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The Crack Magazine


Book of the Month: Burntcoat by Sarah Hall

Sarah Hall’s searing new novel is set in a world at a slight remove to our own. We know this because when a deadly new virus arrives at our shores, the Prime Minister who announces a national lockdown live on TV is a woman. We also learn that the virus in Burncoat is an altogether more deadly proposition than Covid. The novel’s protagonist is Edith, an acclaimed sculptor, who is looking back at the events described above, which happened twenty years ago. She describes how she met a Turkish man, Halit, in a local restaurant (he was working there at the time), and the pair became lovers. When lockdown begins, they hole up together in Edith’s studio, and she details their affair in sensual detail. When Halit catches the virus, Edith then describes its effects in equally graphic terms. The timeline of the narrative also jumps around a bit and we learn of Edith’s troubled upbringing (her mother suffered a brain haemorrhage, which altered her personality; her father leaves them) and also how she originally developed as a sculptor (including a stint living with a family in Japan for a while). It’s a story that is often disarmingly poetic and has much to say about art, loss, caring, and plenty more besides. RM