A gorgeously intoxicating new novel about the nature of love from the award-winning author of The Big Music.
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‘Alright’ I said, ‘I’ll try…’ This is how Emily Stuart opens her intricate tale of a classic love affair that becomes Caroline’s Bikini: a swirling cocktail of infatuation, obsession, and imagination.
The moment that Emily’s friend Evan Gordonstone – a successful middle-aged financier – meets Caroline Beresford – a glamorous former horsewoman, and now housewife, hostess, and landlady – there is a ‘PING!’ At least, that’s how Evan describes it to Emily when he persuades her to record his story: the story of falling into unrequited love, which is as old as Western literature itself. Thus begins a hypnotic series of conversations set against the beguiling backdrop of West London’s bars, fuelled in intensity by endless G&Ts and Q&As. From the depths of mid-winter to July’s hot swelter, Emily’s narration of Evan’s passion for Caroline will take him to the brink of his own destruction.
Written in a voice so playful, so charismatic, and so thoughtfully aware of the responsibilities of fiction it can only be by Kirsty Gunn, Caroline’s Bikini is a swooning portrait of courtly love – in a modern world not celebrated for its restraint and abstraction. Ready. Steady. Go!
A restless innovator ... Trumps even her own past work in its audacity ... Guts and cheek to spare ... Reminded me of James’s serpentine late style as much as it did the prose of Virginia Woolf or Gunn’s compatriot, Katherine Mansfield ... Caroline’s Bikini nods to its Modernist ancestors but never grovels to them ... Gunn’s serious playfulness will make you think again about every convention of fiction we lazily take for granted ... Nothing much may happen. But the feeling — and the writing — overflows.
What remains clear is Gunn’s cleverness. She is a writer who flicks language about, this way and that, inspecting its underbelly. .. If one is judging Caroline’s Bikini, a metafictional homage to Renaissance love, as an erudite work that erudite readers will “get”, it is seductively successful ... For many readers, Caroline’s Bikini will resemble the process of discovering multiple rooms and delighting in how they are intricately linked.
Gunn has written a blissfully anarchic and – indeed – inspiring novel about the futility of writing: a delightful paradox in itself.
One reads the book with a purring pleasure, relishing Gunn’s cleverness, wit, range of reference and literary sensibility ... She has written a very clever book which will provide rich material for study and practice.
A bold and brainy enterprise.
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