One of the best things about writing this column has undoubtedly been the chance to discover so many incredible debut authors, beginning their journeys into the world of publishing. Last month marked the publication of Anna Glendenning’s An Experiment In Leisure, a novel that was deeply thought-provoking, relatable and at the same time, completely unique.
The book follows Grace, a twenty-something Cambidge graduate from the northern landscape of West Yorkshire. Talented and intelligent, the narrator appears to have climbed the ranks of the social ladder by achieving her Oxbridge degree and living an independent life in London, despite her humble working-class beginnings. What we soon learn is that much like her identity, she too is in a constant state of flux – unsettled and unsure of where she belongs.
One of the things I enjoyed most about Glendenning’s writing was her purposeful use of dialect and accent throughout. It fluctuates: in London, her northern tongue is carefully edited; in Yorkshire, she plays up to her roots. As a reader, this idea in itself provided a lot to think about, especially in the form of a novel. The publishing industry is well-known for policing dialect, dulling it down to avoid alienating certain audiences. In An Experiment In Leisure, accents reign supreme and offer unparalleled depth to the characters who hold them.
Whether it’s class, geographical location, sexuality or identity, this novel is full of crises. While sad at times, there were moments in the text that left me laughing out loud. Grace is a character that the reader roots for as she tries to figure out her life, no matter how hard it might be for her to work it out. She notices minute details about the world around her, normal moments brought to life by Glendenning’s acute and masterful writing style. In the beginning of the book, Grace sees a therapist. Written in short, pacy lines of dialogue, we begin to understand that she is deeply lonely, often caught up in her own thoughts. This is reflected by the text itself, both chaotic and well-structured. It mirrors the experimental life the narrator seeks to lead as she hopes to become a lady of leisure, whatever that might mean.
It was really intriguing to read a novel that captures the intersections of northern and working-class identities. While Grace moves to London following her graduation from Cambridge, she soon finds herself fleeing between both locations. Her identity is constantly in question, strained by her changing position in society. The novel questions the idea of social mobility – is there a ladder that can simply be climbed? Or is the process of moving up a little more complex? Whether the answers are discovered in the novel or not, one thing is clear. An Experiment In Leisure celebrates working-class identities and offers an alternative perspective – one that suggests we don’t have to leave our roots behind to live a joyful life.
Heart-warming, tear-jerking and written with complete stylistic elegance, this book is a force to be reckoned with. Anna Glendenning is certainly one to watch. An Experiment In Leisure is now available, published by Chatto Windus. You can purchase it here.
Words: Beth Barker
Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England.
Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.
For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.