Ash before Oak

Jeremy Cooper

French paperback with flaps, 536 pages
Published 17 April 2019

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Ash before Oak is a novel in the form of a fictional journal written by a solitary man on a secluded Somerset estate. Ostensibly a nature diary, chronicling the narrator’s interest in the local flora and fauna and the passing of the seasons, Ash before Oak is also the story of a breakdown told slantwise, and of the narrator’s subsequent recovery through his reengagement with the world around him. Written in prose that is as precise as it is beautiful, winner of the 2018 Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize, Jeremy Cooper’s first novel in over a decade is a stunning investigation of the fragility, beauty and strangeness of life.

‘Very moving, beautiful and so thoughtful too – a wonderful evocation of animals and birds, sky and Somerset.’
— Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinth

‘[W]hat Cooper offers, very boldly and successfully, is a broad narrative arc of collapse and tentative recovery, in which a struggle for meaning and purpose in life assumes a desperate intensity…. Because of the narrator’s inability to describe his anguish, what’s mostly written here is not his pain, but his clinging to life: the beauty caught and traced, with great skill, in trying to overcome suffering. In its journal form, Ash before Oak salvages detritus, the unremarkable mess, banality and repetition of the everyday, just as the narrator works on restoring his dilapidated buildings in Somerset. And in a larger way, too, with admirable wisdom and precision, it salvages, from agonizing, ruinous thoughts and experiences, something transcendent, of lasting value.’
— Jerome Boyd Maunsell, Times Literary Supplement

‘Low-key and understated, this beautiful book … is a civilised and melancholy document that slowly progresses towards a sense of enduring, going onwards, and even new life. It feels like a healing experience.’
Phil Baker, The Sunday Times

‘A disarming and gorgeously rendered portrait of interiority … The novel’s genius lies in what goes unsaid, and in the gaps between entries – what the narrator keeps from readers is the most haunting plot of all. This meandering novel is one of quiet beauty, and brief flashes of joy among seasons of despair. A study in how writing can give lives meaning, and in how it can fail to be enough to keep one afloat, this is a rare, delicate book, teeming with the stuff of real life.’
— Publishers Weekly, starred review

‘Not only does Ash before Oak contain some of the most immersive nature writing I’ve seen committed to the page, it is also one of the most moving and emotionally wrenching books I’ve read in years…. The flora and fauna, the daily repetitions and observed rituals of the simple life are documented in keen detail, and with some beautiful turns of phrase. But what on the surface sounds like the pursuit of a post-pastoral idyll actually peels back to reveal the inner workings of a fragile and unravelling mind as it descends towards darkness over a two year period. It’s a book with a thin skin.’
— Ben Myers, Caught by the River

‘So who is this man? Jeremy Cooper? Perhaps much of what is contained in this diary-as-novel happened to him. It doesn’t matter. We read it for its own worth and that worth is not contained in a name.’
— Declan O’Driscoll, Irish Times

‘Mr. Cooper’s depiction of depression is powerful – and very challenging – in its artlessness. We do not follow a clean arc from near-death to recovery. Instead we find ourselves in the midst of a marathon, something grueling and repetitive and, though filled with hopeful pleasures, always dogged by despair.’
Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Praise for Kath Trevelyan

‘An intriguing and original love story written with an expert eye through the prism of contemporary art.’
— Jenny Diski

Praise for The Folded Lie

‘Quite unlike any other novel published this year: a bold, radical, almost embarrassingly direct assault on modern complacencies, both political and artistic.’
— Jonathan Coe

‘Complex, thought-provoking and pertinent… A clever, partial book, written in a fluent, comfortable narrative style.’
Financial Times

‘What a really admirable novel. I read The Folded Lie with great pleasure.’
— Fay Weldon

The Folded Lie is a timely and perceptive new novel.’
— Tony Benn

Jeremy Cooper is a writer and art historian, author of six previous novels and several works of non-fiction, including the standard work on nineteenth century furniture, studies of young British artists in the 1990s, and, in 2019, the British Museum’s catalogue of artists’ postcards. Early on he appeared in the first twenty-four of BBC’s Antiques Roadshow and, in 2018, won the first Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize for Ash before Oak.