In the Media, March 2017, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

img_2033

This fortnight’s seen a number of prize lists announced. The big ones for women writers are the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist and the Stella Prize shortlist.

768x1024-54d3ac61-29fa-11e6-a447-cdb81be3215bhttp-s3-eu-west-1-amazonaws-com-ee-elleuk-rhyannon-jpg

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments on trans women have prompted a number of responses.

Dance Recital

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

valeria-luiselli-2003

Personal essays/memoir:

4928

Feminism:

vera_chok_680_x_453_jpg_680x453_crop_upscale_q85

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

00-square-jami-attenberg-interview

The interviews/profiles:

qb1mq-4g

The regular columnists:

In the Media: December 2016

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

04adichie-master768

Post-election coverage is still top of the tree this fortnight:

The other big story has been the revelation that Maria Schneider was raped in Last Tango in Paris:

141219_live_jesmynward-crop-promo-mediumlarge

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

 

kim_fu_insert_by_laura_d_apostrophe_alessandro_courtesy_houghton_mifflin_harcourt

Personal essays/memoir:

3n1a0781-edit-720x480

Feminism:

samira-shackle

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

yemisiogbe-49_large

The interviews/profiles:

dscn0388

The regular columnists:

In the Media: November 2016, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

621951848_hillary-clinton-zoom-5bf026cb-ebbc-4a1b-b647-4614139b82a3

What else can begin this fortnight’s coverage?

arisa-white-img_3880-small

Photograph by Nye’Lyn Tho

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

kapoor20author

Personal essays/memoir:

ph9eqhcoco2qbwe

 

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

jade-chang-credit-teresa-flowers-e1464188907750-531x424

The interviews/profiles:

1000x2000

The regular columnists:

Transit – Rachel Cusk

Before the shortlist for the Sunday Times/Peters Fraser and Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award is announced and shadowing duties begin in earnest, I’m going to cover The Goldsmiths Prize shortlist because apparently I have too much time on my hands I’m a glutton for punishment five of the books on the shortlist of six are written by women. Why’s this so exciting? On a broad scale, because experimental fiction writing by women is often confined to the margins. On a personal level, two of my books of the year – Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Martin John by Anakana Schofield – are on the list. (By the time I’ve finished covering the shortlist you’ll see that number’s increased to three, meaning that half of the shortlist are on my books of the year list!) What you’re going to get over the next ten days then are interviews with Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Anakana Schofield, coverage of Eimear McBride’s event at Manchester Literature Festival and reviews of Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians, Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk and Rachel Cusk’s Transit, beginning with the latter.

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for some time might recall that I didn’t enjoy Rachel Cusk’s Outline which I read when it was longlisted (and then shortlisted) for The Baileys Prize. I wasn’t intending to read Transit which is the second part of Cusk’s trilogy but there was a sense that people thought it was really good/better than Outline and then it was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize. I went in with an open mind…

methode2ftimes2fprod2fweb2fbin2f14d971f4-7f53-11e6-9862-c87336845bcf

Transit, like Outline, involves a series of stories told to the book’s narrator. Each chapter contains a different story told by a different person, each of whom are in transit in some way. The first chapter is slightly unusual in that the stories come from an online astrologer, whom the narrator believes is an algorithm, and an estate agent from whom the narrator is buying a property.

It was a council-owned property: they were keen to find another buyer straight away, and the price reflected that fact. As I could see, he said, it was in pretty poor condition – in fact, it was virtually uninhabitable. Most of his clients, hungry as they were, wouldn’t have touched it in a million years. If I would permit him to use the word ‘imagination’, it was beyond the scope of most people’s; though admittedly it was in a very desirable location.

Here Cusk lays the thread that will run throughout the novel – her narrator buys the flat and her children go to stay with their father while she has it renovated. She, and the flat, are in transit. But there’s a device here too with the idea of using your imagination. Cusk doesn’t make this tale easy for the reader; as in Outline, you have to piece together who the narrator is and what she might want from the tales other characters tell which reflect back on her, ‘we are only the result of how others have treated us’, she says.

One of the things Cusk appears to be doing is considering how we create the narrative of our lives and how that narrative fits with or contradicts the narrative of those who shared part of the time or an experience with us. The first person to tell their story is an ex-boyfriend of the narrator whom she meets in the street.

I said it seemed to me that most marriages worked in the same way that stories are said to do, through the suspension of disbelief. It wasn’t, in other words, perfection that sustained them so much as the avoidance of certain realities. I was well aware, I said, that Gerard had constituted one such reality at the same time those events had occurred. His feelings had to be ridden roughshod over; the story couldn’t be constructed otherwise. Yet now, I said, when I thought about that time, these discarded elements – everything that had been denied or wilfully forgotten in the service of that narrative – were what increasingly predominated.

