Thursday, July 18, 2019


Naomi Booth is a fiction writer and academic. Her first work of fiction, The Lost Art of Sinking, emerged from research into the literary history of swooning, and won the Saboteur Award for Best Novella 2016 as well as being selected for New Writing North’s Read Regional campaign 2017.

Booth applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Sealed, and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘Look at this,’ he says, turning towards the valley and the mountains. ‘No smog out here. Clean as a whistle. Smell that air!’

I breathe in through my nose. It smells cleaner than the city, for sure. It’s a complex mix, there are tones in there: the hot acacia hits you first, green and waxy, but then there’s something sharper, a bit like petrol, and after-notes of charcoal ash. Things smell different to me now, stronger and more distinct. Before we left the city, I’d stopped going out on weekends when there was smog. I could smell the pollution hours before it descended: I could distinguish all the different acrid layers that make up its piss-yellow haze. It made me dizzy and nauseated. Pete says it’s the pregnancy, says it can make you hyper-alert to scents and tastes.
Pete and Alice have left the city to try to escape its toxic environment and a strange skin condition that is affecting people there. This passage on page 69 captures a lot of things that are at play in Sealed: Alice is heavily pregnant and highly anxious. She’s hyper-attuned to the environment in a way that Pete isn’t—and it’s not clear if this is paranoia, or a result of pregnancy, or another kind of intuition. Pete is optimistic in a way that can seem to belittle her sense of the world as threatening, and there’s a tension in the novel around that clash of emotional worldviews: he’s hopeful while she’s fearful. Alice’s experience of pregnancy is an important part of the story: she has a highly ambivalent relationship to being pregnant, and this is reflected here through scent—pregnancy has made her more sensitive to the potential toxicity of the air around her, and the whole world feels and smells poisonous to Alice. Another crucial element of the novel is the landscapes in which it is set: Pete and Alice move to a rural, mountainous area, which is beautiful and vast. Pete experiences this in a positive way, but for Alice the beauty of this environment is darkened with danger: this is a landscape that might ultimately prove deadly—poisoned and poisonous, liable to catch fire, and full of strange, unpredictable animal life.
Visit Naomi Booth's website.

--Marshal Zeringue