by Sandra Newman
(Granta £12.99, 272 pp) WHILE it’s a critic’s basic duty to tell you what an author is trying to do, you also need to be honest, and I admit that I just don’t get what Sandra Newman is up to here.
At the start, an artist, Kate, hooks up with a PhD student, Ben, in New York in 2000, when — counterfactually — there’s peace in the Middle East, and the U.S. president is a woman.
This alternates with Kate’s dreamworld of Elizabethan London, where her actions as Shakespeare’s lover drag the book’s utopian-tinged 21st century into reality as we know it (9/11 eventually happens).
The eccentric detail, including a baby named Qued, born to a Latino ex-Navy SEAL and a Ukrainian mail-order bride who doesn’t like wearing clothes, left me no wiser.
If it’s about the difficulty of doing good, it’s a fussy way to dramatise the law of unintended consequences. But I’ll gladly stand corrected . . .