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Professor Alison MacLeod

Professor Alison MacLeod, Professor of Creative Writing

all the beloved ghosts (Bloomsbury 2017)

A Finalist for The 2017 Governor General’s Award for Fiction
A ‘Best Book of 2017’, the Guardian
A ‘Book of the Summer’ for the Huffington Post, The Lady, Chatelaine, and THE WEEK
A ‘Book of the Year’ for PASTE

“Alison MacLeod, the author of the Man Booker-listed novel Unexploded, seamlessly knits together essayistic and imaginative modes of writing in her second short-story collection All the Beloved Ghosts (Bloomsbury). Historical figures such as Sylvia Plath, Princess Diana, Anton Chekhov and Angelica Garnett rub shoulders with fictional characters and the author herself in a series of emotionally powerful meditations… MacLeod’s formal sophistication and her impeccably elegant, richly textured prose make this another collection to savour.”   Edmund Gordon, THE SUNDAY TIMES

‘MacLeod is dazzlingly good at evoking a whole life through a single snapshot and at bending and stretching her prose as she moves between an impressive range of narrative personae.’  Lara Feigel, THE GUARDIAN

‘[A] joy to read… exceptionally accomplished’  Claire Looby, THE IRISH TIMES

“[A} captivating and intricate interweaving of biography, fiction and memoir that explores themes of ghosts (both historical and familial), loss and love.”   CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) BOOKS

“If you read only one book of short stories this year, it should be this one.”  Christena Appleyard, DAILY MAIL

An “accomplished feast…The tone is elegiac, darkly humorous and deeply sensual… MacLeod is a gently playful but fearless writer…”  Clarissa Hurley, ATLANTIC BOOKS TODAY

‘a beautifully written collection of short fiction and personal essays that imagine the stories of departed souls, both famous and anonymous… MacLeod, a Canadian writer who lives in England, is a true literary talent.’  A ‘Book of the Summer’, CHATELAINE

“All the Beloved Ghosts is a far-reaching and graceful suite of short fiction… Each piece touches the heart of what it means to be alive.”  Cameron Woodhead, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD


Unexploded (Penguin, 2013) Longlisted for the the 2013 Man Booker Prize

Long-Listed for The 2013 Man Booker Prize for Fiction

A ‘Book of the Year’ for the Observer

Adapted for BBC Radio 4

‘Unexploded is like a piece of finely wrought ironwork, uncommonly delicate but at the same time astonishingly strong and tensile; it’s a novel of staggering elegance and beauty.’ Lucy Scholes, THE INDEPENDENT

‘Full of simmering tension, resentment and unexpressed passion… A bold, cleverly-told story from a writer who knows exactly what she’s doing.’ Viv Groskop, THE OBSERVER

‘An exploration of the xenophobia and neurosis unleashed in times of national crisis …MacLeod remains one of the most astute… writing today.’ Alfred Hickling, THE GUARDIAN

‘The plot is fast-paced and engaging, the characters are compelling, and the descriptions of wartime Brighton are pin-sharp… The novel’s denouement is as heart-rending as it is unexpected.’ Rebecca Abrams, THE FINANCIAL TIMES

‘…the author’s grasp of emotions, and history of art as well as politics, lend depth and charge… [There is also] the sensuality of MacLeod’s prose, whether dealing with art, desire or love; and her uncanny way of allowing us to experience the thought processes of her characters as if they are traversing our own brain synapses.’ Leyla Sanai, THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY

‘Unexploded is an unforgettable book. With exquisitely researched and rendered detail, the author plunges us into the panic and paranoia of war, fusing international politics, national politics and family politics in her powerful study of hypocrisy, oppression, cultural misunderstanding and desire.’ BIDISHA

‘Unexploded is an intelligent, perceptive novel by a writer of great descriptive power… Like her modernist forebears, Macleod knows that life and death, the terrible and the mundane always co-exist – her genius lies in illustrating these truths while simultaneously spinning a bona fide pageturner.’ Stephanie Cross, THE DAILY MAIL


Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction (Penguin, 2007)

