Quick book picks for January

We’ve all remembered that time continues to pass and prepared to blame a different numbered year for our troubles, so now it’s time for more books. The usual random mixture with some modern folk tradition reimagining, dystopian gangster noir, a painful story of trauma, and a biography of Mary Shelley for the anniversary of Frankenstein’s publication.

  • Swansong by Kerry Andrew – A lyrical novel about a twentysomething escaping to the Highlands from London which combines folk tradition and modern issues.
  • This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel – A novel about a big family in which the youngest child is transgender, and how they all keep secrets and try to make their lives work.
  • The Earlie King & the Kid in Yellow by Danny Denton – A literary dystopian noir set in an always raining Dublin, in which a boy steals a baby amidst gang war.
  • In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein by Fiona Sampson – A biography of Mary Shelley that tries to look beyond the picture usually painted of her, whilst also doing a bit of questioning the cultural idea of Frankenstein itself as a novel.
  • Peach by Emma Glass – Short and visceral story of a girl who has been assaulted, shown with immediacy through her perspective.

Swansong by Kerry Andrew

Haunting ballad reinvention: Swansong by Kerry Andrew


Swansong is a haunting mix of modern life and ballad mythology in a novel about guilt, the past, and transformation. Polly is in the Scottish Highlands to escape everything that went wrong in London—her degree, her flat, her friends, and an incident after a night out she’s fleeing from. There’s not much to do except drink, drugs, and seducing the local bartender. However, Polly keeps seeing strange white shapes across the water and soon she’s intrigued by the mysterious loner who lives in the woods. She’s keeping her secret whilst trying to work out his.

Part of the novel is based on a folk ballad story and even without knowing this until the end, the book has a feeling of being steeped in tradition, whilst also being about a girl firmly in the modern day. Andrew combines descriptions of the landscape and Polly’s strange visions with imagery rooted in contemporary references to create a writing style that updates old tradition and stories of metamorphosis into another iteration, a modern one.

Swansong is a book about a young woman escaping messed up city life and mental health issues by ending up somewhere more remote, similar to other recent novels like Sara Baume’s A Line Made By Walking. This sub-genre feels like a reaction to modern life for young people and at its best—like in Swansong—feels like it combines literary and other traditions with contemporary issues in interesting ways. The folk music side to the novel is quite understated in the actual reading experience, becoming most apparent in the following author’s note, but the not quite natural goings on hint towards something mythological.

This is an eerie and strangely tense novel that shows how the transformation of old material and styles can produce stories both modern and traditional at once.