Product Details
$26.00  $24.18
Two Dollar Radio
Publish Date
5.6 X 7.6 X 0.8 inches | 0.79 pounds

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About the Author

Christine Lai grew up in Canada and lived in England for six years during graduate studies. She holds a PhD in English Literature from University College London. Landscapes was shortlisted for the inaugural Novel Prize, offered by New Directions Publishing, Fitzcarraldo Editions, and Giramondo. Christine currently lives in Vancouver.


Read an excerpt:
Electric Literature presents "An Archivist for the End of the World," an excerpt from Landscapes by Christine Lai, recommended by Ayşegül Savaş.


* An October 2023 "Indie Next List" Pick from The American Booksellers Association: "The 25 October Indie Next List Picks"

* A Publishers Weekly's "Writers to Watch" (Fall 2023):
"Lai wanted to write a country house novel that subverts the glamor of depictions like that of Downton Abbey. She was influenced by W.G. Sebald's narratives of houses similar to Mornington, which required for their construction the devastation of landscapes and villages. 'I was fascinated by this idea that something that appears very beautiful and respectable is in fact complicit in this history of destruction.'"
--Matt Seidel, Publishers Weekly
"Writers to Watch Fall 2023: This season's crop of promising debut fiction offers timeless human dramas from fresh perspectives."

"I envy readers entering this world for the first time. You will find beauty here, and wisdom."
--Ayşegül Savaş (author of White on White), Electric Literature
"An Archivist for the End of the World" An excerpt from Landscapes, Recommended by Ayşegül Savaş"

"In the wake of environmental destruction, Penelope is preparing to sell the house she and her partner have lived in for twenty years. While faced with a daunting past and looming future, she turns to art and beauty for home, hope and healing."
--Karla J. Strand, Ms. Magazine
"September 2023 Reads for the Rest of Us"

"With its careful attention to landscape painters and diary entries leading up to the demolition of the house, this is the ultimate piece of fiction about noticing what's been overlooked."
--Lorraine Berry, Los Angeles Times
"These 8 books will help soothe your climate anxiety by focusing on the little things"

"Plenty of books exist about what to do with the art of bad men, but changing the channel and walking on the other side of the street no longer cut it. Christine Lai's debut novel, Landscapes, offers no illusions about or answers to this problem, but it is a fortifying read nonetheless. Instead of delivering a polemic, Landscapes probes the archive of feminist art for new answers, by blending diary entries, close-third-person narration, and criticism."
--Grace Byron, The Believer
Review: Landscapes by Christine Lai

"Over the years, there's been a lot of memorable fiction written about sprawling buildings in the countryside. One of those is at the heart of Christine Lai's novel Landscapes--with the twist here being that Lai's novel is also set in a near future where climate change has wreaked even more havoc than it has right now, widening societal gulfs and making even the hardiest of structures that much more at risk."
--Tobias Carroll,
"Can't Miss Indie Press Speculative Fiction"

"There's [...] something strangely beautiful and comforting about the ways that Penelope and Aidan are responding to their slow apocalypse: by making their world smaller and helping others, and accepting the heartbreaking temporality of all things, even art."
--Eliza Smith, LitHub
"25 Novels You Need to Read This Fall"

"Lai captures the intersectionality of art, feminism, and environmentalism in this moving debut novel... I deeply enjoyed reading Landscapes... Though the themes of this book are complex, Christine Lai's writing does not over-complicate the art. Landscapes is beautiful, provocative, and accessible. It will remind you that destruction is rarely the end and that we all must continue forward."
--Samantha Hui, Independent Book Review
Review: Landscapes by Christine Lai

"In Christine Lai's haunting novel Landscapes, a wounded woman contends with memories, artifacts, loss, and hope... Ethereal and unsparing, Landscapes is a novel about destruction, endurance, and resilience."
--Meg Nola, Foreword Reviews

"Lai debuts with an intelligent narrative of an archivist living and working in the English countryside in a near future wracked by climate change... Alongside Penelope's trauma, thoughtfully developed ekphrases show how violence against women has not only been banalized, but positively coded in the tradition of Western painting. The text is an elegant assembly of such descriptions, along with catalogue entries, excerpts from Penelope's journal, and sections written from Julian's perspective. Sebald fans should take note."
--Publishers Weekly
Review: Landscapes by Christine Lai

"[Landscapes] builds an electric undercurrent of doom. In cool, sinewy prose, this astute and timely novel explores the roles of beauty, art, and passion in a time of survival."
--Kirkus Reviews

"Landscapes is Lai's first novel set in our world in the near future amidst ecological disaster. Told through the narrative of Penelope as well as diary entries, Landscapes blends the country house novel with geopolitics. "
--CBC Books
"Writers to watch: 30 Canadian writers making their mark in 2023"

