monthly series in which I take a look at fiction more generally and explore the fictional worlds I love so much. If you’ve got any suggestions for things you’d like to see me talk about, then please comment and let me know!

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“Z” by Therese Anne Fowler (2013)

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“Picture a late-June morning in 1918, a time when Montgomery wore her prettiest spring dress and finest floral perfume – same as I would wear that evening.”

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a performance of the play The Lost Generation, a three-hander about the tumultuous relationship between Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald. Long a fan of their hedonistic lifestyles if not their writing (I’ve still never read any Hemingway or Mrs Fitzgerald, and only a couple of Mr Fitzgerald), I was inspired to finally pick up Z, which tells the story from Zelda’s point of view.

Not long before her eighteenth birthday, fun and flirty Zelda Sayre meets the handsome and confident F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s 1918 and Scott is about to head off to join the war in Europe, meaning Zelda isn’t sure whether to accept his sudden offer of marriage, even though she knows she’s never felt like this about another man. When the war ends, Scott stays after all and just two years later, the two are married and begin their journey to define a generation.

As Scott gains success and recognition for his writing, Zelda finds herself living in his shadow and her once exuberant personality and zest for life begins to wane. They drink too much, they argue, and Scott becomes increasingly controlling and obsessed with his new friend Ernest Hemingway, who Zelda can’t stand. There is some happiness and love in their relationship, but very little stability, and Zelda must work out who she is in this modern world and reclaim her own independence once more. As they pass through various cities and countries, with Scott always working on the next novel (read: drinking heavily), the couple – along with their daughter Scottie – begin to change and we wonder if their lives are as glamorous as history has recorded.

As it’s based on the true story of Scott and Zelda, how it ends is a foregone conclusion, but I won’t reveal it here in case you don’t know what befell them. We hear a lot about the Fitzgeralds as the couple who made the 1920s what it is. They are a symbol of the Jazz Age, Prohibition and the excesses of the interwar years. Myth states that he was worshipped as a literary idol, and she flirted her way through the entire Western world, but the version presented here by Fowler is much different and far closer to the truth. Zelda was hamstrung by Scott’s ego and he dominated her life, dissuading her from following her own goals of being a professional dancer because they didn’t fit in with what he wanted to do. Perhaps this is par for the course given that at the time men did have much more say in relationships than women, but Zelda is not your average 1920s woman (considered by many to be the “first flapper”) and doesn’t like being corralled and beaten into submission. And yet, on a couple of occasions where Scott’s abuse turns physical, Zelda still seems prone to blaming herself.

Scott, himself, was prolific and wrote stories for magazines and screenplays for Hollywood, but his novels were few and far between and he didn’t really achieve the success and introduction to the literary canon until after he’d died. Because the story is from Zelda’s perspective, it’s hard to know if Scott’s monstrosity has been played up or is an accurate reflection of his personality, because he comes across as singularly unpleasant. He is selfish and domineering but simultaneously thin-skinned and weak, breaking down in tears whenever things don’t go his way or he doesn’t get to be the centre of attention. Depending on which side of the argument you’re on, there are people that say Scott ruined Zelda’s life, but also those who say that Zelda ruined Scott’s. I know which side I come down on, easily.

It is nice for Zelda to be thrust into the spotlight for a change. She also wrote a novel, Save the Last Waltz, and was a great painter and dancer, but to this day she struggles under the reputation of simply being “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife”. It’s fantastic and fascinating to see her given some agency and learn about the tragedy that she went through.

A compelling and startling exploration of the Jazz Age and how history likes to put a neat gloss on everything.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

“Zen In The Art Of Writing” by Ray Bradbury (1994)

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“Sometimes I am stunned at my capacity as a nine-year-old, to understand my entrapment and escape it.”

I’ve long admired Ray Bradbury. One of the true genius writers of the last century, the man had a mind like no other and was capable of dreaming up the most remarkable fantasies, all of which felt as real as they did spooky. Having been struggling with writing lately, I thought it was about time I gave myself a lecture on why I fell in love with it in the first place. But then my friend bought me this for my birthday and I figured, well, no point in lecturing myself when I can get Bradbury to do it.

This slim collection of essays written over thirty years or so detail Bradbury’s experiences with writing. Far more proficient and disciplined than I am (and probably ever will be), he explains how he took to writing a thousand words a day and could polish off short stories in a matter of hours once he’d got the central conceit. Famously, the first draft of Fahrenheit 451 was written in nine days on a rented typewriter at his local library. He wrote long lists of nouns that could serve as titles. THE CROWD. THE ATTIC. THE CARNIVAL. THE OLD WOMAN. THE VELDT. A vast majority of these would later grow into some of his most famous novels and short stories, and it seemed he always had an idea and a willing audience. He sold dozens of stories to magazines before he was a full-time novelist. It’s inspiring.

