The Last Sane Woman

The Last Sane Woman

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A beguiling debut novel about friendship and failure, written with unusual craft and spryness

'I want to read about women who can't make things.'

Nicola is a few years out of a fine arts degree, listless and unenthusiastically employed in London. She begins to spend her hours at a university archive dedicated to women's art, because she 'wants to read about women who can't make things'. There she discovers one side of a correspondence beginning in 1976 and spanning a dozen years, written from one woman – a ceramics graduate, uncannily like Nicola – to her friend, who is living a contrasting and conventionally moored life. As she reads on, an acute sense of affinement turns to obsession, and she abandons one job after another to make time for the archive. The litany of coincidences in the letters start to chime uncomfortably, and Nicola's feeling of ownership begets a growing dread: what if she doesn't like what the letters lead to?

Reviews

  • Regel doesn’t really sound like anyone. Oliver Reed introduces a poetic sensibility that seems as at odds with convention as it is equal to the moment: fully formed, virtuosic, kind of lethal. These are pitiless, discomforting poems that explore our own creatureliness with a deadly curiosity. Each is a transformation: the actor becomes a strange muse and guiding presence, to ‘smoulder a mobile furnace’; the horse, another of the book’s recurring figures, becomes more than an emblem of eros, labour and suffering; the young girl’s bratty insolence turns defiant and stricken. The voice wills these changes into being even as she ‘wills herself barren’. As much as they trouble and seduce, the poems are also watchful, vigilant – they seem to offer a means of protection. Oliver Reed is an astonishing, masterful first book.

    Sam Riviere
  • In Hannah Regel’s brilliant collection, Oliver Reed, the figure of the horse becomes an object for language’s brutality and the all too familiar subjugation of women’s voices, bodies, and labour. An impressive hyperbolic pastiche of pleasurable misbehavior guides a girl named Sorry through her own undoing while naming new tools for calculated resistance. ‘Kill the language. Kill it. Get the shovel. We’re making a belt.’ I would gladly do whatever she tells me to do and wouldn’t think of doing otherwise. Regel creates a new order for the ecstatic wreckage of obedience.

    Cassandra Troyan
  • Regel cuts sharply from image to image, and her syntax is tight and brutal, somehow constrained; a grammar for girls.

    The Paris Review