Robin Robertson - The Wrecking Light (4 stars)

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Robin Robertson - The Wrecking Light

(Picador)

Like his previous book, the Forward Prize-winning Swithering, Robin Robertson’s new collection is powered by contrasts. Stark, ominous, depictions of nature rub shoulders with a strongly developed sense of the domestic, as in ‘Tinsel’, which moves from an entreaty to listen to the ‘frequency of the wood’ to a meditation on physical frailty.

Robertson’s view of human nature is startling in its honesty and unremittingly bleak. Murder, suicide, dysfunctional relationships and mental illness crop up time and again with the shorter pieces particularly hard-hitting. ‘My Girls’ draws the contrast between the innocent children drifting into sleep and the watchful adult stealing away, his ‘hands full of deceit’ while the wryly entitled ‘About Time’ is a brutal appraisal of a life characterised by failure.

It comes as little surprise that Robertson is drawn to classical works, particularly Ovid, whose bloodthirsty episodes he updates with flinty contemporary imagery. It’s this shifting of pace and form throughout that makes this collection so compelling.

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