Throughout though, he never once seems to prescribe his success to luck and he’s not arrogant about it. He admits that he works hard – and he shows that working – but he never seems to lose his passion for writing. Not only does he praise the virtues of zen (work – relaxation – don’t think), he also talks with appropriate joy about zest. You have to love what you’re doing, or no one will want to read it. It’s the kind of thing I really needed to hear recently as my third novel struggles to take shape on the Arctic whiteness of a Word document. He is one of those brave figures who knows his own mind and isn’t bothered by peer pressure, as shown when he explains his childhood love of Buck Rogers and how he was prepared to lose friends over it. The final part of the book is a collection of poems, which even I – as a poem-sceptic – enjoyed.

Bradbury only died in 2012 after an impressive life filling the world with mystery, fantasy, horror and truths, as well as being one of the central figures responsible for bringing science fiction into the mainstream. What he has to say about writing is important, and I defy anyone who has read his work to not think he’s an incredible talent. If no one else, anyone who considers themselves a fiction writer should read these essays. If anything, you may just feel a bit less alone.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

“The Art Of Failing” by Anthony McGowan (2017)

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“I’m back working again at the British Library.”

It’s been one of those weeks where very little seems to have gone right, with the exception of polishing an opening chapter of a novel I hope to finish some time between May and the heat death of the universe. However, it turns out that I am actually having a pretty good time of it when compared to Anthony McGowan.

An author and creative writing teacher, McGowan records a year in his life in this book with entries for almost every day. Almost without exception, something embarrassing, shocking, humbling, sad or ridiculous happens to him in every entry, but at the same time they are almost all hilarious. He seems a genial sort of chap, plodding through life just trying not to do anything that lands him in trouble, but that’s clearly easier said than done. Whether he’s trying to buy shoelaces, fix a puncture, or trying to change the battery in the smoke alarm, there is something that is going to go wrong. He’ll usually end up drunk, with another puncture, or for some reason being convinced that the only way home is to wade through the Serpentine.

Written with complete charm and a continual sense of humour, even when he’s being glared at by his long-suffering wife for the hundredth time that week, the book genuinely made me laugh out loud repeatedly. A particular favourite was when McGowan accidentally posts his sandwich along with a letter – something up until now I’ve ever known a Mr Man character to do (Mr Forgetful, if you’re curious) – and forlornly wishes that he’s stamped and addressed the sandwich, then at least he could have eaten it tomorrow when it got delivered.

Among the humour, though, are some genuinely insightful and beautiful moments. My absolute favourite is when he sees a green woodpecker while eating his lunch and declares no day wasted if you’ve seen a woodpecker – or a fire engine. I also love his notion that if you were starting from scratch and getting rid of all the bad animals like lice and tapeworms, you’d definitely keep the woodpeckers. Despite all the problems that befall him, McGowan is able to draw up some wonderful insights about the natural world, modern living, and ornithology. He’s also very keen on grebes.

It’s a lovely book that asks all the important questions in life. What am I doing with myself? Is writing a real job? And if Clement Atlee’s socks had been softer, would there have been an NHS?

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

“The Trip To Echo Spring” by Olivia Laing (2013)

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“Here’s a thing.”

Earlier this year a friend let me borrow The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, which tells the stories of loneliness behind some of the greatest artists in history. A few weeks later, I stumbled upon an earlier book of hers – The Trip to Echo Spring – which focuses on authors and their reliance on alcohol. As a writer who enjoys a glass of wine or six, it’s a topic close to my heart. In this book, Laing travels with width of the United States to explore the places inhabited by six of America’s greatest writers and their struggles with alcohol – Raymond Carver, John Cheever, John Berryman, Tennessee Williams, and the poster boys for drunk authors, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Combining biography, literary criticism, travel writing and a treatise on the effects alcohol has on the body, Laing builds up a picture of these six men and the struggles they went through. My immediate confession is that while I’m aware of the impact they had on the literary scene, I’ve only read two of them – Fitzgerald and Cheever. I know enough about them all to be able to appreciate who they were, however, and the book helps fill in a lot of their, often tragic, backstories.

Laing travels, usually by train, around the USA, taking in New York City, Miami, New Orleans, Chicago, St Paul, and Port Angeles, all places that meant something to our heroes. She explores their early lives, the relationships they formed, how they came to develop alcohol addiction, and which ones made it through the other side, and which ended their own lives over it. There are some poignant moments, including John Berryman struggling to come to terms with his father’s death, Cheever suffering from poverty in Manhattan, and Raymond Carver having marriage and fatherhood thrust upon him while still a teenager.

