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A rigorously researched, lyrical tour de force

Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile

Alice Jolly
Status: published
Publication Date: 14.06.2018
  • Paperback£9.99
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A rigorously researched, lyrical tour de force


Longlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2019

2019 Walter Scott Prize Academy recommendation

If you tell a story oft enough

So it become true

As the nineteenth century draws towards a close, Mary Ann Sate, an elderly maidservant, sets out to write her truth.

She writes of the Valleys that she loves, of the poisonous rivalry between her employer's two sons and of a terrible choice which tore her world apart.

Her haunting and poignant story brings to life a period of strife and rapid social change, and evokes the struggles of those who lived in poverty and have been forgotten by history.

In this fictional found memoir, novelist Alice Jolly uses the astonishing voice of Mary Ann to recreate history as seen from a woman's perspective and to give joyful, poetic voice to the silenced women of the past.

'What distinguishes Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile from more conventional historical novels is Jolly’s daring experiment in form, and her extraordinary handling of language... A rigorously researched, lyrical tour de force' Guardian


If you tell a story oft enough
So it become true

Words like the twisting grain of wood
Or the course of a slow running river
Have ways they must evr go

Who might I be to wield the axe cross the grain
Or try to untwist the flow of water

Yet I take up this my pen
To set down here my story
Bone blood brain

What does a soul look like
If you write him on paper
Yes soil also how may he be held
Within this fragile mesh of words

Yet so tis certain
Soil hisself must find his tongue
My story being but one speck of grit
In the swelling ballad of these valleys

Oh how I do love to see them once again
The light brush cross their emerald edges
As the sun bloom and wither day on day

Soil soul and sin too
Soon all one
The hours hurry at my shoulder
The words will not wait

Yea these valleys were my beginning
I come here first on the black ridge of the night
A coach tumbling falling many clattering mile
I know nothing afore

I sit on the back next a basket of chickens
The coach roll and pitch stars unspool behind me
Through a banner of black

The coach cut through all
Chickens screaming feathers poking out
Through the thick twist basket weave
My hand numb as I grip tight head nodding

Not a house a tree a man a beast or a devil
Only the road
Slap of the horses hooves creak of a wheel
Tear and drag of a wind
Tips and tussles distant trees
Til sudden the coach falls forward into Stillness

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