"A darkly absorbing, prismatic debut novel from Christine Lai, set in a near future that is fraught with ecological collapse and geopolitical upheaval, Landscapes explores memory, empathy, and art as an instrument for recollection and renewal."
--Kailey Brennan DelloRusso, Write or Die
"20 Books We Can't Wait to Read"

"In her artful, art-filled debut novel, Vancouver-based writer Christine Lai relates a complex, meditative story on her own terms."
--Brett Josef Grubisic, Vancouver Sun

"This elegiac debut is at once a disturbing glimpse into the ravages of a climate-wrecked world and a cutting examination of violence against women in art, demanding we consider the longlasting consequences of our actions and testifying to the slow, painful work of living after trauma."
--Bridget Thoreson, Booklist

"An ambitious, atmospheric debut novel, told artfully and often through art. Art as a coping mechanism and as a way to understand the world--these are rendered exceptionally well, in haunting detail."
--Jessica Poon, The British Columbia Review

Landscapes was included in Independent Book Review's "23 upcoming book releases that we're excited about in Fall 2023."
--Joe Walters & the IBR Staff
"Upcoming Book Releases We're Excited About Fall 2023"

"Sebald fans should take note."
--Matt Seidel, Publishers Weekly
"20 Indie Press Books to Read This Fall"

"Catastrophes are also quiet. Climate change will also change our hearts & minds. In what might be my favorite novel on the topic, [Lai] uses the dissolution of previously grand English estate & the grumbling mental & emotional resolve of its archivist to explore the experiences and emotions of decay and disintegration. Art. Politics. A love triangle involving brothers. There is also great depth to this story beneath the big impacts of rising sea levels. A truly brilliant novel."
--Josh Cook, Porter Square Books (Cambridge, MA)

"A contemplative view into a future of ecological disaster that continues to adore and obsess over art. Landscapes explores the depiction of women in art, particularly that which portrays assault. A wonderful, gothic debut from my favorite small press."
--Bex Frankeberger, Books Are Magic (Brooklyn, NY)

"This exceptional, atmospheric book is anchored in the equally atmospheric landscape paintings of Turner. Inventive in form, it moves between diary, catalog, critique, and narrative as it tells the story of a woman in a ruined near future slowly letting go of the life she knew, while being haunted by an attack she suffered years ago. It's a book with so many layers it requires a rereading, or two, to appreciate all it holds. Have your phone or tablet at the ready as you'll want to reference the many artworks mentioned."
--Alana Haley, Schuler Books (Grand Rapids, MI)

"Penelope is an archivist at the end of the world. She resides with her partner Aidan in his cluttered decaying estate home in the English countryside. While the house is still standing it serves as a resting place for climate refugees. Woven throughout the book is the imminent arrival of Julian, Aidan's narcissistic older brother who 22 years earlier had an icy abusive relationship with Penelope. Told through diary entries and catalog notes Landscapes by Christine Lai a powerful debut novel about memory, empathy, art, loss, and climate change."
--Caitlin Baker, Island Books (Mercer Island, WA)

"A celebration of co-creation at its best. Christine Lai chronicles the days of the end in a subdued manner. She makes sure we know that we all have something at stake in the climate crisis, and we can continue to reach towards each other in the end."
--Tay Jones, White Whale Bookstore (Pittsburgh, PA)

"beautiful writing, loved it"
--Percy Sutton, Books on the Square (Providence, RI)

"I was lucky enough to read Landscapes as a manuscript and I am very excited for everyone else to read Christine Lai's pastoral novel that blends narrative, diary, and essay while exploring memory and our connection to art objects against a backdrop of an old mansion in the dying English countryside."
--Charlene Chow, Flying Books (Toronto, Canada)

"This is an extraordinary work--a contemplative novel set in a postapocalyptic landscape, that meditates on painting, specifically J.M.W Turner's ruins. The diary running through, both archiving the past as well as cataloguing the natural world, is reminiscent of Marlen Haushofer's The Wall as well as Derek Jarman's gardening journals, in their devastation and slow beauty. Christine Lai's exquisite speculative fiction as art criticism should be read alongside Ayşegül Savaş, Amina Cain, Maria Gainza, and Judith Schalansky."
--Kate Zambreno, author of Drifts and The Light Room

"For all its eerily ephemeral worldbuilding, its quiet ruined setting, Landscapes is a raw-nerve of a novel. In a love letter to and elegy for disappearing art in a disappearing world, Christine Lai has managed to lay bare the mechanics of loss, both personal and communal. The result is a masterful inspection of what it means to live through decay, to grasp, amidst so much loss, the unreliable lifeboat of memory. A transcendent, achingly beautiful debut."
--Omar El Akkad, Giller Prize-winning author of What Strange Paradise and American War