It is Fitzgerald, however, that shines for me. Perhaps because I know most about him and Zelda, but whatever misfortunes befall him, he can’t help but appear faintly ridiculous. Once, someone walks in on him in his room wearing several layers in an attempt to sweat out all the gin – while still drinking gin. Elsewhere, he drives around in a car with no roof in the rain until he decides he’s got pneumonia and has Hemingway take him to a hotel and promise to take care of his wife and daughter when he’s dead. Laing adds that a “few whisky sours put a stop to this nonsense”, and Scott and Ernest are out drinking again within hours.

Laing also uses personal experiences in the text, mentioning her mother’s lover Diana who was an alcoholic for many years, but has since become sober. Despite the humour of Fitzgerald, The Trip to Echo Spring is pretty sombre and a reminder that alcohol is indeed a poison and not to be messed about with. Like in The Lonely City, however, she shows how these people used their flaws and vices to create some of the greatest work in history, and she does a good job of exploring the relationships between alcohol and the written word. A thoughtful and interesting piece.

“Exercises In Style” by Raymond Queneau (1947)

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“On the S bus, in the rush hour.”

Quick review today from this classic exploration of writing from Raymond Queneau.

The plot is simple enough – on a crowded bus, a long-necked young man challenges another passenger who he believes keeps treading on his toes every time someone else gets on or off. He darts for an empty seat when one becomes available. A couple of hours later, the narrator sees the same youth being advised by a friend to add a button to his overcoat.

That’s it. But what happens next is quite remarkable.

Queneau takes this banal tale and retells it 99 times, each time in a whole new manner, be it in a different tense, from a different viewpoint, or in an entirely new medium, such as a sonnet or an official letter. In some, he plays around with word structure leading to some stories that make no sense, whereas in others he’ll adopt words to do with food, or focus solely on the smells or sounds involved in the story. Each new retelling gives us a slightly different interpretation of the story and new details filter through, building up a richly diverse story, whether it’s being told through the eyes of a poet or a Cockney.

There’s not really much more to it than that, but it’s a great thing for writers to read in particular, I think, as it shows how much narration matters. Just a slight twist and you can get almost an entirely different story depending on what you’re focusing on. An interesting experiment.

“Bleaker House” by Nell Stevens (2017)

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“This is a landscape an art-therapy patient might paint to represent depression: grey sky and a sweep of featureless peat rising out of the sea.”

I seem to have an unfortunate attraction to books about loneliness. They have in the past caused my own feelings to become exacerbated, but occasionally they do the opposite and make me feel less alone. Bleaker House is definitely one that falls into the latter category.

This book – which I first picked up thinking it was fiction – follows Nell Stevens to the Falkland Islands in her quest to become a writer. Convinced that if she spends six weeks on the remote Bleaker Island (human population: two), she will have enough time and freedom from distractions to pen the novel she’s been meaning to write forever and finally become a writer. The twenty-something sets off, packing up rations for the duration and is convinced that this is the answer to her problems.

However, once there, she realises just how remote the islands are. With nothing but some penguins, sea lions and a potato for company, she begins writing. But more than that. She begins to learn who she is when no one is around. She analyses her past and explores her mistakes. And, most importantly, she learns that plans don’t always work out the way you expect them to.

The narrative is haphazard, but in the way that one’s thoughts do skitter about with snooker balls in a hurricane when you’ve no distractions or company, and it adds to the mania that pervades the premise of Nell’s situation. Chapters alternate between talking about her experiences on the Falkland Islands (particularly Bleaker, but also visiting briefly the capital Stanley), her times back in London and Boston, and her own fiction, either excerpts from the novel-in-progress or previous short stories. I saw one reviewer complain that the book seemed only to serve as a vehicle for Nell to publish stories that had otherwise been rejected, but I disagree. The stories are great, and a vital part of the narrative. After all, it would be almost cheating to send a writer all the way out to the edge of civilisation and then not see their work.

Nell is a comforting, compelling narrator who has by all accounts lived an interesting life. Before her journey, she travelled and tried to be a good person, taking up positions teaching in war-torn nations or helping – as best she was able – a boyfriend with depression. She does, however, have a knack of always being right in the middle of some of the most dramatic moments in the last ten years, including the Boston Marathon bombing, the London riots of 2011, and the shelling of Beirut by Israeli forces. It’s frankly a wonder she’s as balanced as she seems – and for a writer that’s not bad going, as none of us are that balanced – or perhaps it was all the horror she got caught up in that caused her to vanish to the remote wilderness.

As I said at the top, some books about loneliness make me feel lonely. This one did not. It was curiously comforting, honest and beautiful. Frank Turner sings in his song “Be More Kind”, “When you go out searching don’t decide what you will find” and that feels apt here. No matter how excellent your plans seem, there is never a guarantee that they’ll come to fruition. Or, at least, maybe not in the way you expect.

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