Other narratives come from the builder, a hairdresser, a writer at a literary festival, one of the narrator’s students, one of the narrator’s friends, and the narrator’s cousin.

Elements of the novel I found most interesting were the idea of creating a narrative from other people’s stories; the child in the hairdresser’s who doesn’t speak a word throughout the entire chapter but clearly has some sort of trauma going on in their head which is conveyed purely through silence and (in)action, and the literary festival where the narrator is the only woman on a panel of four (including the chair) and is treated appallingly both during the event and afterwards when the chair walks her to her hotel.

However, I also had a number of problems with the book: the first was that the majority of stories are told by male characters and when the tale-teller is female, the story inevitably involves their relationship with a male.

The second was the working class characters. There are three in the book, one of the writers at the literary festival and the couple who live in the council flat below the one the narrator buys. The writer has written a ‘misery lit/poverty porn’ memoir which has sold around the world.

It was poverty the modern way, everyone living on benefits, obese with boredom and cheap food, and the most important member of the family was the television. […] His mother was given a council house when he was born – ‘one of the many perks,’ he said, ‘of having me in her life’…

He left this way of life after taking a job mowing the lawn of a wealthy, foreign, gay, art-collecting couple whom he told his story to, after which ‘he’d blab his story to anyone who’d listen’.

The couple in the flat below bang on the ceiling when the narrator and her children make too much noise walking across the floor, cook foul smelling meals, have junk in their back yard and make misogynistic comments to the narrator about having men back to her flat. They’re definitely not the sort of people you’d want living below you but there’s some sympathy to be had for them when you realise they’ve been in the flat for forty years, during which time the area has become gentrified. None of their friends live there anymore, they can’t afford it.

The problem I have with these portrayals are they’re stereotypes and in a novel where the majority of characters are middle class and behave in a variety of ways – some poorly, some well – and are allowed to be people, having two sets of working class characters who read like something the Daily Mail might come up with is infuriating.

The third, and final, issue I have is exactly the same problem I had with Outline: that the reader is held at arm’s length from the narrator. We’re distanced by the stories she tells us, she’s not prepared to let us in. What this leads to for me, is an intellectual exercise, which in some sections of the novel is interesting and stimulating and in others – dare I say it – is boring, and it’s very rare I use that word to describe a novel.

I enjoyed Transit more than Outline; although I found it patchy, there were moments that I found illuminating and stories that were interesting. During the chapter at the literary festival, the narrator recounts:

I said I wasn’t sure it mattered whether the audience knew who we were. It was good, in a way, to be reminded of the fundamental anonymity of the writing process, the fact that each reader came to your book a stranger who had to be persuaded to stay. 

The jury’s out as to whether or not I stay for the final part of the trilogy.

In the Media: 19th April 2015

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was revealed this week. Sarah Shaffi of The Bookseller reports, ‘Experience tells on Baileys Women’s Prize shortlist‘ while Anna James of We Love This Book introduces us to each of the books and invites us to read along in this video.

Other big news was London Book Fair. For readers, this means announcements about new acquisitions from significant writers. Alison Flood in the Guardian reports, ‘Age shall not weary them: Diana Athill, 97, and Edna O’Brien, 84, are stars of London book fair‘ and ‘London book fair excited by Erica Jong’s new novel‘. The Quietus reports on Viv Albertine’s new book and the cover for Patti Smith’s sequel to Just Kids was released this week, see it in The Pool. If you want a glimpse into what goes on at the fair, Antonia Honeywell wrote on her blog about the panel she was part of, ‘Promoting Debut Authors – London Book Fair 14th April 2015‘.

The woman with the most publicity this week is Evangeline Jennings who’s interviewed on The Indie View, Col’s Criminal Library, Quirky Fiction, Omnimystery News and in character as one of the narrators of her short stories, Helen Wheels on Reflections of Reality.

In this week’s Harper Lee news, ‘PRH reveals Harper Lee title page‘ reports Publishers Weekly.

And in this week’s Elena Ferrante news, if you haven’t read anything by her, she’s this week’s Bedtime Bookclub in The Pool where you can read the first five chapters of My Brilliant Friend. Also in The Pool, Viv Groskop asks, ‘Is being a bestseller all in a name?‘ and Cristina Marconi writes, ‘Elena Ferrante versus Italy‘ on Little Atoms.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Music, Film and Television:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

If you want some poetry to read:

