Bina is a woman who's had enough and isn't afraid to say so. In a series of taut and urgent missives she attempts to set the record of her life straight, and in doing so, to be useful to others. Yet being useful is what landed her in jail.
As with Joyce and Faulkner, Schofield is primarily concerned with weaving her tapestry via innovative approaches to narration and structure. If Martin John fractured its narrative by breaking down scenes and incidents into discrete chunks of elliptical prose, Bina pushes this technique even farther, with successive short passages that read like point-form notes or jottings ... Schofield’s anger is precisely calibrated and she strikes her targets mercilessly ... The humour in Bina is acerbic, though it drops off in the final third, as anger gives way to melancholy and mourning at the loss of a friend. There is irony here, too, in the complicated moral calculus involved in Bina’s calling and the fact that she has been brought up on charges for the one incident in which she insists she did not have a direct hand. This is typical of the author, whose subtlety is surpassing ... Schofield locates herself in the vanguard of a group of strong women writers – Rachel Cusk, Eimear McBride, Valeria Luiselli, Anna Burns – who are radically revising the novel’s potential and pushing it forward as a form. She calls this book 'a novel in warnings,' as if putting the reader on notice as to its singularity and calibrated strangeness. Her work is challenging and perturbing, sure. It is also, pace Marie Kondo, a source of much joy.
Readers who might be expecting the geriatric whimsy of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, or the slick gerontological procedurals of Elizabeth Is Missing or The Thursday Murder Club, will be in for a rude awakening. This is a novel of tangles and absences, aggressively resistant to sentimentality. To follow its wrenched syntax is to experience the frustrating dogleg lanes of consciousness, the distortions and failures of memory and self-narration ... this is not to be an encounter with an elderly character whose life is designed to help us extract lessons from it — that inverted child protagonist here to defamiliarize the everyday stuff and remind us all what really matters ... Whether you view the work you are asked to do here as a reader as a pleasure or a chore comes down to the sort of reader you are. I started off feeling as if I were going through a second round of lockdown, before the novel clicked and I found myself in tune with Bina, reading around and back and through her, coming to know her through that process and valuing her all the more because of it. Bina is a bitterly funny novel but one that carries moral weight. Ultimately much of its energy comes from the simple subversive act: making a woman’s life matter, making her voice be heard.
The slow disclosure of plot, at first frustrating, becomes one of the greatest pleasures of this excellent book. Painted with colour and wit, there emerges a whole host of absurdist characters clamouring for Bina’s attention ... The emotional core of the novel, however, is Bina’s relationship with her dear friend Phil, who, we are reminded in the footnotes, is the protagonist of Schofield’s first book, Malarkey (2012). Their friendship is beautifully realized on the page, providing a life-raft both for Bina and the reader in the face of so much cruelty ... These moments of vivid, metaphorical description are all the more striking in contrast to the brusque, contracted language otherwise deployed in Bina’s tale ... In writing her life as it happened, Bina is invested with the kind of power she has not been granted beyond the page. Such power does not extend to delivering herself the ending she has hoped for. Instead, we are given a beautiful, devastating tale about the tragedy of old age.