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Landscapes cover art

Landscapes

Written by: Christine Lai
Narrated by: Athena Karkanis, Richard Clarkin
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Publisher's Summary

***Named a CBC and NPR Best Book of the Year * A CBC Writer to Watch * An October 2023 "Indie Next List" Pick from The American Booksellers Association * A Publishers Weekly's Writer to Watch

***longlisted for Republic of Consciousness Priz

"I envy readers entering this world for the first time. You will find beauty here, and wisdom."—Ayşegül Savaş, Electric Literature

A darkly absorbing, prismatic debut novel from Christine Lai, set in a near future that is fraught with ecological collapse and geopolitical upheaval, Landscapes explores memory, empathy, and art as an instrument for recollection and renewal.

In a ruinous country house in the now barren English countryside—decimated by heat and drought—and in a dusty library damaged by earthquake and floods, Penelope archives what remains of the estate’s once notable, now diminished, art collection. As she delves into the objects and images, she also keeps a diary of her final months in the dilapidated estate that has been her home for two decades and a refuge for those who have been displaced by disasters. Out of necessity, Penelope and her partner, Aidan, have sold the house and with its scheduled demolition comes this pressing task of building the archive. But with it also comes the impending arrival of Aidan’s brother, Julian, who will return to have one final look at his childhood home. Penelope suffered at the hands of Julian twenty-two years ago during a brief but violent relationship, and as his visit looms large over her, she finds herself unable to tamp down the past in her efforts to build a possible, if uncertain, future.

In this elegiac and spellbinding blend of narrative, essay and diary, Penelope’s past, present and future collide as fear and loss close in around her, and she clings to art as a means of understanding, of survival, and of reckoning. Recalling the works of Rachel Cusk and Kazuo Ishiguro, Landscapes is an evocative reinvention of the pastoral and the country house novel for our age of catastrophe, and announces the arrival of an extraordinarily gifted new writer.

©2023 Christine Lai (P)2023 Doubleday Canada

What the critics say

"The story of an archive—discovered in not only what it preserves, but what it leaves out—is compelling, and Landscapes has a lot to say about art, ruins, and beauty."Interview Magazine

"With its careful attention to landscape painters and diary entries leading up to the demolition of the house, this is the ultimate piece of fiction about noticing what’s been overlooked."Los Angeles Times

"There’s [...] something strangely beautiful and comforting about the ways that Penelope and Aidan are responding to their slow apocalypse: by making their world smaller and helping others, and accepting the heartbreaking temporality of all things, even art."LitHub

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Powerful in an Understated Way

The novel takes place in the near future, during a time of unpredictable and extreme weather events. It addresses the impact that has on the physical world, both man-made and natural, and the resulting depth of the widening gap of our socio-economic society. That, however, is the setting, which is likely allegorical to the subject, rape. That topic is handled in an interesting and conflicting way: on the one hand, historical art pieces depicting rape are described graphically, if clinically, throughout the book; on the other, the issue is skirted as the characters refer to the rape simply as "the event” (not even caps). It is never directly addressed or described, only how, 20 years later, it affected those involved. The prose itself is quite lovely, I suspect to be deliberately in contrast to the subject; calm and controlled versus the violence of “the event”, which is left entirely to the reader’s dawning comprehension.

I originally gave this three stars, but it has stayed with me, and upon reflection, changed it to four. I would recommend it.

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