"Nicola Ashbrook’s Mae in Quinquennia tells the enthralling, hugely memorable life story of the titular Mae. The flashes are narrated primarily (but not exclusively) in her point of view, jumping ahead in time five years, as per the title, with every chapter. Each story gives us a glimpse into Mae’s vividly rendered, subtly magical world; Ashbrook has surrounded a winning main character – more on that below – with a worthy supporting cast, the people who disappoint her, hurt her, thrill her, know her. Among them are the elderly Miss Englebrecht, with her mysterious apothecary cabinet; Claude, talented kisser and teddy bear aficionado; and Our Robert, whose name is simply luminous on the page, a reminder of Mae’s first and fundamental grief. Ashbrook writes of Mae’s losses deftly and beautifully, but many stories brim with humour – there are countless laugh-out-loud lines – and Mae herself is far from one-note.
This is a story of the discovery of strength and self, the shapes and shifts of desire; of a woman with unusual gifts, who is capable of tremendous love and endurance – not to mention serving up an unexpected, deeply satisfying comeuppance. Throughout this novella-in-flash, Ashbrook makes the compelling argument that not everyone who looks, sees; my favourite stories include ‘My Demonagerie’, in which Mae’s brother asks why she keeps shelves of empty jars, and ‘Missing Person’, in which Mae contemplates her invisibility. In ‘Masterpiece’, Mae is more visible than ever – and more powerful. Mae in Quinquennia is a wonderful, moving debut, and one that I’ll be recommending to readers and writers alike. Come for Ashbrook’s lovely language, poignant narrative, and mastery of her craft; stay for a main character who will live on after the reading. I devoured this book in one sitting; I couldn’t tear myself away."
- Kristen Loesch, author of The Porcelain Doll (forthcoming in Spring 2022, Allison & Busby)
"Mae in Quinquennia depicts the life of Mae told in five-year bursts. The stories vary in style, length and genre, adding layer upon layer to this vulnerable yet strong character. Written with the raw beauty of wild animals that cannot be tamed this is a delight to read and not to be missed."
- Laura Besley author of 100neHundred