Emma Glass’ Peach is one of the books on this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize Long List. The prize is awarded for the best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under. The prize is named after the Swansea-born writer, Dylan Thomas, and celebrates his 39 years of creativity and productivity. I’m very glad I was invited to participate in the blog tour.
When I chose Peach from the longlist, I wasn’t entirely aware of what type of book this would be. I knew it was about a teenage girl who goes to college, has a boyfriend named Green, a best friend, a cat, a baby brother and parents who just seem to have rediscovered sex. And I knew that something horrible, a sexual assault, happens to her. What I didn’t realize was how artful this book would be. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it outside of poetry or flash fiction. The way Emma Glass works with sound, repetitions, alliterations, onomatopoeia is astounding. What is even more astounding is that this book, while experimental to some degree, still is immensely readable. In many ways, the style she uses seems to tell us that the unspeakable cannot be named. It has to be evoked.
Given the topic, the book isn’t for the faint of heart and it had one of those moments I’ve come to dread – cruelty against an animal. (Spoiler – why do most perverted people in books always, sooner or later torture an animal – mostly, like in this case, a cat?)
I’ve seen some critics argue that this book fell flat because it’s surreal and, at the end, Peach seems to disintegrate. I would disagree. It’s a shocking topic, told in quite horrific short chapters, but there are also some playful absurd moments that I found very impressive and convincing. Many authors who write about horrible things, like Kafka, to name one of the most famous, used the absurd to describe what’s too awful to name. And Emma Glass does just that.
To give you an impression of her stellar writing, I’ll leave you with a few quotes. Nothing captures this book as well as quotes.
The first sentences:
Thick stick sticky wet ragged wool winding round the wounds, stitching the sliced skin together as I walk, scraping my mittened hand against the wall. Rough red bricks ripping the wool. Ripping the skin. Rough red skin.
My legs feel heavy and I’m dragging my feet. Shovelling snow with my shoes. Leaving lines behind from my lead legs.
I lie down on the sofa and shut my eyes. My hands fall straight down to my tummy. Strange. How strange it is. Naturally grasping the firm mass doesn’t feel so strange any more. The lump I have been lugging though loathsome heavy hurting full, it feels like me, like part of me. Ingrained. Embedded. I think about cells, multiplying, millions, every second, every millisecond for millions of seconds how big can I get? How big will I be before I burst? Cells linking, holding hands, making chains, chains winding, chains winding around my core. Spores sporing, pouring.
One more element I’d like to mention are the chapter headings which are equally artful and playful. Here are just a few:
Forest for Rest
Final Pieces, Final Peace
Emma Glass was born in Swansea. She studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Kent, then decided to become a nurse and went back to study Children’s Nursing at Swansea University. She lives and works in London. Peach is her first book.
Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for a review copy
This year’s longlist of 12 books comprises eight novels, two short story collections and two poetry collections:
- Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Friday Black (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (US) and Riverrun (UK))
- Michael Donkor, Hold (4th Estate)
- Clare Fisher, How the Light Gets In (Influx Press)
- Zoe Gilbert, Folk (Bloomsbury Publishing)
- Emma Glass, Peach ((Bloomsbury Publishing)
- Guy Gunaratne, In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder Press, Headline)
- Louisa Hall, Trinity (Ecco)
- Sarah Perry, Melmoth (Serpent’s Tail)
- Sally Rooney, Normal People (Faber & Faber)
- Richard Scott, Soho (Faber & Faber)
- Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, House of Stone (Atlantic Books)
- Jenny Xie, Eye Level (Graywolf Press)