To Battersea Park By Philip Hensher – A Review

Publisher: 4th Estate

Publication date: 30th March 2023

Split into four parts and set at the point that the uk was in the height of covid lockdown rules To Battersea Park by Philip Hensher opens with one man, a published author, observing the streets and world around him in very different ways than before lockdown occurred.

Living with his partner they both treat the endless days of nothing as a chance to experience the comfort of the day panning out with small punctuations of previously meaningless tasks that now delineate the day, making the morning coffee, baking the morning bread, reading a novel between breakfast and lunch, observing the neighbours and their behaviour, and going for their allotted 1 hour exercise outside of the house. However the author seems to have lost his inspiration and impetus to write.

All the free time means the men can observe their neighbours in close quarters where before they would have been busy with their own lives. They chat with Gio and Stuart nextdoor, observe their illegal family gatherings. They watch a man across the street they dub The Stalinist who pastes pictures of past labour prime ministers in his window and then of course theres the jogger..

The writer muses on how different the streets are, quiet and subdued, punctuated only with other neighbours taking their daily walks or joggers running past, too close for comfort for the writer. He has time to notice the types of trees in their area, previously unnoticed trees and the imported Pomelo trees of a neighbouring woman.

In part two the neighbourhood opens out to the reader and where previously we were inside the writers head we now split off to meet various other characters that are linked to the writer in some way or another. We meet his parents, his mother with dementia and his father her carer. We meet a woman known as The Builders Wife, a woman who is being pushed closer to the edge by working from home, zoom meetings, looking after her adult stepchildren and the fact that her husband The Builder is currently furloughed and hanging around the house all the time.

In part three we’ve moved forward in time to a point where lockdown has developed into something we’ve not seen before. Shops are closed, supermarkets looted, electricity has failed, water is in scant supply, the postal service has ceased to exist, social media and government updates are a thing of the past. Against a backdrop of sinister violence two men take a walk……

The book ends with the writer contracting the virus along with his partner and we meet again the jogger and his family….

It’s not for everyone to read books surrounding the pandemic. I didn’t think it would be for me entirely but it prompted me to remember certain points of that time. I gelled with certain parts more than others but overall I enjoyed Hensher’s writing style. I really liked the end section which is something of a fever dream with a touch of the dystopian. I have read that parts of this book are auto-fiction which gives it more depth overall for me. If pandemic retrospectives are not your bag then steer clear, otherwise give it a whirl!

Thank you to 4th Estate for my review copy

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookishchat x


Other Women by Emma Flint – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 23rd February 2023

Emma Flint’s debut novel Little Deaths is one of my favourite books of all time and has pride of place on my Forever Shelf. When I heard that Emma had a new novel out I had very high hopes. Let me tell you that I was not disappointed.

Other Women is set in London in the years after WW1. A time when many men returned from the war disfigured, disabled or mentally scarred. Many did not return at all leaving behind grieving mothers, widows and sisters.

Bea is 37, recently moved to London from the north and is working as a bookkeeper and typist for a stationary company. She lives in a women’s club in Bloomsbury with other single, independent women. But Bea is feeling overlooked. Her parents are dead, her brother too and she only really has her sister Jane who she sees rarely. She is not a widow or a grieving mother, so who is she? She is no longer young enough in society’s eyes to be considered pretty and vibrant like the bright young things she sees around her, so she is struggling to find her place.

When Tom Ryan is hired as a salesman for the company she works at, he eschews the young flirty office girls attentions in favour of the more mature Bea. Bea is entranced by him and he brings colour to her life. The only issue is he’s married.

We then meet Katie, wife of Tom and mother of his child, Judith. Katie met and married Tom very young and they have settled into a stable marriage that is perhaps a little dull. Katie is aware that Tom has his ladies on the side but turns a blind eye as he always comes back to her and their daughter.

When an act of violence in a coastal cottage means the two women’s lives converge, there is trauma and pain that could never have been predicted.

Emma Flint is an incredible writer who for me perfectly depicts female characters who you will never forget. They are flawed and damaged with a vulnerability but also an innate strength and stoicism. She also writes crime in a domestic setting perfectly too and in Other Women writes courtroom scenes that focus not only on the facts but how the central character is feeling. The emotion, the trauma, the horror of it all. It also highlights the shocking iniquities in the way men were portrayed in the press at the time versus women and how courtroom news was reported on.

Emma writes sentences that are so expertly crafted that I found myself feverishly underlining and going back to re-read them. Descriptive and evocative, sublime!

The backdrop of post-war London and society at the time was expertly researched and conveyed and I really felt swept up in the times.

The story was based on a true event and the afterword by the author was fascinating!

This is a book I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Thank you to Picador for my proof copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookishchat x