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Review: My Phantoms

Book: My Phantoms

Author: Gwendoline Riley

First published: 2021

Current publisher: Granta

Format: Kindle e-book

Page count: 158 pages (in print)

The physicals: Read digitally

Procurement: Bought from Amazon for 99p





I saw this book mentioned on Twitter (still not calling it "X") and I thought it sounded like my kind of thing. I love literary fiction, and I especially love short literary fiction, and this book ticks both of those boxes, with bells on.


This is a superb novel. At first I wasn't quite "into" it... I didn't fully understand what I was reading or what was going on. There is no real sense of plot, certainly not the straightforward structural plot of most genre fiction... yet things happen and they are connected - plot. The novel centres on a troubling, quietly tense, and intense in a distant way, relationship between a forty-something woman and her mother. I have to say the mother, Helen ("Hen") is a brilliant fictional creation. I didn't like her; I couldn't warm to her at all... yet I felt pity for her. She is an odd woman: selfish but very far from realising it. And I felt for her daughter, Bridget, in so many scenes. Hen is a controlling sort of mother, but pretends she isn't. In fact, Hen pretends to be, or not to be, many things. The subtlety of this characterisation is second to none.


The highlight of this novel is, for me, the dialogue. It's absolutely superb. I felt like I was reading a truly great writer of dialogue, and I was. My new mantra for any of my editorial clients who struggle with dialogue will be "Read Gwendoline Riley."


Some readers and reviewers have mentioned the humour in the novel. I must admit I didn't find it funny, at all. I found it to be deadly serious, and sad, and tragic, in many ways. Above all I found it fascinating. It was hard to put down. It was my first Gwendoline Riley, and I'm looking forward to reading more.


Shelf: My "Books Read" folder on my Kindle.

Would recommend to: Readers who enjoy short literary novels, excellent but subtle characterisation, and superlative dialogue.


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