It is the Saturday after the 2016 presidential election, and in a plush weekend house in Connecticut, a group of New Yorkers has gathered to recover from what they consider the greatest political catastrophe of their lives. Liberal and like-minded, the friends have come to the countryside in the hope of restoring the bubble in which they have grown used to living.
Moving through her days accompanied by a carefully curated salon, Eva Lindquist is a generous hostess with an obsession for decorating. Yet when, in her avidity to secure shelter for herself, she persuades her husband to buy a grand if dilapidated apartment in Venice, she unwittingly sets off the chain of events that will propel him to venture outside the bubble and embark on an unexpected love affair.
A slyly comic look at the shelter industry, Shelter in Place is a novel about house and home, furniture and rooms, safety and freedom and the insidious ways in which political upheaval can undermine even the most seemingly impregnable foundations.
A new novel from a favourite author is always a tonic - no matter how well things are going. Given the state of things at the moment then, a new novel from a favourite author is a lifeline - and Leavitt's latest does not disappoint.
Having loved Leavitt since 'The Lost Language of Cranes' gave my young self into a future where I may be able to live openly, I've read his work eagerly. Shelter in Place is many things - part state of the nation reflection on Trump's america, part comedy of errors, and part stage play - the witty repartee longing to be read out loud and bounced back and forth.
The cast of characters here are intelligent, clever, and not hugely likeable - but Leavitt writes them with irresistable humour. I chuckled throughout and laughed loudly at various points - and I think this is likely due a reread, as the dialogue is so quick I likely missed some of the subtler exchanges.
It's worth saying that this isn't necessarily a shallow read though - shallow characters leading shallow lives are examined in minute detail, with their situations in the changing America a reflection on the nation as a whole.
In a few years, it feels like this will be a perfect read to reflect on life in Trump's america - and I will most certainly be glad of a reread.
Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for the copy
Tineka Smith always knew that growing up Black in America meant certain restrictions. Don’t talk back to white people; expect to be stopped by the police; always be on your guard. So, when she moved to the UK – and fell in love with Alex Court, a white man – she wondered if things might be different.
When Alex proposed to Tineka, it was the easiest decision in the world. What he didn’t anticipate was the reaction – sometimes subtle, sometimes overt – from friends and strangers alike. Nor did he expect to have to think about Tineka’s race, and his own white privilege, every single day.
Tineka has always felt the burden of calling out and educating people, only now she has to teach her new husband at the same time - asking him to see, hear and think with a new perspective about the things he had never noticed before.
But what does this mean for Tineka and Alex’s relationship? With anecdotes, analysis and honest conversations, Mixed Up has the pair attempting to navigate their new and challenging world, confronting race and relationships in the 21st century head on.
I grew up woefully undereducated about race - in a small Northern English town, there was little diversity, so understanding the pressures, pains and daily aggressions that black people face, was not something that really crossed my mind until my early 20's, when I moved to London.
That interest in understanding the mindsets of people from different backgrounds has been with me since then, but over the last year i've been working on educating myself on this as much as possible - sparked by movements such as Black Lives Matter that have opened up my eyes to the injustices and unequalities that Black people face every day.
And as for the inequalities that women face every day? I'm a proud feminist and I consider myself very well educated on these issues from an equality stand point - but as a homosexual cisgendered white man, I'm aware that my privilege speaks volumes - I'm never going to fully understand these perspectives as they're not lived experiences for me, but I'm always highly interested to read more on this.
With that in mind, I was delighted to be asked to review 'Mixed Up - Confessions of an Interracial Couple' - a fantastic audio book from Audible, by Tineka Smith and Alex Court.
There's an openness and an intimacy to the writing and the reading - perhaps enhanced by the fact that these insights to a couple's struggles was being read directly into my ears.
'Mixed Up' discusses the true life relationship of Tineka and Alex, and there are multiple layers to unpick and discuss here - from Tineka's experiences as a black woman in America contrasting with Alex's experiences as a white man in Britain, the judgements and microagressions that Tineka faces as both a black person and as a woman, and the journey of understanding that both, with a highlight on Alex, experience over the course of their relationships.
