There’s never been another writer anything like Oates, and although she is clearly immensely admired and respected, I don’t think she is as treasured as she should be. She is – no contest – the most prolific serious literary writer ever, by a very long way, which is striking enough even if you don’t know that many of her books are large, nearly all of them are very intensely wrought in terms of feeling and prose, and they are extremely varied, as if she is always needing to stretch herself.

This book is her first aimed at ‘young adults’, the blurb tells me. I’m not terribly clear as to what that means, whether such a sector exists, but this is a little less intense than usual, in some ways, a little lighter. Normally her prose has the demanding gravitas and potency of a Faulkner or Patrick White, but this has less weight and more bounce and light. She’s retained all of the strength of feeling and richness of character from her heftier old-adult novels – the Big Mouth of the title is a teenage boy who makes some cracks at school that are reported to the police as death threats. He’s in the line of a number of other Oates characters for whom one incident turns them into legends, if only on a local scale (and this of course fits with her fascination with Monroe, as in the magnificent fictionalised bio Blonde), and she’s terrific on the image and the reality, the outside and the inside. The Ugly Girl is a really remarkable character, strong and complex and rich and unique and familiar, one of the most impressive creations I’ve read in years, sad and impressive and difficult. Not all that much happens after the opening incident kicks things into gentle motion, but it’s packed with beautifully incisive moments, with a fine and deep grasp of how social issues at school can cut and burn you.

I adore Joyce Carol Oates always, whatever she is writing about. It’s an analogy that’s hard to defend in any depth, but this book feels to me rather like a deeply serious towering rock albums artist suddenly making a great pop single. I enjoyed it immensely, and I’m sure anyone else would too.