To be honest, writing this review really intimidates me. I am absolutely in awe of Sarah Hall’s talent; I find her writing ethereal. Her short stories are beyond compare, evidenced by the fact she has been shortlisted for the annual BBC National Short Story Award four times, and is the only person to have won the award twice.
Where to start with Burntcoat? Our protagonist is Edith, and by the end of the novel it feels like we have lived a thousand lives with her. The titular Burntcoat is Edith’s sprawling studio, to which she becomes confined when a COVID-like pandemic sweeps England. She and her lover, Halit, navigate their relatively new relationship, and their cultural differences. Edith also reflects on the memory of her adoptive mother, Naomi, and her long-standing illness. It is the slight strangeness of these relationships that will stay with me for a very long time.
One of Hall’s many gifts is writing her way around horrific things. This is not a “COVID novel”; the seldom-named fictional illness provides a catalyst for parts of the story, but is ultimately inconsequential. How people deal with the brutal fallout of the disease provides the real tension.
I was utterly consumed by Burntcoat, just as I expected I would be. This brief, exquisite book is about so many things. Art, love, sex, family, death. You can’t help but get utterly entranced by the beauty of Sarah Hall’s prose. I would gladly read it multiple times over.
I really don’t think any review could do this book justice; anything I say pales in comparison to the wonder of this book. I can just recommend it, and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Burntcoat is released on November 2nd, 2021. I am eternally grateful to Custom House for the ARC.