Cover Image: The Last Sane Woman

The Last Sane Woman

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Member Reviews

I really didn't know what to expect with this book, but I really enjoyed it once I started reading. It took me a little while to get into the story, mostly because the way it is written, it took me a little while to get my head around who the various characters are. Mostly because it jumps around a little bit, but a good part of that was down to my tired brain.
This is a very good read and not one that I was really expecting.
I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own and given voluntarily.

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The writing style of this book reminded me a bit of “Mrs. Dalloway”, of which I was not a fan. It seemed to me a bit bland and staccato, while being confusing at the same time and I just could not get into it. Perhaps I am just not the right audience, but this book didn’t cut it for me. Thank you to NetGalley for the advance read copy.

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I adore this book so much, I almost stopped reading on Netgalley several times in order to wait for a finished copy because I wanted to go be able to go through and underline all the incredible sentences but I kept needing to come back and now I'll be waiting for it to come out so I can read it again. This book feels very real in its depiction of a forgotten female potter, the friend she wrote too throughout her career and the young woman finding the letters years later, and seems like an important reminder that the grand success stories we are used to seeing aren't the most important and the way history is recorded falls so far short. This feels like a rediscovered classic more than a new novel (an amazing thing), with shades of Doris Lessing and Margaret Drabble.

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Honestly, I think it’s a me problem!! I thought I was going to absolutely love this but I don’t think I was in the right mood to read this. It’s quite slow and very character-focused, which typically I’m all for, but this one just fell flat. It would also get a bit muddled and confusing with the lack of quotation marks and frequent narrative/timeline shifts in the middle of the chapters. There was some really nice, sublime writing but it also edged on being too poetic.

I think this will be a big hit for a more niche group, and possibly if I re-visited at a different time, but it wasn’t quite for me.

Thank you to NegGalley and Verso Fiction for the ARC.

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beautiful, inspiring artistic epistolary novel. I want to know more about all of these characters, and that's one of the signs of a great book, leave the reader wanting more. Nicola is so interesting and the way she delves into the letters and abruptly alters her life around reading them is so relatable.

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One of those perplexing books that makes my mind explode is The Last Sane Woman: the structure reveals the theme, the untidy yet realistic people reveal something real about humanity at that precise moment, and the significance emerges as a revelation in the wake of it all. The debut novelist Hannah Regel, who is best known as a poet, writes with an impressionist's sensibility. She includes a great deal of truth about women in her writing, including how they present themselves, their friendships, and their place in the arts. Long passages read as inappropriate metaphors, and close-up details become hazy until one takes a step back and considers the whole. At first glance, this appears to be the narrative of Nicola, a young ceramicist who is feeling lost and has just graduated from art school. Almost at random, she asks a nonprofit archive of women artists whether they have any information on women who have struggled with "making things." A box of letters written by a female potter who committed suicide in the 1980s without leaving a lasting legacy is given to Nicola by the archivist, and she is instantly enthralled with the biography that this one-sided correspondence reveals between the anonymous potter (who always signs her name in “xx” kisses) and the enigmatic “Susan,” to whom she reveals everything. As Nicola reads more, she starts to see parallels between the book and her own life and career. This causes her to become anxious because she thinks she might be about to solve a riddle. That is only the surface story, though. (Although I don't really think of what comes next as a spoiler, please be advised that I liked learning these things on my own.)

As I mentioned earlier, this novel's structure is not simple. Scenes from Susan's point of view alternate with Nicola's contemporary London life, passages she reads from the letters that abruptly change to the potter going about her own life in the London of thirty to forty years ago, and Nicola's reaction to the letters of her freewheeling friend (whom she does name for the reader) as she deals with putting her own artistic aspirations on hold in order to become a young wife and mother.

This is, above all, a feminist narrative about a woman artist who went unnamed and was lost to history. It tells the story of what she really accomplished, how she told her closest friend about it, how the friend used her own experiences to interpret events, and how telling these lost tales can inspire a new generation. This work may not be to everyone's taste, but it was surely to mine because the format does echoes the potter's unconventional creations.

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The Last Sane Woman

This book was so much more than I expected. It’s a story of womanhood, navigating the world as a starving artist, and the struggle to feel known and recognized. I think the heart of the story can be summarized best by a line from one of the main characters, captured in a letter to her best friend: “I feel I am all determination and no potential.”

The storytelling mode is immersive and unique; it goes back and forth from the present day, from the perspective of an aimless twenty-something artist named Nicola, who finds herself reading an archive of letters exchanged in the 70s by a potter, Donna, and her best friend, Susan. Nicola finds herself relating to Donna, drawing parallels between their lives and striving to create a legacy for her many years later, but she will come to accidentally cross a few lines, leading to Susan’s re-entry into the present day story and leaving a thought-provoking ending.

Overall, the quality of writing and richness of detail in this story are incredible. It’s been a while since I’ve read something so lively and lyrical. However, I did find it a bit difficult to get into and challenging to maintain focus at times due to the lack of attribution tags in dialogue, and the absence of indication of when the timelines change. There were several times throughout the book when I couldn’t figure out who was talking or whether the event was taking place in the past versus the present. But besides these issues, I can’t say anything bad about this book. Regel presents a gorgeously rendered world that consistently captures the nuances of being an artist and a woman. 4/5 stars.

