Although there is no way they could have known, Emma Glass (or at any rate Emma Glass’ publishers) couldn’t have scheduled her second novel, Rest and Be Thankful, at a better time. Glass, a nurse by day, has followed up Peach, which you’ll remember was a sort of Girl is a Half-Formed Thing-esque tale of sexual attack, with the story of a young nurse on a ward caring for sick children. Like Peach, the book is composed of short chapters; like Peach, the language is poetic, repetitive, possibly an acquired taste in some senses; and like Peach, there are passages which you might class as disturbing or difficult. Unlike Peach, however, for the most part, Rest and Be Thankful is rooted in a world that you’ll recognise.
Glass is something of a Marmite writer. You imagine that there will be readers who don’t warm to the musicality of her language. Here, for example, she’s talking about her vivid dreams:
“It is strange to dream. So I don’t. I drift, I shudder, I drift, I shudder, I drift, I shudder I do this for hours until I am shuddering shuddering, the walls shake, I am not fully awake, the phone is ringing ringing in sleep in real life, blood rises when I rise, walk, sleepwalking. Waking.”
You can tell she is a writer who strains to be welcomed alongside the heroes of modernism (we interviewed her around the publication of Peach, and she shared that she’s a huge fan of Gertrude Stein). She’s scratching at the ground looking for a kind of truth. You feel her authorial fingers picking.
And yet, just as in Peach, it is when Glass turns toward the shadows that the book gets you in its grip:
“…we all see things on the ward. Especially after a death. I’m forever jumping at shadows, I always see ghosts. Think I see ghosts but they’re not really there. Tired eyes and dark corner, sleeping silence, it doesn’t take much. We’re all wound up, you’re not going crazy.”
There’s an undoubted power here, made – it has to be said – all the more resonant by the fact that people the length and breadth of the land are standing on their doorsteps currently clapping NHS workers. “These visions in me,” Glass writes. “They are my veins, they are my heartstrings. They stitch me together, running black stitches. There is blackness in my peripheral vision.” You could hear Robert Smith singing these words as lyrics. (Which I offer as a compliment but which I can see would be anathema to some. Glass, like we say, is an acquired taste.)
Given we now have both Peach and Rest and Be Thankful, we think we hope we can see where Glass goes next – and that would be a horror novel. We’d love to see her turn her hand to a definite chiller. Maybe a Rest and Be Thankful sequel where a few of those dead babies come back… We can live in hope eh?
Any Cop?: It’s a slim read but an affecting one and if Glass earns herself a few new readers by writing an NHS novel (effectively) at a time such as this, all the better.