Kortliks: Hotbed; The Very Nice Box; In Love With Hell – review

Joanna Scutts
Duckworth, £20, pp416

Heterodoxy was its name. Founded in Greenwich Village in 1912, it had 25 charter members that included socialites and socialists, among them writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Inez Milholland, whose beauty inevitably made her a poster girl for suffrage, and Grace Nail Johnson, an anti-lynching advocate and the club’s only black woman. From the clothes they wore to the causes they championed, be it labour rights or free love, these women were out to forge a new way of living. Though Heterodoxy lasted into the 1940s, Joanna Scutts focuses on its turbulent first decade of existence, telling an enthralling story of rebellion but also of the power of female friendship. As she observes early on, leading unruly, exceptional lives “is easier in the company of others”. Rigorous social history is enlivened by brio and belief throughout.

Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman
Verve, £9.99, pp320

Ava Simon is a product engineer at STÄDA, a Brooklyn-based manufacturer of sleek, minimalist furniture. She’s hard at work on her passion project, the storage solution of this debut novel’s title, when new department head Mat Putman upturns her world. With his puppyish energy and indisputable good looks, he’s the type who “could accidentally drop a baby and immediately be forgiven” – in other words, aloof, workaholic Ava’s polar opposite, which is perhaps why sparks fly. In Ava’s recent past is a car accident that killed her girlfriend and parents, but is Mat really as straightforward as he seems? Red flags spur thriller-like suspense while incisive observations on corporate life’s cult-like nature sharpen the satire in this pleasingly idiosyncratic office romcom.

William Palmer
Robinson, £9.99, pp272 (paperback)

Elizabeth Bishop and Jean Rhys, John Cheever, Kingsley Amis and, natuurlik, Dylan Thomas: just what is it with writers and the bottle? Even those such as Graham Greene and WH Auden, who don’t rank among William Palmer’s titular 11, turn out to have put away enough on a daily basis to make all but the most hedonistic of readers reach for the Alka-Seltzer. While the question of cause isn’t fully answered by this humane group biography, the effects of its subjects’ infatuation with grape and grain are vividly illustrated, from the hair-raising to the plain tragic.

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