Kick the Latch

Kathryn Scanlan


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Daunt Books
19 January 2023
ISBN: 9781914198250
96 pages

From the publisher

New Yorker Book of the Year

About one woman’s fine, hard life at the racetrack, Kick the Latch – with its ruthless concision and artful mysteries – is lightning in a bottle

Kathryn Scanlan’s Kick the Latch vividly captures the arc of one woman’s life at the racetrack – the flat land and ramshackle backstretch; the bad feelings and friction; the winner’s circle and the racetrack bar; the fancy suits and fancy boots; and the ‘particular language’ of ‘grooms, jockeys, trainers, racing secretaries, stewards, pony people, hotwalkers, everybody’ – with economy and integrity.

Based on transcribed interviews with Sonia, a horse trainer, the novel investigates form and authenticity in a feat of synthesis reminiscent of Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony. As Scanlan puts it, ‘I wanted to preserve – amplify, exaggerate – Sonia’s idiosyncratic speech, her bluntness, her flair as a storyteller. I arrived at what you could call a composite portrait of a self.’ Whittled down with a fiercely singular artistry, Kick the Latch bangs out of the starting gate and carries the reader on a careening joyride around the inside track.

‘Utterly fresh, shimmery as a dragonfly . . . Ridiculously good.’ Kerri ní Dochartaigh

Kick the Latch performs the trick of turning a life, with its practicalities and speed, into art, and does so with particular charm, will, and intensity.’ Lucie Elven

‘A revelation in its unadorned, unromantic, plain power.’ Andrew McMillan 

‘I was absolutely blown away . . . It’s so much more than a skilled act of ventriloquism, it is a finely-wrought work of art that takes one person’s life and expands it to create something wondrous and universal. The pages I read seemed to capture all that is vital to human existence.’ Tash Aw

Kick the Latch is pure exhilaration. No one works with fineness, with exactitude, with the beating heart of fiction and of life, quite like Kathryn Scanlan.’ Amina Cain

‘Kathryn Scanlan has performed a magical act of empathic ventriloquy in Kick the Latch. This immediate, engrossing immersion in another life and world, so personally and passionately told, is compulsively readable.’ Lydia Davis

‘I have been following Kathryn Scanlan’s original voice for years.  In her new venture—an unusually intimate, clear-eyed portrait of a tough and engaging woman conveyed in revelatory vignettes—every word is essential.’ Amy Hempel

‘As fascinating and formally inventive as we have come to expect.’ LitHub

‘It’s a landscape full of exhausting labor and habitual violence, but also ecstatic devotion and joy . . . Scanlan writes about ordinary life in extraordinary ways by compacting it radically, like pressurizing carbon into diamonds.’ Leslie Jamison

‘Superb, episodic story of horse-racing, told in vignettes of violence, poverty and community. Both niche and precise in the revelation of an ordinary life (Johnson’s Train Dreams, or Seethaler’s A Whole Life) with Lydia Davis’ distillation.’  Sinéad Gleeson

Kick the Latch is an extraordinary act of portraiture. Tender, kind, and told with measured honesty, it gripped me entirely from the first page to the last.’ Jessie Greengrass

‘With this book, Kathryn Scanlan is telling us three things: life is short, it’s worth paying attention, and she’s one hell of a writer.’ Jon McGregor

‘The author—Kathryn Scanlan—wields a mean stiletto for a crop . . . A wonderfully empathic window opened onto a fascinating life lived on the margins.’ 4columns

‘This book is my new best friend. The craft and the beauty of it are a joy and an inspiration.’ Ben Pester