The pandemic

Knotty problems: French Braid, by Anne Tyler, reviewed

Anne Tyler’s 24th novel French Braid opens in 2010 in Philadelphia train station. We find the teenage Serena, who has the ‘usual Garrett-family blue’ eyes, with her boyfriend James, waiting for a train back to Baltimore, where they’re at university together. Serena runs into her cousin Nicholas – although she’s not certain it’s him – and doesn’t seem especially keen to speak to him. There’s an awkward meeting; then Serena and James go to catch their train. A sense of unease hangs over the whole encounter. James speaks for the reader when he says: ‘Maybe there’s some deep dark secret in your family’s past.’ Uncovering this secret is at the

Only time will tell if there’ll be a Great Pandemic Novel

We had been dreading it like (forgive me) the plague: the inevitable onslaught of corona-lit. Fortunately, the first few titles out of the gate have been in capable hands. Zadie Smith reflected on lockdown in Intimations, a slim volume of personal essays; the virus featured in Ali Smith’s Orwell Prize-winning Summer; and Sarah Moss imagines a lockdown hike gone awry in her forthcoming novel The Fell. The twice Booker-nominated novelist and short story writer Sarah Hall also felt compelled to address the calamity, rising in the dark to write before home schooling her daughter during lockdown. ‘I’m not saying I was particularly equipped,’ Hall explained in a press release. ‘But