Swallowing Mercury

Wioletta Greg

Published: 5 January 2017
Hardback, B Format
129x198mm, 160 pages
ISBN: 9781846276071

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Published: 2 November 2017
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 160 pages
ISBN: 9781846276095

Ebook Available

Translated by Eliza Marciniak.


Wiola lives in a close-knit agricultural community. Wiola has a black cat called Blackie. Wiola's father was a deserter but now he is a taxidermist. Wiola's mother tells her that killing spiders brings on storms. Wiola must never enter the seamstress's 'secret' room. Wiola collects matchbox labels. Wiola is a good Catholic girl brought up with fables and nurtured on superstition. Wiola lives in a Poland that is both very recent and lost in time.

Swallowing Mercury is about the ordinary passing of years filled with extraordinary days. In vivid prose filled with texture, colour and sound, it describes the adult world encroaching on the child's. From childhood to adolescence, Wiola dances to the strange music of her own imagination.

About the author


‘[A] richly evocative novel [of] a multi-layered world of religious faith, superstition and practicality under the strictures of the Soviet regime... The central character's quirky cast of mind and distinctive voice help turn the ordinary into something extraordinary: the endless round of farm chores, churchgoing and village gatherings, acquires a magical, atavistic character in Wiola's account of them... An emotionally charged but meticulously plotted coming-of-age story that is at once intimate and an eloquent snapshot of a time and place’



I really loved this strange book, which is sometimes sinister and sometimes lovely, and many other things besides’ Evie Wyld, author

‘A highly evocative debut novella, which hovers beguilingly somewhere between straight coming-of-age memoir and slightly surreal folk tale... Greg's great achievement is to conjure up [the] period so vividly that you can smell it, taste it and feel itRoger Cox

‘A sparkling little gem of a book - there is a freshness and truthfulness in Wioletta Greg's writing that reminded me of Elena Ferrante and Tove Jansson’ Carys Davies, author

‘Beautifully crafted... From the frightening to the farcical, Wioletta Greg describes growing up in the final decade of the Polish People's Republic with a humour and matter-of-factness that belie a harsh reality’

‘Full of mysterious elements of folk and superstition, making it immediately engaging [...] and employing a mesmeric vocabulary’ Belle Hutton

‘Greg paints an evocative, yet dream-like picture of a Poland that is at once familiar, but distant... Swallowing Mercury is both magical and sinister, and, like Wiola, completely captivating’ Catherine Small

‘Greg writes with a precise, strange charm, and the poet's acute sensitivity to detail. Little by little, I felt the presence of young Wiola appear beside me - vital, quick-witted and curious, picking her way through the dark woods of faith, family, sex and politics as if in some melancholy fairytale. I experienced the book like a series of cool, clear drinks, each more intoxicating than the last: I love and admire it in equal measureSarah Perry, author

‘I have been utterly 'swallowed' by this odd yet oddly familiar folk novella - somewhere between memoir and fairytale - which has magic and menace in perfect measure’ Sara Baume, author

‘These recollections, idyllic on the surface, exhibit, in fact, cruel rules of poverty, survival, and feudal loyalty to tradition... The clear, simple sentences of a child's perspective describing each of the characters highlight even more the absurdity of reality and how it intertwines with religion and politics... It recognizes the stomach pain and the pain of existence in small places, where the contingency of events is somehow painfully visible, like the inevitability of death, yet delightfully seductive’ Urszula Chowaniec

‘This book comes the way memory does, in fragments, like something overheard or glimpsed through a gap in a door. It might feel as if you shouldn't be listening, should turn away, but it is impossible to do so’ Daisy Johnson, author

‘This disorientating novel is bursting with sensual images... I can't think of a novel like itClaire Allfree

‘This enchantingly elliptical fiction debut sparkles with a gem-like quality. Thanks to Eliza Marciniak's crisp translation, it brings freshness even to the crowded genre of the novella-sized bildungsroman, and can be devoured alongside the best coming-of-age translations of recent years... Swallowing Mercury is a richly textured portrait of a culture now lost: rural life under one of the milder communist regimes... It is refreshing to find a fiction writer so free of stylistic pomp, so finely attuned to the truth of her material, a novel so sensually saturated. The full cumulative power of Greg's prose is felt towards the end, as it accelerates alongside Wiola's adolescence - until we are swept into the unknown’ Kapka Kassabova

‘What emerges from this funny but also profound autobiographical piece is a picture of a layered society, riven with internal contradictions where much lurks beneath the surface’

‘Wioletta Greg's first novella shines with a surreal and unsettling vigour. As an award-winning poet, Greg writes with a lyricism that brings alive the charms and dangers of Wiola's life, while an afterword by translator Eliza Marciniak offers valuable historical context’ Rebecca Liu

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