The Shapeless Unease

Samantha Harvey's insomnia arrived, seemingly, from nowhere; for a year she has spent her nights chasing sleep that rarely comes. She's tried everything to appease it. Nothing is helping.

What happens when one of the basic human needs goes unmet? For Samantha Harvey, extreme sleep deprivation resulted in a raw clarity about life itself.

Original and profound, The Shapeless Unease is a startlingly insightful exploration of memory, writing and influence, death and grief, and the will to survive.

'What a spectacularly good book. It is so controlled and yet so wild. One of the best books I’ve read about writing. One of the best books I’ve read about swimming. One of the best books I’ve read about mourning. And easily one of the truest and best books I’ve read about what it’s like to be alive now, in this country.' MAX PORTER
'A masterpiece, so good I can hardly breathe. I'm completely floored by it.' HELEN MACDONALD
''The Shapeless Unease' captures the essence of fractious emotions - anxiety, fear, grief, rage - in prose so elegant, so luminous, it practically shines from the page. Harvey is a hugely talented writer, and this is a book to relish.' SARAH WATERS
'I am still shuddering, almost, from the beautiful, beautiful writing and its broken, angry, vibrant demand - a dare almost - to accept life, and brave it, with all it brings.' CYNAN JONES
'This book felt enormous to me, mercurial, devastating, seeming to grapple with the nature of everything in a manner so compelling it is impossible not to be swept along. A book to return to again and again.' DAISY JOHNSON
'How can a book about sensual deprivation be so sensuous and full? Gritty with particulars, concrete and substantial even when it is most philosophical and far-reaching. I loved reading it before I fell asleep every night - it seemed to give my sleep resonance and poetry. What a beautiful book.' TESSA HADLEY
'It's funny, sad, wry, always worrying away at the mystery of sleep and its absence and finding endless new angles so that the whole has something of the quality of those waking dreams that haunt the insomniac and her private country.' ANDREW MILLER
'An explosive wallop of a book and a glorious portrait of a beautiful mind. 'The Shapeless Unease' is bright and electrifying, completely reasoned and wildly unhinged.' JAMIE QUATRO
'A small miracle of a book. Reading it feels like its own kind of lucid dream . . . You would imagine a book written in such circumstances would have a hazy quality, but in fact its clarity of expression is startling. Sam Harvey is the most exceptionally gifted of authors, and here she demonstrates that she can do anything.' NATHAN FILER
The Shapeless Unease

The Western Wind

Oakham, near Bruton, is a tiny village by a big river without a bridge. When a man is swept away by the river in the early hours of Shrove Saturday, an explanation has to be found. Was it murder, or suicide, or an accident? The whole story is relayed by the village priest, John Reve, who in his role as confessor is privy to a lot of information that others do not have. But will he be able to explain what happened to the victim, Tom Newman, the wealthiest, most capable man in the village? And what will happen if he can't?

The Western Wind is set in 1491, and is told backwards over the four days of Shrovetide, as we witness Reve's struggle to bring clarity to the events that caused Newman's death.

'The truly extraordinary thing about this novel is the way Harvey recreates the mindset and beliefs of the medieval world, and makes the concerns of 500 years ago vivid and immediate . . . It is quite unlike anything I have read.' THE BOOKSELLER
'One of the UK's most exquisite stylists.' THE GUARDIAN
'Harvey’s is a story of suspense, yes. It is a story of a community crowded with shadows and secrets. But to read this novel is to experience a kind of catharsis. In John Reve, a 15th-century priest at war with his instincts and inclinations and at times even with his own flock, we find a kind of Everyman, and Harvey delivers a singular character at once completely unfamiliar and wholly universal.' THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
‘[A] rich and sumptuous delight. At the micro-level of the individual sentences, the language manages to be both luminously lyrical and endlessly sharp. […] On the wider historical level, the compelling portrait of that medieval world is given added poignancy by the distant drumbeat of the Reformation – and with it, a reminder that it’s a world far more precarious than anybody in it could possibly have imagined. […] And, in the end, for all its many other qualities – including the more traditional satisfactions of pace and plotting – it’s perhaps as a character study that The Western Wind works most triumphantly, with Reve’s spectacularly mixed motives impeccably delineated. […] [E]ven the most glowing reviews of [Harvey’s] work have tended to be accompanied by a rueful acknowledgement of how underrated she is. The Western Wind will surely mean that she’s not underrated any more.’ THE TELEGRAPH
'The Western Wind must be in the running for one of the year's best novels.' THE SPECTATOR
‘[W]hile Samantha Harvey’s fourth novel is on the surface a medieval whodunit, it is also a fine character study, and a brilliantly convincing evocation of both time and place. Father Reve is a wonderful creation: patient, wry, humane, riven by doubt and full of empathy for the villagers who come to his little church to confess their trivial sins. His voice is totally convincing, never slipping into caricature or cliché, and Harvey creates for him an inner life so rich and detailed that at times the experience her book engenders is less like reading a novel and more akin to time travel – something I’ve only previously encountered in the work of Hilary Mantel. And like Mantel, Harvey’s historical research is exemplary, but lightly worn: she evokes the drab, circumscribed but shifting late medieval world by telling details often related to the senses, rather than relying on historical exposition, hammy language or clumsy attempts to make strange. There is great pleasure to be had in those vertiginous moments when authentic, banal reality – what the medieval friar-philosopher Duns Scotus would have called the haecceitas, or “thisness” of the past – seems briefly to make itself known to the imagination, and The Western Wind is almost uniquely satisfying in this regard.’ THE FINANCIAL TIMES
'The Western Wind is as densely packed as all of Harvey’s work: it’s a historical novel full of the liveliness and gristle of the period it depicts; an absorbing mystery with an unpredictable flurry of twists in its last few pages; a scarily nuanced examination of a long-term moral collapse; a beautifully conceived and entangled metaphor for Britain’s shifting relationships with Europe. But most of all it’s a deeply human novel of the grace to be found in people.' THE GUARDIAN
'Samantha Harvey’s fourth book is so ingenious in its plotting and characterisation that it begs to be read twice – the second reading a confirmation of what is slowly, tantalisingly revealed in the first . . . [Her] prose is luminous, a wonderfully lyrical look at the way religious belief and pragmatism battle it out in the heart of a good man.' DAILY EXPRESS
'An imposing medieval mystery about a fearful religious community in the grips of secrecy . . .  A dazzling, challenging read but one worth taking on.' KIRKUS
A transportive meditation on faith, choice, and community . . . THE WESTERN WIND is one of the best books I've read this year; a sumptuous philosophical mystery with style and substance in equal measure. Read it!' BOOKMARKS, NORTH CAROLINA
'Told in quietly arresting prose… the narrative moves to a superbly conceived ending… Highly recommended for readers of literary and historical fiction.' LIBRARY JOURNAL (US)
'[T]his compulsively readable portrait of doubt and faith reveals, in small lives, humanity’s biggest questions.' BOOKLIST STARRED REVIEW (US)
The Western Wind

