Book Review: Ruth and Pen – Emilie Pine

Posted June 7, 2022 in Book Review

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Ruth and Pen

Emilie Pine

Hamish Hamilton

Following her piercing memoir Notes to Self, Emilie Pine’s first novel unfolds over one day in two women’s lives: therapist Ruth, floored by the breakdown of a marriage and the near-miss of an IVF child which never came; and neurodivergent teenager Pen, braving a first date at a climate protest, despite struggling with newness, noise and crowds.

Unknown to each other, both face up to the expectations of a world they don’t easily fit into. They resist the compulsion to be ‘fixed’, to conform. They insist on remaining themselves. Countless decisions and heartbreaks occur in the everyday – in this day. By drawing attention to momentous yet ordinary moments, Pine lends the same empathy which characterises her essays to the fictional characters depicted here.

A remarkable feat of this novel, as Pen observes herself, is “the way words touch the surface of things, sliding across the world and your tongue. Some words can make you feel loved and soft, and others dent and damage.”

The mundane is written with a wry warmth, carefully constructed around clock-time yet outside of time, two lives drawn out in a day. One of Ruth’s clients, recounting his daily routine, stops to say, “I can’t think how boring this is for you.” Recalling Beckett (“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”), she smiles: “Please, go on.” So, much as Ruth listens and Pen feels words, I read on.

Words: Hannah Clarkson


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