Kate Briggs’s debut novel The Long Form is certainly one of the most perplexing books that you could read this year, but also one of the best. This is a profoundly ambiguous, wonderfully unstructured read, yet one that is deeply engrossing all the same.
Helen and her baby daughter Rose wake up one morning: it is fair to say that not too much happens over the next few hours in the physical surroundings of their small flat. Instead, we are treated to a feast of literary imagination, of ruminations on the history of the novel and the cares of motherhood, reflections on the difficulties of describing real life in words and the true purpose of fiction. Henry Fielding stalks the novel as Helen gets her way through Tom Jones; Briggs’s greatest quality in this novel is the ability to weave passages of high-flown literary criticism with snippets of daily difficulties: at the same time as the character Helen discusses what makes great fiction so powerful and so realistic to us, Briggs manages to make the detail of her living room equally enticing.
Briggs is a fantastic writer: that is clear by the end of this eminently strange novel. But her effects do take time; it is only by the second third of the book that it starts to come together, as the strands of criticism, fiction and some kind of psychology coalesce to form a triptych of alluring power. Briggs’s descriptions of the “tempo” of life and the “rhythmed involvement” of existence can leave us mired in ambiguity, but at the end of the novel it feels truly convincing as a description of what thoughts, impulses and scratches of the surface of consciousness make up our lives. More than anything, it is a novel to be read as an experience, as a wash of instances and emotions, theses and images that touch upon the reality of motherhood and the possibilities of a secluded mind. Briggs has written a work that will constantly reward a re-reading, with a voice that combines a deep complexity with moments of piercing clarity. It is an intelligent and well-read book: but it is also emphatically convincing and moving.
Patrick Maxwell is a writer and journalist
The Long Form by Kate Briggs is out now (Fitzcarraldo Editions, £14.99).
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