“Alison MacLeod’s collection of stories is a baker’s dozen of excellence book-ended by brilliance. ... An eruption of ideas and linguistic flair that corrals the uncontainable and unpoliceable vagaries of human desire, Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction is a potent and heady mix. Avoiding the perils of both overt erudition and sentimental whimsy the whole is ably piloted by MacLeod’s total and impressive control of her material. Highly recommended.”
Time Out (London) – reviewer Dr. Nicholas Foxton, Open University and Kingston University

“MacLeod’s fictions are modern indeed. They are fragmentary evocations of desire and its mysteries, passing glimpses into minds and hearts: tender; pierced; translucent ... [Her] characters are strong, and they are worth listening to...”
The Guardian

On the story “Dirty Weekend”:
“Beautiful and finely wrought... almost unbearably moving”
Professor Terry Eagleton, Professor of English Literature, University of Lancaster

“Alison MacLeod is a strikingly original voice. Her stories create intimate worlds... and make the reader live in them with an intensity which is haunting, disturbing and above all beguiling.” Helen Dunmore, novelist, poet

“Her observations are brilliant... she continually makes the ordinary shocking and the shocking marvellous and inevitable...These stories make compelling, humbling reading.”
Dr. Sue Roe, critic and biographer, University of Sussex

“Beautifully crafted, they range from brilliantly observed humour – customers stampeding in Ikea at the store’s launch in “Notes for a Chaotic Century” – to the haunting and heart-rending – the tender elegy to a middle-aged love affair in “Dirty Weekend”. Immensely readable.” The Big Issue

“ is great that Alison MacLeod is so unafraid of pushing what a story can be, what shape it can take, what things it can say... Taken together, the tales are consistently provocative and intelligent.” Pulp.Net

“[S] intelligent set of stories bound by the rules of attraction. It is cerebral but not weighty, sexy but not sleazy and, in some cases, achingly sad but hopeful.”

“I’ve long been a fan of Alison MacLeod’s lyrical, funny and poignant writing, and her new collection of short stories Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction doesn’t disappoint. MacLeod is a master at nuance with a wry sense of humour that’s often tinged with the faintest tinge of darkness. A delightful and disturbing commentator on the human condition.” New Books Magazine - reviewer, Julie Wheelwright, Course Director of MA in C.W., City University, London

“Her stories are about attraction turned upside down: a young woman who falls for an unconscious hospital patient precisely because of his immobility, a couple divided by the London bombings of 2005, and a young girl whose tongue gets her into all kinds of trouble. These are nimble, magical stories.” Sunday Business Post (Ireland)

“[P]erfectly executed tragedies and brave, exciting new ideas...All round excellence.”
Rocks Magazine

“MacLeod’s range – spanning the movingly real to the mysteriously surreal – is excitingly, imaginatively realised and unified by an awareness of the dark menace of love’s uncertainty.” Metro (London)

“...not conventional love stories, they are a modern and enjoyable take on how love finds us and leaves us” Sunday Express

“…beautiful, understated and touching love stories, which capture the attention at once and keep it until the last page. They are tales of intimacy and often of loss, gracefully and powerfully told…” The Tablet

“Alison MacLeod is an adventurous storyteller... Seductively absorbing, [these stories] lurch and twist from moments of tenderness and innocence to the dark and hauntingly disturbing... Relationships do not always blossom and MacLeod’s realisation of this makes her stories unbearably poignant and bittersweet.” Brighton Argus

“Clever, full of depth and at times bust-a-rib funny – four stars.” New Woman magazine


The Wave Theory of Angels (Penguin, 2005)

“MacLeod’s novel ingeniously combines medieval theology with 21st-century physics. Her plot… set in Beauvais in 1284, concerns Giles, a woodcarver, whose work adorns the new cathedral. Giles’s beautiful elder daughter, Christina, falls into a death-like trance from which neither he, nor his younger daughter, Marguerite, can wake her. Moving forward eight centuries to 2001, the story is that of Giles Carver, a physicist specialising in wave theory at a research centre in Chicago. His daughter Christina is also in a coma … Parallels are drawn between the medieval and modern worlds, and even the religious fanaticism of the former is echoed in the American episodes. A cathedral tower falls in one story, the twin towers in the other, without seeming glib or contrived… [As an] updated fairytale, it is highly enjoyable.” The Times

