Writer’s block

Seamus Heaney’s letters confirm that he really was as nice as he seemed

Seamus Heaney wrote letters everywhere – waiting for his car to be repaired at a country garage, sitting over a glass or more of Paddy late at night, and above all in aeroplanes, ‘pacing the pages against the pilot as he takes us in to Heathrow or Shannon’, as he wrote to a friend in 1995. So many eloquent missives were dashed off at high altitude that his editor suggests he might have had notepaper printed with the heading ‘EI 117’, the Aer Lingus flight between Dublin and Washington DC. This airborne activity is significant because it indicates two characteristics illuminated by Christopher Reid’s riveting collection: the pressures of life

Isolating with the ex: Lucy by the Sea, by Elizabeth Strout, reviewed

Elizabeth Strout’s fourth book about Lucy Barton comes on the heels of Oh William!, shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize. That book tracked Lucy’s growing friendship with her first husband, William, after the death of her second. In Lucy by the Sea, she accompanies William to Maine to ride out the pandemic. Closing the door of her New York apartment, she does not know that she will never see it again; that she will lose a friend and a family member to Covid; and that her relationship with William and her two grown daughters will change. Lucy is at sea at first: she hates the cold, the locals’ distrust of

Stealing the story: A Lonely Man, by Chris Power, reviewed

Robert Prowe has writer’s block. An Englishman reaching middle age, he lives in Berlin with his Swedish wife and their two young daughters: two prams in the hall, two enemies of promise. Having enjoyed some success with a collection of short stories, Robert has been commissioned to write a novel; but the submission date was 18 months ago and he now spends his mornings deleting, letter by letter, the few words he produced the day before. His stories had once come easily: they grew out of his quotidian world in the form of anecdotes passed on to him by friends, family and strangers in bars. But nothing around him will