The Gravedigger’s Daughter
By Joyce Carol Oates
Fourth Estate £18.99
FT bookshop price: £15.19

Joyce Carol Oates’s 36th novel is a daunting prospect: 600 pages of what at first seems like unrelenting grimness, set in the middle of the last century. Our heroine is Rebecca, a hardened woman who, after a horrific upbringing, ends up in a small town in New York state with an alcoholic husband and young child. A stranger mistakes her for another woman and spurs her to reinvent herself.

This keenly felt saga is based on the life of the author’s grandmother. The prose is as sinewy as the main character. While the story is never dull, there is too much of it. Reading it all feels more of a chore than it should. Perhaps the truth is that when a writer is as distinguished as Joyce Carol Oates, no one dares to suggest she could do with a little editing.

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