Jenn Ashworth – Notes Made While Falling (4 stars)

Jenn Ashworth – Notes Made While Falling

Genre-bending memoir and essay collection

Author of three novels – A Kind of Intimacy, Cold Light and The Friday Gospels – Ashworth finds that for the first time in her life, fiction fails her. The novel she tries to conjure up in the aftermath of trauma (emergency surgery following childbirth) and illness fails to come to life, and she turns to non-fiction. The result is difficult to define; a memoir and essay collection and also an investigation into illness, expression and writing itself.

Ashworth's research is painstaking in the truest sense of the word. It is exhaustive, scouring and interrogative. She draws deeply from critical theory and examines writers experimenting with genre and form while pushing the boundaries herself.

In a moment of profound distress, Ashworth says 'the words speak me'. Yet in this collection, the prose is precise and the language experimental in a way that could be called playful, if it wasn't also so fraught.

'Ground Zero' is a series of ruminations severed mid-thought then sewn back together, 'King Lear' reminds us that to relate to a character is not to condone it. Ashworth also shows us the bones of her writing, holding up an x-ray to an essay so we can see which parts grew, which broke, which fused together again.

The essays are preoccupied with the search for pattern and meaning, both personal and between the writer and reader, 'a risky mutual transfusion, is what literature is for'. And it's exactly what's been achieved in this genre-defying collection.

Out Wed 4 Sep via Goldsmiths Press.