Cover Image: Practice

Practice

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"...she knows the essence of the poems she would write: small, opaque, complex. About nothing in particular: Producing not so much a meaning as an effect." And indeed, this debut novel is small, sort of opaque, aiming for complexity, about nothing in particular - a single day in the life of Oxford student Annabel, who unfortunately goes by the nickname Annie - though it is rarely used - about nothing in particular - except for the way that Annabel assesses everything in her tiny world, comprised, for a good portion of this slim novel, in her room at college at Oxford, in the winter, with an essay about Shakespeare's Sonnets soon due. We are nearly entirely in Annabel's mind and body - as she wakes, prepares for her early morning work, reading various of the sonnets, contemplating all that they mean, jotting down words as she searches for what her essay topic might be, aware of her thoughts, and of her body, needing to pee, arousal, and more, and the way she turns nature to her own purposes. A scholarly setting and work, it was quite fascinating to be with Annabel's thoughts as she contemplates the deep meanings of the sonnets she reads, considers Shakespeare not as long dead, but alive and hungry and lustful and bisexual. The compelling minutia of a hardworking university student who has far more access to her thoughts than perhaps most at that age - what comes across later is that perhaps she's not a natural student, that she is training herself for this life of the mind, that she is, if not secretive, than close to it, keeping her phone off while she works (everyone should really do this!), interacting nearly not at all with those in her hall, texting only when she must, avoiding the question her older boyfriend has asked her - whether he should come to Oxford for the upcoming weekend, rent a hotel room. She has either learned or naturally wants to keep her worlds, and her thoughts compartmentalized, wanting the life of the mind even as her body wants more. It is something more than mere self-consciousness at work here. She eats healthfully, but perhaps wishes she could lose a few pounds, does yoga, does not drink much, or socialize much, seems to doubt the intentions of others - perhaps Ciara, a fellow student also writing the essay on the sonnets, would actually like to be friends with her. What is most compelling about the book is its quotidian focus, bringing to life the muchness of it when we actually pay attention to ourselves and our minutes and hours, our ways of doing things. Whether her imaginary characters - perhaps two sides of herself - that she labels the Seducer and the Scholar - two homoerotic men whose lives she imagines on her long afternoon walk, or in her room - work, I'm not sure - I found they took me out of the story, even as their story, that she has fabulated, was fairly interesting - their purpose, though, in such a short work, I haven't worked out. Perhaps the study of the Sonnets leads to her many sexual fantasies, perhaps Annabel, who seems rather lifeless, even as she heeds every aspect of herself, has always had such sexual fantasies - and for a young woman who seems to want to live a life of her own devising, it is interesting that the fantasies were submissive-dominant ones, she as the submissive. It's a lonely place that Annabel lives, even as it gives her pleasure, even as she seems a mostly happy student, though her happiness is particularly muted. I both enjoyed being there with her, as well as knowing that being there with her would only last 208 pages. What I especially liked about the book is this - while it's more traditional than perhaps the subject matter might lead one to believe - it didn't have stunts, and the author stayed true to her belief that a reader would find Annabel interesting enough, or her actions and thoughts interesting enough, that the reader would be willing to remain there with her. I look forward to what Brown writes next.

Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for the arc.

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I suspect many of us have dithered while writing an essay and so will recognize Annabel's struggle to focus on Shakepeare and his sonnets, Whether that internal discussion makes a novel is another story, This has snippets and distractions and it's all very inside. An interesting read that I admired more than enjoyed, Thanks to netgalley for the ARC. For fans of literary fiction,

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thank you to fsg and netgalley for a digital copy of this, releases june 25th! practice follows a day in the life of annabel, a student studying english at oxford. we’re with her as soon as she wakes up early in the morning on a winter sunday in 2009, until she goes to sleep. she has a deadline for an essay on shakespeare’s sonnets looming over her her head, an older boyfriend she needs to make a decision about, and a routine that she is desperately trying to stick to.

the novel is a brief yet intimate look at what it means to be in a body, how the forces of desire and productivity influence what we do with our days, and how easy it is to get distracted. i typically love a no plot just vibes book and i really enjoyed how detailed and descriptive the writing was, but felt a bit detached from annabel’s personality at times, maybe due to the third person perspective. i did really relate to the way she strives to stick to a routine and enjoyed her appreciation for the small, mundane habits of every day life (making coffee, taking a walk, doing yoga). i can understand the comparisons to martin riker’s the guest lecture, but practice didn’t have quite as much interiority.

parts of this reminded me of the fantasy scenes in claire-louise bennett’s checkout 19 - the imaginary characters of the scholar and the seducer accompany annabel throughout her day. i preferred the sections that were focused more on annabel’s activities and writing process than the sections about those two characters, but i understand that they demonstrate her struggle to balance academics with desire. my personal tastes as a reader just always tend towards more literal depictions of what’s going on rather than metaphorical ones.

overall, shows signs of a promising writer but not quite the book for me!

“And every day she has to catch and deal with little wisps of resistance: but broadly, there it is, the routine is well established, it gathers and directs all her various strengths and susceptibilities.”

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I’m not sure who this book was for but I know it wasn’t for me. I think there are storylines where it’s appropriate to say it takes place over the course of the day. It’s possible to do this without it being tedious but unfortunately I feel that this story was.

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One day in the life of a student who's trying to focus on writing an essay about Shakespeare's sonnets, who is also very much distracted by anyone, anything and a flurry of thoughts and fancies that flit through her mind.

