01 December 2021, The Tablet

Good company: Ann Patchett's essays

Good company: Ann Patchett's essays

These Precious Days
(BLOOMSBURY, 336 PP, £16.99)
Tablet Bookshop price £15.29 • Tel 020 7799 4064

Collections of essays need to have a guiding theme if they’re to be more than a bunch of pieces swept together, some barely outliving the initial commission. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the pandemic gives this book an overall shape and purpose, from the amiable introduction through to the long penultimate account of lockdown which provides the title. Patchett has a way of infusing even the most apparently simple pieces – on knitting, decluttering or not shopping for a year – with a deeper meaning. At the very least, reading them is like spending time with a thoughtful, warm and positive friend. 

The author of prizewinning best-sellers such as Bel Canto, State of Wonder and her most recent, The Dutch House, Patchett reveals that the fear of sudden death tends to occur when she’s midway through writing a novel. What would all those painstakingly drawn characters do if their author fell off a cliff while hiking, or drowned in a lake? Coronavirus merely added another layer of anxiety; but the reaper, she observes, doesn’t seem to hang around so much when she writes essays, which made this an excellent project to pursue while the world stalled.

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