Published 12 April 2023
French paperback with flaps, 480 pages
GUESSING AND MOVEMENT IN THE LIVING ROOM
The beginning of each new project was always a continuation. For the time being, it was the basic but not obvious project of sleep.
A co-project: involving Helen and her baby, starting out from where they were first thing in the morning, carrying forward the experience of their long and wakeful, interactive night.
Helen: tall in proportion to the room, her hair hanging heavily, heating her neck.
The baby: wide-open, shifting and lively in her arms.
Spread out over the floor was a playmat: a thick square divided into four distinct sections. Its colours were a bit faded. From the sun, from the heavy rounds it must have done in someone else’s washing machine. Its spaces looked touched, well-mouthed; its closer textures more or less exhaustively pre-explored.
Even so, like the light show enclosed in a moulded plastic star, the all-in-ones they’d received handed-down, along with the mat, in a large-format bag-for-life, to Helen and the baby, it was all new.
Weirdly, relentlessly, startlingly new.
Underfoot, the mat made the thin carpet soft.
Already, it changed the whole inhabitation of the room.
One of the mat’s zones looked agricultural: satin crops of different shades of green furrowed with dark-brown artificial fur.
Helen wanted to rest her head in that patched field.
She was tired.
We could sleep there, she thought.
She looked down. The baby’s head was a weighted sphere, warm and heavy in the crook of her arm, the rest of her fidgety and light.
The baby lifted her chin, gazed back up.
Helen loosened the idea from her own head and offered it out: smiling and nodding with it. Floating it, like a proposition, to the baby.
She let the baby’s gaze range, intently, around the edges of her face.
Then, on second thoughts, tugged her idea back in: actually, I decide.
She looked up, away, and restated this firmly to herself: I decide.
And I say we lie there and go to sleep.
The task of kneeling without support: squatting, then kneeling. It was a bit unsteady, ungainly, doing this, with a baby in her arms.
Carefully, she set the baby down in the field portion of the mat.
The baby arched her back, kicked her heels, sensitive to the change of surface: this sudden flatness underneath her; the way it seemed to give in.
Helen lay herself down, too, stretching out her frame to its full extent, then turning towards her, drawing in close.
The smells of the field mixed with the deep and different body-smells of the baby.
The field smelled like lemons.
Like something else: a chemical note.
It was yielding, comfortable: a duvet, almost. But pointed and bumped here and there with plastic parts and scratchy parts on the floor.
She nudged her nose against the baby’s shoulder. She pulled her knees all the way up until they touched the small heels of the baby’s feet, making her body into a protective container wall.
The baby twisted her hands, twitched her legs. She opened and closed her mouth. Something above her, at an angle, caught – it captivated – her attention.
Helen lay her head on her elbow, exhaled. Her breath blew a warm breeze across the baby’s face.
She changed her mind, shifted: rested her cheek in the cupped palm of her left hand.
She whispered sleep well to the baby and closed her eyes.
Slowly, one by one, she gave her limbs permission to relax.
Then, in the next moment, she was back up to standing again, her head bopping the rim of the ceiling lamp, setting it swinging, releasing a great puff of dust into the air, the baby high in her arms, because for her part the baby – feeling too loose, too unbounded and far too infinite on the mat – preferred to be held.
In one holding position and then another.
Always, with a slight bounce to the hold.
It’s early morning and there’s a whole new day ahead. How will it unfold? The baby will feed, hopefully she’ll sleep; Helen looks out of the window. The Long Form is the story of two people composing a day together. It is a day of movements and improvisations, common and uncommon rhythms, stopping and starting again. As the morning progresses, a book – The History of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding – gets delivered, and the scope of the day widens further. Matters of care-work share ground with matters of friendship, housing, translation, aesthetics and creativity. Small incidents of the day revive some of the oldest preoccupations of the novel: the force of social circumstance, the power of names, the meaning of duration and the work of love. With lightness and precision, Kate Briggs renews Henry Fielding’s proposition for what a novel can be, combining fiction and essay to write an extraordinary domestic novel of far-reaching ideas.