The form for this was so interesting and inventive. Most of the small reflections are a paragraph or very short pages as she reflects on something, tries to focus on some distraction in hopes of being able to channel some epiphany on how to proceed on her essay. But to be honest, it felt very claustrophobic, maybe a little too real. Since we're only ever in her mind surrounded by her thoughts, the direction of the book is all over the place and changes are sporadic. Some parts were far more interesting than others, the masturbation and fantasies were really amusing and funny, but a lot of other parts for me were not. I guess in that way it was very realistic in it's portrayal of somebody trying to get something done and also really trying not to get something done.

I wish I also liked Shakespeare more. I can't recall any of the sonnets that I've ever read. I really only remember his plays and couldn't really probably appreciate some of the deeper references that I'm sure Brown was making, for instance are the seducer and scholar references to some recurring characters from Shakespeare sonnets?

I enjoyed the ending more. There was a period in the middle where it really dragged with the fantasies and all of the fixations but it could also have been that I finally got more used to being in her headspace and just went with the flow.

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This just didn’t coalesce for me. I think the book is very confused and underwhelming. I would have preferred had it stayed a stream-of-consciousness take, but then it veered into a different story between THE SEDUCER and THE SCHOLAR that I found uninteresting. Disappointed

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Practice is a book that takes place over the course of one day. It's centered on the thoughts of Annabel, a student at Oxford, as she prepares to write an essay on Shakespeare's sonnets.

I wouldn't have expected to enjoy reading about the minutiae of one's regular day as much as I did, but it was surprisingly comforting and fascinating. This isn't the type of book with page-turning action sequences. Instead, you get a front row seat into a young scholar's imagination, fears, and introspections.

I really enjoyed this book and kind of wish I knew what happened to her the following day and beyond. For anyone who loves a unique, character-driven novel, this would be an excellent choice.

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From the description I wasn’t sure if I would love this, but then it was like eating a mug of hot chocolate with a spoon. So pleasing. Beautifully earnest. The descriptions of yoga and needing to pee… revelatory. I was highlighting all over the place.

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Annabel is a student at Oxford trying to write a paper about Shakespeare's sonnets.

PRACTICE is very much in the vein, structurally, of novels like 'The Guest Lecture' and 'The Novelist'—tightly inside the mind of one character, listening in while they work through their creative and intellectual process. I was interested to learn that Rosalind Brown's academic work focused on the "the concept of discipline, particularly self-discipline, and...cultural fascination with the forms of self-discipline practised by writers." I liked how thinky it was—even when blown off course of her routine, the thoughts of this very particular and almost acetic 19-year-old stayed rarefied and surprising. I liked the attention to the exigencies of hydration, and how even the sticklers and hardos have messy romantic entanglements and longings.

Spiritually and stylistically, I think it's very contemporarily British: PRACTICE reminded me a lot of the work of Sarah Moss and Claire-Louise Bennett. (I'm wondering how this is going to play in the US.) One of my favorite parts of PRACTICE was how the main character, even when she's focused on writing a paper, can't help but add details and scenarios to the lives of two characters she's made up in her head, called only 'Scholar' and 'Seducer,' who are living much more dramatic lives in an imaginary Oxford parallel to hers. Fun!

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Rosalind Brown’s debut novel is getting some glowing and gushing pre-publication buzz, and I was lucky enough to receive a review copy from the publisher. As someone who has spent much of the past 20 years in and around academia, I was drawn to the premise: it sounded like a slightly different kind of campus novel. Brown is undoubtedly a gifted writer, but ultimately I think the premise was a little thin to maintain an entire novel.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, just so it’s clear: Brown is a very good writer, and there are plenty of excellent passages sprinkled throughout Practice — moments of wry humour, great observation and/or description. The characters who enter Annabel’s day are very well drawn, and one of them almost gave me whiplash, she was so like someone I know (in terms of cadence, style, etc. — it was uncanny).

As someone who has experienced a great many days at college, struggling to get to grips with an assignment, I found Brown’s protagonist’s experiences relatable and often amusing. The author does a very good job of writing the sense of frustration when a concept or direction feel aggravatingly just out of reach, constantly slipping out of your grasp. Or getting derailed, as the unrelated thoughts of a young mind bubble up and intrude — it can be so hard to focus on work, when you’re hungry, horny, and tired.

"She is underwritten by this: this catacomb of her own bleak, confusing desires."

At the same time, the novel’s momentum dropped precipitously when I was about a third of the way in. It becomes clear why a single day in the life of a university English major is not a common/popular premise for a full-length novel. Similarly, if nothing really happens, the inner thoughts of a college student (brilliant or otherwise) aren’t as riveting as they might believe. (Perhaps this book is an attempt to illustrate the quiet narcissism of people in their early 20s.) The novel also features some modern literary fiction tropes: confusing affair with an older man? Check! Blunt and “shocking” language about body parts and sex? Check! It’s either a bit bland (affair); or it’s just not as affecting as it’s maybe supposed to be (use of the word “c*nt”, for example).

In some ways, this novel is more an interesting writing exercise than it is an interesting novel. Brown does a very good job of making Annabel a somewhat engaging character, and if you’ve lived a day anything like the protagonist’s — whether at university, or remote working, or just struggling to focus on a deadline while the rest of your life intrudes — then you’ll likely find plenty of moments that you can related to and sympathize with. There are also a fair number of amusing and clever turns of phrase. It’s just, at the end of (Annabel’s) day, I didn’t feel especially satisfied by the read.

A cautious recommendation, then, if you’re looking a something short and tightly-focused in scale, if not particularly gripping in terms of plot. Despite this not really landing for me, I am nevertheless interested to read whatever Brown writes next.

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I think this book was good. I requested it because it sounded interesting, and it was. The cast of characters was interesting and all so different from one another.

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