Review: Talent by Juliet Lapidos

Opening sentence: “We met at the supermarket.

Although I devoured Talent over a sunny weekend, I found it to be a kind of slow burner – just as my mind started to wander though, it hooked me back in. It then had a perfectly pitched ending that was just the right level of ambiguous. My favourite kind of ending.

As you may have ascertained from its title, this book is about talent. Our lead character, Anna Brisker, is a gifted 29-year-old English graduate student currently writing her dissertation, but the initial spark of talent her professor praised her for is waning and she finds herself stuck. Her much touted-dissertation is falling flat, so she needs to do something. Her dissertation is titled ‘Where Does Art Come From?’ and – funnily enough – focuses on talent. Is it god given or something anyone can do if they apply themselves? It is something that should be celebrated or not?

After a chance encounter with his niece, Helen, Anna chooses to research the life of author Frederick Langley. Helen is her lucky break; a wealth of information about an author with his own complex relationship to his talent. Frederick (now-deceased) was a short story writer who, after a few commercial hits, never publishes again. Did he squander his talent? Why did he stop writing? Just because a person is talented does that mean they necessarily have to use it or share it? The narrative explores all these questions and I found it really interesting how these ideas were effortlessly interwoven. We also get to read excerpts from Frederick Langley’s notebooks, so get little nuggets of other stories and ideas scattered throughout, which I enjoyed.

Talent is one of those books that when I initially finished reading, felt a bit non-plussed by, but as the days passed, I found myself thinking about it and realising how much I actually relished its exploration of talent – and people’s attitudes to it – in its various forms. I haven’t read a novel with this concept before. It’s a clever read that managed to lodge itself in my brain. And you’ve got to fall for a book that has a Pop-Tart on its cover, right?

/ Published by The Borough Press 2019

/ 256 pages

/ Rating: 4/5

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