Arts & Culture

Book Reviews: March 2017

The latest from Andrew Motion and Katharine Noel.

Coming In to Land

By Andrew Motion (HarperCollins)

This collection has a tall order to fill—encompass the 40-year career of a man who served as poet laureate of the United Kingdom for a decade and was knighted for his contributions to the arts. And its mission is made particularly challenging because the poet, Andrew Motion—now a professor at The Johns Hopkins University—has managed to cover much in the way of human experience through his work. There are poems where family and man’s relationship with the natural world are often subjects, set against the backdrop of the English countryside. There are the verses where the experience of war comes into focus, including some inspired by recordings Motion made of British soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. His later poems transport us to places like Australia, Asia, and the United States, expanding his reach but somehow also hitting closer to home. What makes this book extraordinary is that we experience the evolution of a poetic master whose insight only increases with time. We see him experiment with stanza, imagery, voice, and character, and watch his emotional dives grow deeper.

See our full interview with writer and professor Andrew Motion.


By Katharine Noel (Black Cat)

From the start, this novel is surprising and intriguing, delving into the human psyche and demonstrating how the past can follow us through our lives. We are introduced to the main character, Claire, when she’s in middle school, at a point when her life has become really complicated. Claire’s father and his mistress have decided that both their families—yes, spouses included—should live together communally, which has drastic implications. We see its effect when we meet Claire again, decades later. Now, she’s married to a man who has just had someone from the past re-enter his life, and as the couple copes with a tremendous blow to his health, Claire worries that she is seeing echoes of her childhood experiences in their relationship. Noel—a Baltimore resident who teaches at The Johns Hopkins University—has an engrossing, psychological style that is also heartbreakingly human. Claire’s emotions are laid bare before us, which allows us to think of our own shared experiences, and reflect on just how complicated life can be.