Earlier this week, Sarah Hall launched her new novel Burntcoat, at the Ambleside Campus of the University of Cumbria. As a native of Cumbria, all of Sarah Hall's novels and short stories are infused with an essence of what it means to be Cumbrian. All of her novels deal with big issues; Burntcoat is no exception. Here we have a novel about a deadly virus and its aftermath. The protagonist, Edith, has the virus, but has been in remission for years. She has created huge, amazing sculptures, but now she is dying.
Hall's latest novel is set in a post-pandemic world, as Sarah Hall said, her cities are normally somewhere between Norwich and Carlisle, but this novel is set somewhere in Scotland. The setting is dystopian, there is a sense of a post-apocalyptic world; the virus kills everyone it infects. Following hot on the heels of COVID-19, it feels menacing and extremely relevant.
I read the book at one sitting. It's not my type of novel, whatever that means...I found it shocking, riveting, disturbing. But also compelling and powerful. The characters have stayed with me, as has the realisation that COVID-19 could have been so much worse.
Sarah Hall discussed her new novel with Dr Penny Bradshaw. It was an excellent conversation. We also enjoyed the coffee and Grasmere Gingerbread as a bit of light relief! We followed it up with a pizza at Zeffirelli's.