"A haunting, hypnotic novel that collapses the distances between violence and beauty, horror and longing, art and decay. I was completely absorbed in its nuanced, atmospheric world, at once familiar and menacingly strange, and I am astonished by Christine Lai's vision."
--Ayşegül Savaş, author of White on White and Walking on the Ceiling

"Gentle and wise, intimate and atmospheric, elegant and impressionistic, at the center of Landscapes is a question that is almost always on my mind now. What do we do with art, with beauty, in a time of crisis and collapse?"
--Amina Cain, author of A Horse at Night and Indelicacy

"This is a novel engaged in inventive, intelligent, challenging conversation with the literature of the past, while presenting a clear-eyed and prescient vision of the future. Lai writes gorgeously of transience and decay, capturing the aesthetic ecstasy and redemptive power of art while interrogating its role in a crumbling and unjust world. A bold and rewarding debut."
--Kim Fu, author of Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century

"Christine Lai's Landscapes is a haunting archive of the long-gone, the broken, and the soon-to-be-lost--a study in disintegration--but also, simultaneously, a heady page-turner about beauty and community and, through these, hope. A startling and beautiful debut."
--Danielle Dutton, author of Margaret the First and SPRAWL

"I was completely blown away by the elegance and intellectual rigour of Christine Lai's debut novel "Landscapes." Told in fragments of archival notes, diary entries and indirect discourse, the novel is both an icily beautiful read and a serious contemplation of the relationship between our natural and cultivated worlds. It asks difficult questions about the roles that egoism, wealth and sexual violence have played in the construction of western civilization and what art and memory mean amid the climate crisis."
--Martha Schabas, author of MY FACE IN THE LIGHT

"A marvelous, deeply intelligent novel about art, and ruins, and loss--and the stubborn, beautiful human urge to never give up. Christine Lai's Landscapes shimmers in the mind's eye, long after the last page has been turned. Wonderful."
--Steven Price, author of Lampedusa

"An exquisite debut about art and desire, love and deceit, reminiscent of A.S. Byatt in its richly researched and deeply compelling story and prose."
--Lee Henderson, author of Disintegration in Four Parts

"In an apocalyptic future that feels eerily familiar in its prescience, two characters, their pasts woven together and marked by an act of unspeakable violence, make their way back together across space and time, their memories mediated through observations about art, music and architecture... Landscapes is a propulsive read that teems with tension and pathos. With captivating and crystalline prose, Lai weaves art criticism, feminist theory and epistolary writing to maximum effect, the result a work that is haunting, prismatic and utterly engrossing. Stunningly brilliant and intricately observed, Landscapes is an astonishing debut."
--Jasmine Sealy, author of The Island of Forgetting

"A powerful meditation on the aliveness of art, and the myriad ways in which our most meaningful experiences coalesce in the world of things. Set in a world falling to ruin, Lai deftly conjures a prismatic lens through which the consequences of obsession and neglect can be viewed. An elegant novel with an urgent undertow, Landscapes is a potent reminder of what it means to be a custodian: of the planet, of our own creations, and of each other. An impressive debut from a singular voice, Landscapes is a rewarding read---as resonant and tonally rich as the works by Turner that haunt its core."
--Aislinn Hunter, author of The Certainties

"In deft movements triangulating possession, loss, and memory, Lai's meditative accounting of lives and culture in violent displacement and ruination feels like a witnessing of our probable path through the years ahead, in which all may be uncertain but the human will to repair and rebuild."
--Pitchaya Sudbanthad, author of Bangkok Wakes to Rain

"After her English country estate is brought to the edge ruin by a series of ecological disasters, a woman sets about creating an archive of its books and art before its scheduled demolition and the arrival of her partner's brother, at whose hands she suffered violence two decades previously."
--Emily Donaldson, The Globe and Mail
"Thirty nine fiction and non-fiction books to read this spring"

"Landscapes is a darkly absorbing, prismatic debut novel from Christine Lai, set in a near future that is fraught with ecological collapse and geopolitical upheaval, exploring memory, empathy, and art as an instrument for recollection and renewal."
"Most Anticipated: Our 2023 Spring Fiction Preview"

"Christine Lai's debut is a country house novel set in the near future of climate catastrophe. Penelope catalogues the remainder of the art collection of a dilapidated estate slated for demolition, and in the process confronts memories and seeks an understanding of the past, and a way to survive disasters, through art."
--Attila Berki, Quill & Quire
"2023 Spring Preview"

"Landscapes by Christine Lai mixes near-future climate fiction with a woman's painful past, which resurfaces during an archival project at an English country manor."
--David Varno, Publishers Weekly
"Fall 2023 Adult Announcements: Literary Fiction"


BOOK CLUB & READER GUIDE: Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Philosopher Henri Bergson's theory of "durée" was explained as: "usually when we speak of time we think of the measurement of duration, and not of duration itself. But this duration which science eliminates, and which is so difficult to conceive and express, is what one feels and lives." -- Discuss how the epigraph for Landscapes, spotlighting both the artist Louise Bourgeois and durée, accentuates the themes of the novel. What tone does this early emphasis on the idea of durée have for the story that follows? Why do you think Penelope is drawn to the artwork of Louise Bourgeois?