‘[S]ometimes she seems to achieve the impossible, weaving an invisible emotive thread between polemic and experience to powerful effect.... [M]akes for exhilarating reading. There is a sense of new ground being broken.'
— Jo Hamya, Guardian
‘The Long Form is… an exhilarating experiment in form, an examination of the function of time in the novel, which includes an irresistible graphic element that punctuates the narrative and helps to conjure the stagelike setting occupied by the maternal dyad. Briggs invokes E. M. Forster – “Every novel needs a clock” – and indeed her novel’s timepiece has us on the edge of our seat, turning the pages in anticipation. I finished The Long Form and started again from the beginning; I wanted to understand how this miracle of a book had come to be; I was not ready to let go.’
— Moyra Davey, The Paris Review
‘The Long Form is an absorbing and profound novel in which Kate Briggs breathes extraordinary life into the quiet moments of a young woman: one who is also a new mother, a reader, a daughter, a friend. With every carefully weighted sentence, action and thought, one is immersed in the radical generosity of this writing, its principles of collectivity and its feminist commitment to making the smallest, most everyday act worthy of consideration within a literary canon. A beautifully written book about the art of reading, of criticism, and of surviving through the strangest yet most normal of times.’
— Preti Taneja, author of Aftermath
‘Ostensibly about a single day in the lives of a new mother and her infant, The Long Form – with its recursive structure, its subtle connections and reverberations, its attentiveness to physical and social life, and its animated conversation with other works of fiction and theory – presents the novel form as the most elastic of containers. Kate Briggs is a brilliant writer and thinker.’
— Kathryn Scanlan, author of Kick the Latch
‘Kate Briggs treats the quotidian rhythms of Helen and Rose, mother and baby, with unusual attentiveness, perspicacity and, most importantly, largeness of thought. This makes The Long Form a radical, celebratory and quite magical consideration of the profound creative possibilities inherent in, and intrinsic to, everyday experience. It’s such a lively and generous book.’
— Wendy Erskine, author of Dance Move
‘The Long Form looks at this detail within the context of the structures that surround it, and in doing so Kate Briggs has built a novel that is simultaneously warm and exact, far-reaching and meticulous, generous and wise.’
— Saba Sams, author of Send Nudes
‘Briggs has composed a capacious … narrative that makes a very serious game of domesticity, treating both Helen and Rose—in sections written from her perspective—with respect, and successfully reimagining the relationship between reader and writer…. [T]his is an appealing consideration of motherhood.’
— Publisher's Weekly
‘Briggs is a fantastic writer: that is clear by the end of this eminently strange novel…Briggs has written a work that will constantly reward a re-reading, with a voice that combines a deep complexity with moments of piercing clarity. It is an intelligent and well-read book: but it is also emphatically convincing and moving.’
— Patrick Maxwell, The Big Issue
Praise for This Little Art
‘Kate Briggs’s This Little Art shares some wonderful qualities with Barthes’s own work – the wit, thoughtfulness, invitation to converse, and especially the attention to the ordinary and everyday in the context of meticulously examined theoretical and scholarly questions. This is a highly enjoyable read: informative and stimulating for anyone interested in translation, writing, language, and expression.’
— Lydia Davis, author of Can’t and Won’t
‘I have been thinking, many weeks after having finished it, of Kate Briggs’s truly lovely This Little Art, a book-length essay on translation that's as wry and thoughtful and probing as any book I’ve read in the past year. My favourite works are those in which one feels the writer wrestling with genre even as she is writing; Kate Briggs does this with her own kind of magic, never failing to write beguilingly and intelligently and passionately about the little art of translation, which in the end shows itself to be not so little, at all.’
— Lauren Groff, author of Matrix
— The Windham Campbell Prize
Kate Briggs grew up in Somerset, UK, and lives and works in Rotterdam, NL, where she founded and co-runs the writing and publishing project ‘Short Pieces That Move’. She is the translator of two volumes of Roland Barthes’s lecture and seminar notes at the Collège de France: The Preparation of the Novel and How to Live Together, both published by Columbia University Press. The Long Form follows This Little Art, a narrative essay on the practice of translation. In 2021, Kate Briggs was awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize.
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