“…a daring investigation of medieval philosophy, modern-day physics, and the relation of both to faith and desire... [MacLeod] has an engaged delight in the stuff of life…”
Times Literary Supplement – reviewer, Dr Jane Griffiths, University of Bristol

“The Wave Theory of Angels is utterly delightful, beautifully written…”
Alberto Manguel, writer and critic

“Part thriller, part philosophical treatise, The Wave Theory of Angels explores some intriguing ideas... There’s more than a hint here of Umberto Eco’s ambition…”
Time Out

“…a fascinating exploration of the point where science and fantasy appear to meet.”
The Independent

“The Wave Theory of Angels is a bold and beautiful dismantling of the linearity and fixedness of time and space… [Its characters] live and breathe and, most important, desire, in rich period detail. … [MacLeod] has achieved an enchanting, playful and, at times, dark probing of the limits of our knowledge. It’s a novel that leaves us wondering if we will not forever continue to uncover further ranks of angels, other dimensions of time and space. Will desire, excess and wildness forever thwart containment? And is there not something intrinsically thrilling in the elusiveness of mystery and miracle?”
The Globe and Mail (Canada)

“The Wave Theory of Angels - with its pervasive belief in the essential sameness of science and religion - is a compelling story that manages a subtle delivery… The tale is gripping, the transitions are flawless and the characters are well-drawn. MacLeod takes a risk with this novel and succeeds.” The Montreal Gazette

“In Alison MacLeod’s The Wave Theory of Angels, the stories of two families, seemingly separated by centuries are woven together in a provocative exploration of human relationships, high energy physics, and the power of the imagination… Either story is compelling on its own: braided together, they make a complex, fascinating narrative.”
Quill & Quire (Canadian national literary journal)


The Changeling (Macmillan, 1996)

“a magnificent debut novel…” The Independent (2006)

“Alison MacLeod has written a stunning novel. She has wrought characters who charm, beguile and refuse well-trodden paths. In her recreation of 18th-century Cork, Anne Bonny is the changeling, a rare babe who refuses swaddling. Her restless spirit remains untethered and her gender indeterminate... There is no romance in this vision of pirating. Rackham’s crew, bent on reaping the rewards of a ship’s hold – whether gold or African slaves – cut out tongues, nail a captain’s innards to the main mast and force a cabin boy to eat cockroaches. MacLeod has such a delicate eye for detail that these other-worldly scenes are brought shimmeringly to life... This is a wonderful tale, beautifully written and yet steeped in the myth that it deservedly explodes.”
New Statesman - reviewer, Julie Wheelwright, Course Director of MA in C.W., City University, London

“The womanly wisdom, the old wives’ tales and the author’s sublimely sensual narrative ensure the book oozes with oestrogen. But it also honks of history, with an authenticity of language and geography that captures completely the unfolding landscape of the new world. Its breadth is vast, its structure flawless. This is a voyage through a unique imagination.” Time Out (London)

“MacLeod’s novel inhabits its period in more ways than one. In true 18th-century fashion, it readily admits of other voices. Rumours, reports and old wives’ tales, jostle the narrator for space; there are echoes of Defoe and Swift’s wild, satirical inventiveness. At the same time, nothing qualifies the author's originality.” The Independent

“It’s very bold and very accomplished... She romanticises piracy in a way, but it’s always within a context -- so you have the terrific violence and the pain of their wounds; you have terrific stories like them discovering an abandoned government schooner which is full of dying or half-dead negro slaves, and they’re just floating adrift in the sea, and there’s the slightly moral question of what do they do with these slaves – sell them, release them, kill them, what do they do with them? This is still legitimate piracy but it is within a context; i.e., these people have come from tremendous poverty where there is no choice, where they are victims of constantly changing circumstances and at least you have a high excitement as a pirate, your life has some element of self-control... your circumstances can change very, very quickly as Anne Bonny’s does, which is why she has to be dressed up as a boy. So... the story has a context; it isn’t a fairy tale.... it goes back to the writing.  She’s a very accomplished writer and she manages to make these scenes come alive.”
BBC Radio 4