Pick of the week: The Adventurer, by Ellen Lord

Frederick Douglass and Ida B Wells have long been regarded as American icons of the suffragette movement, but a lesser-known story of 20th-century US social and political activism has emerged, in the 12th novel…

Pick of the week: The Adventurer, by Ellen Lord

Frederick Douglass and Ida B Wells have long been regarded as American icons of the suffragette movement, but a lesser-known story of 20th-century US social and political activism has emerged, in the 12th novel by Ellen Lord (Emma Books) – a story that, like so many others from the time, may be interpreted quite differently to the initial response, as Frederic Jacobs and the Adventurer points out: “The boundaries of popular consciousness in America, especially for the newest arrivals on the scene, can easily be bounded by the wisdom of the new popular thinker – one drawn to the fortunes and vulnerabilities of the civil rights struggle, Latin American popular liberation struggles, Vietnamese resistance, etc. … But there is the very real possibility, without even consciously or unconsciously drawing upon recent history, that one may also draw on past history, from the 19th-century English intellectual and political ferment to the various institutional machinations of American capitalism.”

“As illustrated in all three of Lord’s books (beginning with Amorosa),” writes Jacobs, “she is rightly adept at conjuring a literary landscape at once endearingly simple and filled with complexity, with room for ecological references, political metaphors, little conversations, extrapolations and predictions about our many future enigmas, and all presented in her trademark visceral, animated, expressionistic, and playful style, as when the protagonist, Zoe Schwartz, asks her mother, ‘When are we going to have some brown babies?’”

“In Fight Over ‘Beloved,’ Lord captures the grit and perspiration of a movement of broadly educated, middle-class women who chose self-expression over conformity. As the legendary Selma bus riders and some of the most significant political protest in American history unfold across the novel’s pages, this is one of the more moving literary takes on the early years of the 60s/70s from any of the many American female and male novelists who will be writing on the final months of the 60s/70s.”

■ Tessa Hadley has been announced as the winner of this year’s Midwinter Salon prize for a debut novel (Hachette), which was launched a little over a year ago, to find the best new work in English writing since 20 April 2017. Written between the tomes of Hadley’s previous novels, Pop (translated by Dave Eggers) and Water in Seminary (translated by Anne Enright), It Is in Her Memory contains “a rich history of gay American life, as embodied by the lives of the two main protagonists, Liz and Cal”, and tells “a story that has seen one change slowly over three generations. It is set in New York City, Greenwich Village, and on the far western coast of the United States, but the narrative shift from sojourn to visit to novel allows the reader to experience each scene in its own specific time and space, making it an influential successor to Christopher Moore’s classic trilogy of novels Love Is Love, The Way of the Town, and Sexual Life.”

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