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Susan's Review

English author Rosalind Brown’s debut novel Practice comes with a front-cover endorsement from Jon McGregor, one of my favourite contemporary fiction writers: “Reading this book is a strange and shimmering joy: a glimpse of a miracle.” While this might sound like the usual hype, Practice thoroughly deserves the praise. It’s an enthralling, highly imaginative novel, one I will eagerly re-read for the beauty of its prose, its emotional intensity and complex characterisation.

The main character and perspective of the novel is Annabel, an undergraduate at Oxford University studying English Literature, who is burdened by the requirement to write an essay on Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Without the guidance of a set question and given the massive weight of scholarship on the Sonnets, Annabel struggles to find something interesting or ‘new’ to write. The novel uses this abstract academic dilemma to explore the conflict between the life of the mind and the life of the body: between the self-discipline required to pursue a scholarly life and the distractions of a young woman’s desire for sex (be prepared for highly explicit language and sex scenes).

This character-driven novel concludes with Annabel making difficult choices in preparation for adulthood. Practice be read as a “strange and shimmering” coming-of-age novel that takes place in the space of a single, emotionally turbulent day.

A most unusual, exquisitely written, at times wryly humorous novel. Highly recommended.

Publishers Reviews

In a small room in an Oxford college, cold and dim and full of quiet, an undergraduate student works on an essay about Shakespeare's sonnets.

Annabel has a meticulously planned routine for her day - work, yoga, meditation, long walks; no apples after meals, no coffee on an empty stomach - but finds it repeatedly thrown off course. Despite her efforts, she cannot stop her thoughts slipping off their intended track into the shadows of elaborate erotic fantasies.

And as the essay's deadline looms, so too does the irrepressible presence of other people: Annabel's boyfriend Rich, keen to come and visit her; her family and friends who demand her attention; and darker crises, obliquely glimpsed, all threatening to disturb the much-cherished quiet in her mind.

Exquisitely crafted, wryly comic, and completely original, Practice is a novel about the life of the mind and the life of the body, about the repercussions of a rigid routine and the deep pleasures of literature.