2. The artwork of artist J. M. W. Turner plays an important role throughout the novel, and for many of the characters: What major attributes do Turner's famous paintings share? Discuss the main characters in Landscapes and why each might have such a strong appreciation for the scenes he depicted, and the manner of their depiction.

3. Juxtapose Turner choosing to depict "the wreckage of the old fortress, standing defiantly atop the cliffs" (p. 3) instead of the reconstructed Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, with Julian's redesign of the Library, where he "insisted on eradicating all traces of the old space in order to build a new one severed from the past." (p. 44-45): How are both of these competing ideas central to Landscapes?

4. Celia begins plans to paint a portrait of Penelope in the very first chapter, with the painting finally being revealed in the last chapter: In what ways is Penelope's interior mindscape reflected in Celia's visible work during the process of creating the painting? And in the final work?

5. With a portrait artist wanting to portray both their sitter's physical appearance as well as visually capture their spirit, what method does Celia use to try to attain this, of which she concludes: "The truth of any single thing... requires time and continual return." (p. 34)? Discuss how Celia's strategy of creating a painting ties in with the themes of Landscapes. Do you think there is always a single "truth" that can be found or revealed?

6. Discuss Penelope's preoccupation with termites throughout the novel. Toward the end of the novel, why do you think Penelope says: "My fear is that the termites will follow us." (p. 209)?

7. An original painting--Turner's A View on the Seine--was the gem of the Mornington Hall collection, and an integral reason for Penelope coming to live on the estate. Penelope had a postcard reproduction of the painting, and eventually an oil reproduction of it was commissioned as well: What questions are raised by the multiple versions of this work of art? Talk about monetary value versus personal value. What happened to the reproduction of A View on the Seine? How was the loss of the original different for Penelope than the loss of the reproduction? Why?

8. What are the various ways in which the idea of ownership is investigated in Landscapes? What do you believe drives these characters to want to own something? Discuss "Stendhal syndrome," which Julian gives as an explanation for his actions within a museum (p. 158).

9. Landscapes is largely propelled by a single incident that occurred in Penelope's life over two decades earlier. What happened? In the days that followed, what actions did Penelope take? Explain why you believe she reacted in these specific ways, and what might cause a victim of a traumatic event to make these choices. Is Penelope able to confide in anyone and share what happened to her?

10. "Perhaps what I need to do is to sink to the very bottom, to get to that day. But how does one get to that place and return, without being destroyed?" (p. 143) -- Discuss Penelope's situation of wanting to address a past that is still causing her stress in the present, but not wanting to revisit it due to its painful nature. What methods does Penelope try to achieve her goal? Do you believe Penelope ultimately does find peace? If you feel comfortable sharing with your group, discuss whether you have ever been in the same situation as Penelope, and if you found a method of revisiting and addressing your own past.

11. The interludes between chapters are set in italics and focus on a particular work of art or art by particular artists: How do these interludes tie in to the novel as a whole? As you were reading Penelope's story, what effect did the interludes have on your reading experience? What do we come to find out about them toward the end of the book?

12. As a group, consider all of the various characters in Landscapes and who among them are shown journaling. Why do you think keeping a diary, journal, or scrapbook might be helpful to these individuals?

13. Penelope and Julian take turns narrating the chapters of Landscapes, set in the present and leading up to their first meeting in over two decades, and in doing so both independently dive into their shared past: Discuss what the two have in common in the aftermath of the end of their relationship. Were you surprised by any of these similarities? Would you say that Julian was equally as changed as Penelope was?

14. How is Julian shown trying to control time? Discuss what you believe is driving him to do this. Why do you think it's significant that in Julian's last scene, we see him falling asleep in this manner?

15. Landscapes takes place in the future, with the setting being a familiar-looking Europe: Talk about the differences between our current world and this future one. Which elements surprised you? Do you think the unpredictable, rapidly changing landscape that the characters are immersed in had any particular effect on your reading of this novel? Why do you think this setting was appropriate for Penelope's story?

16. The narrator's namesake is a character in Homer's Odyssey: Penelope, wife of Odysseus. What do the two Penelopes have in common? In what different ways is Penelope shown waiting in Landscapes? Why does Penelope think that "waiting gives power to the other" (p. 180)?

17. Throughout the novel, we are presented with snapshots of Penelope's work as an archivist and of