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I was very interested in the premise of this book and some of the themes mentioned but unfortunately, I just didn’t get it. I could not establish any connection to the characters and had trouble understanding what the author was trying to do. This book is just not for me.

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How long do we hold on to our dreams? Some let go when they “grow up”, move on, and never look back. Many (most?) others, let go though followed by eternal questioning, wondering, longing, and often regret. And then there are some, relatively few, that don’t let go, continue to persevere, manage the doubters, trudge on- for better or for worse.

We often hear about those who eventually become wildly successful, defying the odds, “overnight sensations” after years, decades of struggle. Hannah Regel isn’t focused on these spectacular stories in her striking debut, “The Last Sane Woman”. Instead, she is interested in the struggle, especially artists’ struggles, mostly especially female artists’ struggles. She is interested in the quotidian encounters, the daily steps forward, and constant setbacks.

Regel gives us a lot to keep track of. There are many characters, all with subtle nuance and vital information. There are multiple time periods and settings that can quickly weave in and out. There are those letters that bear close reading. Finally there is the language, the language of a poet. “The Last Sane Woman” is not a novel to rush through, rather one to savor.

We all harbor dreams; we all house a piece of the artist inside. We love to read about, experience, and enjoy the work of writers, painters, film makers, musicians, photographers, dancers, instrumentalists, singers. Sculptors have always seemed to hold a special space - even a little less “grounded in reality” in order to commit to their work. “The Last Sane Woman” is all about women that take on that challenge . You will not soon forget them.

Thanks to Verso and NetGalley for the eARC.

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“I want to read about the trouble a person might have with making things. About what might stop a person from making things, making art, I mean. Like money,” Nicola added, “or time.”

The Last Sane Woman is one of those confusing novels that makes my brain fire on all cylinders: format illuminates theme, messy but relatable characters unveil something true about humanity in the moment, and meaning comes as an epiphany in its aftermath.

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The Last Sane Woman tells two intertwined stories, separated by several decades: that of Nicola, a young, slightly lost arts graduate, and Donna, the (now-dead) potter whose letters Nicola finds at a local feminist archive, with which she becomes increasingly obsessed.

While the concept of the novel - the melding of two narrative threads, told in part in an epistolary form, is undoubtedly an interesting one in principle (the synopsis felt reminiscent of Shola von Reinhold's much-acclaimed 'Lote') - in practice it unfortunately felt somewhat beyond Regel's skill as a writer. The two voices (that of Nicola and Donna) were written in such a similar manner that it was often difficult to distinguish between them; the dialogue rang, for me, hollow; the plot felt bloated, and yet at the same time unfinished or rushed.

I'm sure there are plenty of readers who will get a lot out of this novel - I think it has some good ideas about cultural archives and female friendships, for example - but sadly I am not one of them.

Thank you to NetGalley and Verso Books for the free ARC of this book!

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Nicola Long is a young ceramic artist caught in the slog of day-to-day life in London. No longer making--and growing increasingly depressed and dejected amid the rat race--she finds herself at the Feminist Assembly. The FA is a small archive dedicated to preserving the record of female artists. The archivist suggests to her a collection of letters written by another potter to her childhood friend throughout her many years of the same struggle to work, live, create, and find a place in the art world, spanning some years of the 1970s and 80s. Nicola is told that the artist took her own life, but little else, including her name.

Nicola finds many uncanny similarities between herself and the potter and becomes a little more than fascinated with her. Jumping between present-day Nicola, text from the letters, and past potter, Regel weaves the stories of three women beautifully together across time. Nicola (and Regel) highlight stories of forgotten women. Regel's languid writing captures Nicola and the potter's devolutions into madness of equal measure. There is some really beautiful writing here, making The Last Sane Woman not only an alluring story but a true work of art to read. An interest in or knowledge of art is certainly not necessary to enjoy this novel but is an added bonus for those in that camp.

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I really wish I liked this book more, because the premise sounded so interesting, but I just couldn't get into it. Perspectives shift between three characters but it's really hard to understand where things are shifting and everything just jumps around in a really unclear way. There's no real forward movement and the ending was super murky -- I couldn't tell if a character faked her own death or not. The idea was solid, but alas, not so much the execution.

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The Last Sane Woman is one of those confusing novels that makes my brain fire on all cylinders: format illuminates theme, messy but relatable characters unveil something true about humanity in the moment, and meaning comes as an epiphany in its aftermath. Debut novelist Hannah Regel, primarily known as a poet, writes with an impressionist’s sensibility — POV changes abruptly, long passages read as out-of-place metaphors, close-up details are fuzzy until one stands back and considers the whole — and throughout, she includes so much truth about women: about how they present themselves, their friendships, and their place in the arts. If I had written a review immediately, I might have rounded this down to four stars, but the more I think about it, the more I like it: rounding up to five.

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