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David Thomson in the New York Observer

reviews

Ms. Barton’s prose voice is as good and supple as anything being written in America today. But in its period tone (if that’s the word), it reaffirms the unswerving adage of the novel reader: Describe a world well enough and I am its member. This is the voice of a great novelist.

– David Thomson, the New York Observer on Brookland

We treasure and enjoy some novelists because they offer us a world, and let us feel we can enter it like original inhabitants. It’s a going home, even if we’ve never been there before… I don’t necessarily mean to suggest that Emily Barton is a full-fledged rival to Thomas Hardy””but Ms. Barton is only in her 30’s, the age at which Hardy had written Far from the Madding Crowd and not much else. In fact, I suspect that Ms. Barton already has more voices in her head than Hardy possessed, as well as a sturdier hope for the lives we lead. But what makes Brookland such an enormous achievement, and such a complete world in which to escape, is that this place is not Wessex (now full of antiques and cream-tea nostalgia””a dead end), but that corner of the world where the East River snakes around the edge of Manhattan island, the opportunity that Brooklyners and Americans have to inspect New York and wonder what happens there…This is a long story, and one that unwinds slowly, but with stunning enough effect to satisfy the waiting. The patience to stick with Prudence comes from the steady beauty of Ms. Barton’s writing. There are two strands to the book: letters written by Prudence as a mature woman (letters that capture both the eloquence and the idiosyncrasy of early 19th-century writing by unschooled people), and a more withdrawn narrative that is seldom modern or up-to-date. I take this backwards look””the bulk of the book””to be the largest part of Ms. Barton’s research (evidently extensive) and her talent (seemingly unlimited). And it may be worth stressing that many Hardy novels were set not in the year they were written but in a prior age, lost and enchanted. Ms. Barton’s prose voice is as good and supple as anything being written in America today. But in its “period” tone (if that’s the word), it reaffirms the unswerving adage of the novel reader: Describe a world well enough and I am its member. This is the voice of a great novelist.

on Brookland

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