Browser: Opioid addiction to natural wonders

Brief reviews of: Transcendent Kingdom; In the Garden: Essays on Nature and Growing; Great Circle

Yaa Gyasi’s writing is both   spare and poetic in her novel Transcendent Kingdom.

Yaa Gyasi’s writing is both spare and poetic in her novel Transcendent Kingdom.

 

Transcendent Kingdom
By Yaa Gyasi
Penguin £12.99

Gifty is at Stanford University, studying reward-seeking by experimenting on mice. Addicted to a sugary drink, the mice press a lever which gives them either the drink, or an electric shock. Using optogenetics, Gifty wants to understand the mice who continue to press the lever, shock after shock. Gifty lost her brother to an opioid addiction; now her mother has come to live with her, catatonic with depression. Can Gifty’s research help with these opposite responses to pleasure-depression, where there is too much restraint, and drug addiction, where there is not enough? Gifty’s search isn’t confined to this question; she also interrogates faith, science, reaching always towards some illusive meaning. A combination of detached observation and beautiful insight, in language that is both spare and poetic, makes for a beautiful, dazzling novel. – Ruth McKee

In the Garden: Essays on Nature and Growing
Daunt Books, £9.99

“For as long as I’ve been able to name the days and months – to observe their colourful, untameable lexicon; the glistening, aching cycle of seasons in this growing, dying, turning world – I have struggled with the month of April.”

In her essay which is almost painful it is so beautiful, Kerri Ní Dochartaigh speaks of finally settling down in one place, in a cottage in the middle of Ireland just before lockdown. Her first garden, and the “flutters like a moth bird” of a longed-for pregnancy make short diary entries, words that sit with grief, which pay attention to the small miracles, and the deep wonder of nature. Plucked from an array of essays, this collection offers 14 writers, including Paul Mendez, Penelope Lively and Nigel Slater, each opening different windows on to gardening. A joy. – Ruth McKee

Great Circle
Maggie Shipstead
Doubleday, £16.99

Ostensibly, Maggie Shipstead’s latest novel is the story of two women in two separate moments, united by the most unlikely of endeavours, flying and acting. In the reading, however, it becomes clear that the intertwined narratives of Marian Graves and Hadley Baxter are existential explorations of the choices we each make in order to live, and the depths of the mysteries that reside at the heart of all of us.

Marian is a tragic pilot, a woman who pushes not only her prescribed gender role but her very existence to the limit. Fifty years after her disappearance in 1950, Hadley is the troubled actor who will play her, and in doing so discover more about herself than she might have anticipated.

In the hands of a lesser writer, Great Circle would be a spiralling epic, more style than substance. Shipstead flies perilously close to that particular sun at times but her lyrical language and compelling characters continuously save her. – Becky Long

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