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The Independent Culture
2 Little Thing by Susan Wicks, Faber pounds 9.99. Susan Wicks made her name first as a fine poet, with an eye for detail and a gift for conveying the earthiness of everyday experience. Little Thing, her second novel, is filled with byways of pleasure for the reader: noses are plunged into smells, mouths stuffed with tastes, eyes and ears washed with sights and sounds, skin teased with touch. Even a small act like dumping the rubbish is gorgeously enacted through the senses. This approach is realised most fully - and movingly, too - in Wicks's attention to the all-absorbing physicality of pregnancy, birth and new motherhood.

Wicks's novel is set in France; the heroine, Sarah, teaches English at university. As the book begins her future is uncertain, her job lost. She's alone with her child, facing a move back to England. But she's found herself one anchor. "None of it matters now I have the child," is the novel's startling first sentence.

The French setting allows Wicks to dwell on issues of uncertainty, of the difficulties of language and understanding, the impossibility of knowing or relying on others. Nothing is clear-cut. The child's father has left early in Sarah's pregnancy, a student writes treacherous notes of complaint about her, and it isn't obvious from the reaction of her seniors whether she's seen as a hard-working, dependable teacher or a disaster in the classroom. Her daughter's pre-verbal range of sound-making seems, at first, to be the most dependable form of communication but, as the novel gathers force, there is doubt even here.

The five sections of the novel look through Sarah's eyes at her own predicament. In each, a tiny shift of angle, a little movement in the time-frame gradually builds up frightening momentum. What was real in one section plays out with permutations in another until certainty becomes an impossibility and - I can't give more detail without giving the game away - the reader is swept deftly into a different form of knowing. It's a shapely book with an almost musical, pattern of theme and variation, the concerns of motherhood, children and loss always brought back to the centre - almost rhythmically - and set there by Wicks's instinct for pattern as well as the necessary drive to get to the heart of the matter. What a treat: at last someone has solved the problem of how to experiment, con brio, with time and form in the novel and yet keep it readable, accessible and full of heart. Jo Shapcott