Ashland & Vine

John Burnside

It is 1999. Kate Lambert, a grieving, semi-alcoholic film student, invites an elderly woman to take part in an oral-history documentary. The woman, Jean Culver, declines, but makes her a bizarre counter-offer: if Kate can stay sober for four days, she will tell her a story. And if she can stay sober beyond that, there will be another, and then another, amounting to the entire history of one family’s life.

Though still shattered by the death of her father, and by the desultory abuse imposed by Laurits, her enigmatic collaborator and erstwhile lover – Kate is soon drawn into a Scheherazade-like matrix of tales, some painfully final, some still unfinished, in which Jean gradually offers a heartbreaking account, not only of one family, but of the American century itself, from World War II to Vietnam and the Weather Underground.

A profound, mysterious, deeply moving novel – a meeting of love and grief, like water on arid soil – Ashland & Vine is the story of an unlikely friendship that transcends time, age and the limits of narrative to reveal the unexpected grace that comes of listening to another’s history, while telling, as carefully as we can, what we know of our own.

  • Jonathan Cape
  • Published 1st February 2017
  • 352 Pages
  • 146mm x 228mm x 34mm
  • 485g
  • £16.99