David Annand

Cold Comforts

Upstate

By

Jonathan Cape 232pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

James Wood is a titan of literary criticism whose early collections of essays, The Broken Estate and The Irresponsible Self, sit on my bookshelves, their spines wearily striated from endless rereadings. Since 2014 he has been Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard. Given that another book of his is titled How Fiction Works, he’s a writer whose résumé virtually compels you to judge his creative work through the lens of his own criticism.

Upstate is his second novel, following The Book Against God (2003). It tells the story of Alan Querry, a 68-year-old property developer from Northumberland who, in early 2007, heads to snow-blanketed Saratoga Springs in upstate New York to visit one of his daughters, Vanessa, a professor of philosophy who teaches at the local university and is going through a personal crisis. Along for the ride is Alan’s younger daughter, Helen, a record company executive based in London and mother of two. They have been summoned by Josh, Vanessa’s American lover, who worries that the recent fall she took down some stairs may not have been an accident. Such interventions have been a feature of Vanessa’s life since she ‘withdrew’ as a teenager after her mother (now dead) left Alan for another man. There follow six days of car journeys, meals, minor squabbles and much complaining about the quality of American pastries.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'It would be nice to think that women will achieve equal pay in my lifetime, rather than to watch gloomily as stati… ,
    • In 1660, two of the signatories of King Charles I's death warrant fled across the Atlantic to New England. But were… ,
    • Howard Jacobson's sixteenth novel is 'a love story of sorts, one characterised not by physical desire or even conta… ,
    • 'The sudden immersion in the new and unfamiliar can lead people to write with a rare lack of self-consciousness' P… ,
    • 'Pools bend the rules. Clothes slip off, skin glistens, consciousness heightens. A dreamlike scenario unfolds' Jam… ,
    • 'Although he surely didn’t know W H Auden’s theory that every high C proclaims human freedom and our capacity to tr… ,
    • RT : With beginning tomorrow, we've uncovered a 1997 article from the archive reviewing 'Golf Dream… ,