Dear Thief

In the middle of a winter's night, a woman wraps herself in a blanket, picks up a pen and starts writing to an estranged friend.   Without knowing if her friend, Butterfly, is alive or dead, she writes night after night - a letter of friendship that turns into something more revealing and recriminating. By turns a belated outlet for rage, an act of self-defence, and an offering of forgiveness, the letter revisits a betrayal that happened a decade and a half before, and dissects what is left of a friendship caught between the forces of hatred and love.   Dear Thief was longlisted for the Bailey's Prize and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. It was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.  
'Beautiful . . . Exhilarating . . . Remarkable' JAMES WOOD, THE NEW YORKER
'Harvey has struck gold . . . So intimate, so honest, so raw.' THE GUARDIAN
'Ravishing . . . Harvey offers an incandescent vision of hope and acceptance.' SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
'Dear Thief is a hypnotic, beautiful and sometimes dark incantation - a letter to an old friend that lures the reader in and doesn't let go. Samantha Harvey's novel is a deftly drawn reminder of our deeply held human desire for connection and the risk involved in the revelation of that desire.' A.M. HOMES
'Samantha Harvey's Dear Thief is a novel of profound beauty.' MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM
'One of the most beguiling novels of the year . . . [Harvey] is this generation's Virginia Woolf.' DAILY TELEGRAPH
Dear Thief

All is Song

It is late summer in London. Leonard Deppling returns to the capital from Scotland, where he has spent the past year nursing his dying father. Missing from the funeral was his older brother William, who lives in the north of the city with his wife and three young sons. Leonard is alone and rootless – separated from his partner and on a sabbatical from work. He moves in with William, hoping to renew their friendship, and to unite their now diminished family.

William is a former lecturer and activist who now runs informal meetings with ex-students. Defiantly unworldly and forever questioning, he is a man who believes that happiness and freedom come only from knowing oneself, and who spends his life examining the extent of his ignorance. Yet for all Leonard’s attempts at closeness with his brother, he comes to share his late father’s anxieties about the eccentricities of William’s behaviour.

But it seems William has already set his own fate in motion, when news comes of a young student who has followed one of his arguments to a shocking conclusion. Rather than submit, William embraces the danger in the only way he knows how – a decision which threatens to consume not only himself, but his entire family.

Set against the backdrop of tabloid frenzies and an escalating national crisis, All Is Song is a novel about filial and moral duty, and about the choice of questioning above conforming. It is a work of remarkable perception, intensity and resonance from one of Britain’s most promising young writers.

