Little Scratch by Rebecca Watson review – a daringly experimental debut

We follow a young woman’s thoughts and feelings over a single day, in this perceptive depiction of power and agency

Rebecca Watson’s debut novel started life as a piece that was shortlisted for the White Review story prize in 2018; in it, we follow the narrator’s thoughts during her lunch break, as she ladles canteen soup into a takeaway cup, goes blank when a colleague asks her what she’s read recently and then repairs to the office loos to scratch – and try to stop herself scratching – the skin on her legs until they bleed and, eventually, scab over. Afterwards, she returns to her soup, and reads a corporate email about sexual harassment, which provokes a stream of thoughts and feelings that seem connected to the scratching.

The story was a glimpse into the two different systems of being that most people experience simultaneously most of the time: the scheduled, material, almost mechanical flow of time (here, a lunch break, a conversation, minutes spent at a desk); and the private, interior anarchy of emotion, sensation and semi-articulation that unfolds in each moment. It was rendered in daringly disrupted form: prose that fragmented into something more like poetry; sudden shifts in the typography; staccato repetitions and bracketed text; a narrative that appeared to split, like a peloton of cyclists separating to go either side of a roundabout, before reconfiguring, subtly altered.

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