Lucy Lethbridge

Lost in Elizabeth

Mrs Gaskell and Me: Two Women, Two Love Stories, Two Centuries Apart

By

Picador 275pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Nell Stevens is the go-to writer for accounts of not getting on with writing, a state with which many writers will be excruciatingly familiar. Fresh from a creative writing degree, she published her first book, Bleaker House, in 2017. It is a chronicle of spending three months in the Falklands on a generously funded Boston University fellowship and there failing to write a novel. Instead she wrote about her daily life on the fretful edges of the writing process: the distractions, the frustrations, the finding things to do, absolutely anything at all, that would prevent her getting down to the book.

Her second book, Mrs Gaskell and Me, takes up the theme again. This time, however, she hasn’t the wild isolation of a South Atlantic island to provide descriptive detail but is back in London, at the beginning of another degree – this time a PhD in English literature. She can’t get down to this project either, for the most part because she is in love with Max, a fellow creative writing student who is far away, first in Paris, then in Boston. The reader may begin to smell a rat. All this mooching about and procrastinating looks disingenuous: with her notebook always at the ready, Stevens is more on the ball than she is prepared to let on. Two books published in two years and a thesis to boot: she sounds like a workhorse to me.

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

    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,
    • Time travel, bicycles and white horses populate @WomackPhilip's roundup of children's books by @marcussedgwick,… ,