The debut novel from poet Will Burns is set in the early months of the pandemic in an English market town that “insists on being called a village”. Named after the pub where the narrator lives and works with his parents, the book provides compelling portraits of the landscape, the town and its residents, many of whom propped up the Paper Lantern’s bar before lockdown.
We follow our unnamed protagonist on his daily walks along roads, footpaths and rivers, during which he finds himself “living a kind of dream-life”. He contemplates community, class, local history and how it is that a country pub can be frequented by so many men called Pete.
Read with thoughtfulness and solemnity by the author, The Paper Lantern doesn’t deal in high drama, instead focusing on the immediate sights and sounds of its narrator’s narrowed existence. He gazes at the gardens of his neighbours that are suddenly well tended, bursting with foxgloves, red valerian and roses, and stops to admire barn owls, kites and a hovering buzzard that “[watches] the earth below, reading it with an accuracy I could only guess at”.
There is a seam of melancholy too, born from external forces – HS2, Brexit, climate change – and from the circumstances in which the narrator finds himself as a middle-aged man living with his parents. At one point he resolves to “take a stand of some kind against my life” but then thinks better of it, deciding there is value in his wanderings. “My feet, one after the other, chasing down the hill paths. That is not to be forgotten. That is to be recorded.”
• The Paper LanternFiona Sturges is available from Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 4hr 54min
Anne Tyler, Penguin Audio, 9hr 4min
Kimberly Farr reads Tyler’s novel following the members of the Garrett family over six tumultuous decades
Against White Feminism
Rafia Zakaria, Penguin Audio, 6hr 24min
The American-Pakistani author’s blistering appraisal of western feminism is read by Ulka Simone Mohanty