On Fanny Howe

Ange Mlinko

Fanny Howe is so adept at creating floating worlds, gossamer meditations on being and art, that a reader might mistake autobiographical anecdotes for fables. In the final piece in her 2009 essay collection, The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation, she goes to a café in Paris to meet an unnamed older woman, vaguely a colleague, whose existential pronouncements bear down harshly: ‘You are welcome to commit suicide. Everyone is … Suicide bombers don’t want to live anymore, they want to go to Paradise at once, but do they get there?’ ‘You are suffering from the empty nest. I can see it in your body and on your face. No wonder. You know that no one but children will ever love you again.’ She dismisses Howe with a moral instruction: ‘Take care of the children.’ And the book ends with Howe telling ‘the children’ (who appear elliptically, in unstated relation to her) about Hans Christian Andersen, and feeding them baguettes and apples en route to Ireland.

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[*] Graywolf, 144 pp., £12.50, November 2016, 978 1 5559 7756 6.