Stretto by David Wheatley; The poetic circle of the Stasi by Philip Oltermann; Emily Edwards’ Herd – The Irish Times

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Stretto by David Wheatley (CB Editions, £10)

A remarkable poet, David Wheatley filled his first novel, Stretto, with music and light. It opens with the speaker contemplating a stained glass Virgin Mary by Harry Clarke, whose body “gives way to. . . jewelry “. Stretto itself is a kaleidoscope of Ciaran Carsonesque intellectual gems, fascinating in themselves but also reflective of his whole project. Stretto is divided into one-and-a-half-page “bars” rather than chapters: its many interwoven motifs include the experience of migrants like Wheatley’s in these islands, meeting their original stories. Time changes, moving “sometimes fast, sometimes slowly, sometimes both at once,” he observes of Bach’s stretto technique. Similar motifs replace the conventional narrative in the novel. Wheatley’s theme of autism, however, proves vital to a text informed by “the sliver of neurodivergence burning through my own thought processes.” A brilliant start. Ian Duhig

The Poetic Circle of the Stasi by Philip Oltermann (Faber, £14.99)

Oltermann has caught a curious thread of Cold War culture warfare in this little page-turner, with a dive into the “Writing Chekist Task Force,” a creative writing class held in East Germany. by the Stasi (the secret police of the GDR). A Society of Red Poets, if you will. He does a good job of piecing together elements for an engaging narrative, stalking most of the group (I enjoyed the delightful irony of his use of social media to form a person’s identity). This is a puzzling footnote in Cold War history; a book feels a stretch, though. I was hoping for some unintended, nonsensical hilarity from such a topic. But typical totalitarian bastards, dry to the core. A communist love poem is nevertheless a treasure: “I hope you will never be nationalized”. NJ McGarrigle

The Herd by Emily Edwards (Bantam Press, £14.99)

When the story of the pandemic we are living through is written, the truest moments will be revealed in the smallest of stories. Emily Edwards’ new novel is not set during the pandemic but it brings to the fore the questions raised in recent years about individual choice, collective responsibility and social solidarity by placing them at the heart of a short story. Elizabeth and Bryony are best friends, despite their differences. But their disagreement on the issue of vaccinating their children has consequences that no one could have imagined. Edwards has, perhaps courageously, chosen to set his thought-provoking and thought-provoking novel in the most intimate domestic space – a relationship between two mothers who each see the world in fundamentally different ways. Fortunately, for the reader, the emotional depth of her writing stands up to the intensity of the story she skillfully tells. Becky Long


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