It's a listen that's eye opening, emotional, and necessary - there's been a huge amount written about the experiences that different races and genders experience, but it's rare to see those experiences highlighted in such an emotive and personal fashion - Tineka Smith and Alex Court deliver these with style, skill, and serious amounts of substance.
I received a copy of this audio book in exchange for an honest review - many thanks to Audible
Born in Dublin in 1942, Anthony Clare was the best-known psychiatrist of his generation. His BBC Radio 4 show, In the Psychiatrist’s Chair, which ran from 1982 to 2001, brought him international fame and changed the nature of broadcast interviews forever. Famous interviewees included Stephen Fry, Anthony Hopkins, Spike Milligan, Maya Angelou and Jimmy Savile, each of whom yielded to Clare’s inimitable gentle yet probing style.
Clare made unique contributions to the demystification and practice of psychiatry, most notably through his classic book Psychiatry in Dissent (1976). This book, the first, official biography of this much-loved figure, examines the man behind these achievements: the debater and the doctor, the writer and the broadcaster, the public figure and the family man. Using extensive public and family records, and new interviews with family, friends and colleagues, the authors ask: Who was Anthony Clare, really? Was there just one Anthony Clare, or many? What drove him? And what is to be learned from his life, his career, and his unique, sometimes controversial legacy to our understanding of the mind? Published on the anniversary of Anthony Clare’s death on 28th October 2007, this is the remarkable story of a remarkable person.
Brendan Kelly is a Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry and author of Hearing Voices: The History of Psychiatry in Ireland (IAP, 2019). He has written for press such as the New Yorker, TIME Magazine, the Economist, Newsweek, Observer, Financial Times, Guardian, Irish Times, Irish Independent, Irish Examiner and Sunday Times and has appeared on RTÉ Radio 1, BBC Radio 4, Newstalk and Today FM.
Muiris Houston is a medical writer and health strategist, a specialist in occupational medicine, Adjunct Professor of Narrative Medicine at Trinity College Dublin, and writer-in-residence at Evidence Synthesis Ireland, at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He is a columnist with the Medical Independent and The Irish Times. Muiris is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the University of Sydney. He is an honorary fellow of the faculty of pathology of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland.
If you were listening to Radio 4, or watching the BBC in the '80s and the 90's, there's a good chance you would have come across Anthony Clare. A psychiatrist, he was best known for bringing his medical understanding to the public - educating them through programmes such as QED and All in the Mind, and examining well known figures through a psychiatrist's lens, in his radio and television series 'In the Psychiatrist's Chair'
I'm a huge Radio 4 fan, but due to my age rather missed the heyday of Anthony Clare - at the time of 'In the Psychiatrist's Chair' ending I was only 13, so was still rather more into Radio 1 than 4 at that point.
However, many a dull day job as an adult had me discovering the huge amount of old programmes that BBC Radio made available on their website, in conjunction with repeat broadcasts on Radio 4 extra, and my dad's collection of Radio 4 tapes.
Anthony Clare's gentle unpicking of well known figures was quite the revelation when I first listened to it - and I was rather struck by, compared to more modern interviewers, how little he speaks - his skill as a Psychiatrist allowing his guests to open up about their backgrounds and lives, with only occasional prods and queries from Clare.
Now, despite Clare's considerable renown in the later part of the 20th Century, not much has been written about the man himself - until now.
Professor of Psychiatry Brendan Kelly and Medical writer Muiris Houston, have come together to write this indepth look into the life of Clare - and it's a read that turns out to be as entertaining as it is a tribute to a brilliant mind.
Many of us go to know the 'public' Anthony Clare, but this book truly goes behind the curtain to explore the life of the private Anthony Clare, and, in what is rather a rare case for a biography of a public figure, finds a kind, loving, joyous man who loved his family first and foremost and his work second. Colleauges, friends and family speak lovingly of an extremely talented man who died far too soon - and the excellent writing and research of Kelly and Houston serves as a tribute to a brilliant man who brought his psychiatry skills to the people in order to help as many as possible.
I recieved a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review - many thanks to the publishers and to Bei Guo at Midas PR.