‘Profound, beautiful, cathartic writing.’ THE TELEGRAPH
‘Harvey’s prose is graceful and unhurried, full of sharp observation and moments of subtly understated pathos.’ THE GUARDIAN
‘This beautiful composition does that rare thing, of provoking free thought while scrutinising the far-reaching repercussions of such rebellious activity.’ – THE INDEPENDENT
‘Harvey’s slow, intense thoughtfulness feels positively Woolfean at times. She thinks deeply, and writes beautifully about these thoughts.’ THE SUNDAY TIMES
‘Intense, rewarding, and bracingly serious.’ FINANCIAL TIMES
We call upon the author to explain
When we discuss what novels are about, I think it’s sometimes true that the author’s answer will be different to the reader’s. This is the case for All Is Song, which is, to me, a book that tries to re-imagine and reinterpret the life of Socrates in the modern western world. I’m sure that this isn’t what the book appeared to be about for most readers, especially those who know nothing about Socrates. I can’t anticipate what it might be about for others. Each and every reader response is definitive. So all I attempt to do here in this very short space is say what motivated me to write it, and what I wanted to say. William is a very loose refashioning of Socrates, with a biography largely borrowed from him. I have referenced events and aspects of Socrates’ life continually for those who would know to look out for it, but want at no point for the uninitiated reader to feel lost or excluded from a private joke. I wrote about Socrates because I wanted to explore how the deeply questioning mind is tolerated in modern society. If we look back on Socrates now at all, we tend to do so with fondness, respect and a tacit disapproval of the society that put him to death. Those feckless ancients! And yet, are we any better? So often I feel that in the centuries of astonishing progress since Socrates’ death, the one area in which we’ve shown little progress is in our willingness to look honestly at ourselves, as individuals, and be prepared to question the validity of the things we believe, even where this means letting go of views we’ve come to identify with. Would we be any more tolerant towards a person who insisted, absolutely insisted, on doing this now? All Is Song is an open-ended exploration of this question, and from this basic starting point the figure of Socrates himself fades away and those of William and Leonard come into being. Then the novel is wrested away from Socrates and becomes, absolutely, theirs.
All is Song

The Wilderness

Jake Jameson is a sixty-five-year-old architect who is on the cusp of retirement. One evening he’s sitting alone in the office, staring down at an architectural drawing. He can’t quite figure out what he’s supposed to do with it. Suddenly he remembers a word, one for which he has been trying for days to recall; entropy – for him the single most interesting theory that exists, a theory that says everything loses, rather than gains, order.

This idea underlies this riveting tale of a man whose memories are slowly eroding. As Alzheimer’s begins to wear away his sense of identity, Jake builds stories around his life that inform his feelings of blame and responsibility – only to have the stories disintegrate faster than he can capture them. As the plot keeps shifting and the facts unravel, little mysteries start to form: What was the problem with the missing letter “e”? What was behind the mythologies that his Jewish mother told him as a child? Where is his daughter Alice? What happened to her? Eventually we realise that even Jake’s clearest memories may not be true. He is the flawed witness to his own past, the ultimate unreliable narrator. Yet in the end we are left with a clear and moving portrait not only of a sympathetic man but also of a heartrending disease as seen from the inside out.

Arrestingly understated and wise, The Wilderness is a memorable first novel by an extraordinarily gifted new writer.

The Wilderness was shortlisted for The Guardian First Book Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and won the inaugural AMI Literature Award and the Betty Trask Prize.

‘Brave and intelligent – a mesmerising work.’ THE INDEPENDENT
‘Harvey shows her remarkable powers of empathy and her no less remarkable literary skill . . . from start to finish her control is absolute. I can think of few more distinguished literary debuts in recent years.’ LITERARY REVIEW
‘Deeply original and captivating . . . Full of urgent life that it rouses even as it terrifies.’ OBSERVER
 We call upon the author to explain
Czeslaw Milosz, ‘The Past’:
‘The past is inaccurate. Whoever lives long enough knows how much what he had seen with his own eyes becomes overgrown with rumor, legend, a magnifying or belittling hearsay. “It was not like that at all!” – he would like to exclaim, but will not, for they would have seen only his moving lips without hearing his voice.’
I found this short passage long after I finished writing The Wilderness, but it sums the novel up for me. The past is inaccurate, Milosz says, and I love the stress on the last word. Never was there a more inaccurate thing; it’s a fiction that we are driven to invent around a few (ever diminishing) known facts, in the attempt to define who we are. But our past selves, too, are fictional. The self I was this morning, or thirty years ago, is a fictional character. And, for me, The Wilderness is about this: Jake is a man who, in the disintegration of his memories through dementia, is trying not to become fictional to himself. He fails, though, because he is bound to fail. I wanted to question in the novel whether this failure matters. The rumour and legend he builds around his own past become half-satisfying to him, perhaps more so than the reality of past events as they happened, and I think we all do this in our own ways – reinvent the past so that it is more acceptable to us. At the end of the novel Jake is left with a whittled universe, but one in which he is still the agent and hero of his own life in whatever limited way. Maybe this leaves him with something broadly inaccurate but fundamentally true, some adamance that he is more than this sum of forgotten things. Milosz again, speaking about ‘old people’:
‘They were betrayed by their bodies, once beautiful and ready to dance. Yet in every one a lamp of consciousness is burning, hence their wonder: “Is this me? But it can’t be so!”’
Jake also thinks this. Is this me? I wanted him to refuse to accept, in whatever way still available to him, that it is. But I don’t know if this is an insight I was trying to express, or just my own vague hope. (The Milosz quotations are from Road-side Dog; the sub-heading is from Nick Cave.)
The Wilderness
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