  • What Did Sriraman Say?‘ by Perundevi (translated by Padma Narayanan and Subashree Krishnaswamy) in Words Without Borders
  • Highway‘ by Malathi Maithri (translated by Lakshmi Holmström) in Words Without Borders
  • Three Dreams‘ by Sharmila Seyyid (translated by Lakshmi Holmström) in Words Without Borders
  • Fear‘ by Krishangini (translated by Padma Narayanan and Subashree Krishnaswamy) in Words Without Borders
  • Shunaka: Blood Count‘ by Karthika Nair in Granta
  • Gone to Pasture/To Speak‘ by Natalie Eilbert in The Offing
  • Compromised Field‘ by Shareen Mansfield on The Honeyed Quill
  • Humbles‘ by Frances Leviston on Poem Today
  • The Handshake‘ by Isabel Rogers on her blog
  • A Psalm for the Scaffolders‘ by Kim Moore on Seren Books’ Blog

If you want some non-fiction to read:

The lists:

The Bailey’s Prize for Women Shortlist 2015

Here it is! The official shortlist for 2015. It shares three books with the Shadow Panel shortlist. If you click a cover, it will take you to my review of the book. Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors.

Outline – Rachel Cusk

An unnamed narrator – a writer – flies to Athens to teach on a creative writing summer school course ‘entitled “How to Write”’. On the plane from Heathrow, she sits next to a man with whom she has a conversation about his life in the way that only seems possible when you converse with a stranger you never expect to see again. He talks about his upbringing, his two wives, his children and the way the second wife treated one of the children from the first marriage.

The narrator reveals little of herself during this time. The only real comment from her is that she’s recently moved to London with her children, having lived in the countryside for ten years – seven with her then husband and a further three following the end of the marriage.

It had been, in other words, our family home, and I had stayed to watch it become the grave of something I could no longer definitively call either a reality or an illusion…a marriage is a system of belief, a story, and thought it manifests itself in things that are real enough, the impulse that drives it is ultimately mysterious. What was real, in the end, was the loss of the house, which had become the geographical location for things that had gone absent and which represented, I supposed, the hope that they might one day return. 

As they arrive in Athens, the man (who she refers to as ‘my neighbour’) asks for her telephone number. They go on to meet twice more when he takes her out on his boat.

The narrator goes to meet Ryan, another tutor on the course, and then establishes herself in the flat she’s staying in for the duration of her time in Athens. The rest of the book concerns her teaching and meeting up with a number of people – other writers, friends and ‘my neighbour’ – before the tutor who will take over from her arrives and they spend a brief amount of time together. There are no spoilers there as the plot is scant. The book concerns itself with the stories of the people the narrator meets. This is a novel of ideas, rather than one of plot or character; it’s about narratives – the ones we construct and what they tell us about how we see ourselves and what other people take from them.

Before the narrator leaves ‘my neighbour’ at the end of the plane journey, she tells him:

I remained dissatisfied…by the story of his second marriage. It had lacked objectivity; it relied too heavily on extremes, and the moral properties it ascribed to those extremes were often correct…I found I did not believe certain key facts…Reality might be described as the eternal equipoise of positive and negative, but in this story the two poles had become disassociated and ascribed separate, warring identities. The narrative invariably showed certain people – the narrator and his children – in a good light, while the wife was brought in only when it was required of her to damn herself further. The narrator’s treacherous attempts to contact his first wife, for instance, were given a positive, empathetic status while his second wife’s insecurity – well-founded, as we now knew – was treated as an incomprehensible crime…this was a story in which I sensed the truth was being sacrificed to the narrator’s desire to win.

The ideas in the book are interesting and it’s mostly well written – there are some terrible similes (if, like me, you have a problem with similes in general). However, I’m not convinced this works as a novel. We meet the people the narrator meets and learn their stories – or the stories they want to tell her – but we barely get to know the narrator and it’s here the issue lies; she distances us from the stories and herself, leaving the reader nothing to grasp to help us through the narrative. I don’t mind a protagonist being unlikeable; I enjoy character studies as much as a plot-driven novel, but to give us nothing, is asking a lot. The point of this seems to be explained by the writer who arrives at the end of the book. She too has flown – this time from Manchester – and has spent the flight in conversation with the man sitting next to her – a diplomat.

He was describing, she realised, a distinction that seemed to grow clearer and clearer, the more he talked, a distinction he stood on one side of while she, it became increasingly apparent, stood on the other. He was describing, in other words, what she herself was not: in everything he said about himself, she found in her own nature a corresponding negative. This antidescription, for want of a better way of putting it, had made something clear to her by a reverse kind of exposition: while he talked she began to see herself as a shape, an outline, with all the detail filled in around it while the shape itself remained blank. Yet this shape, even while its content remained unknown, gave her, for the first time since the incident, a sense of who she was.

As a reader, I would have liked the protagonist to have let us in, to give us more of a sense of who she was.

Outline has also been reviewed by fellow Bailey’s Prize shadow panel members Paola and Eric on their respective blogs.

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2015

It’s here! The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2015 is as follows:

Rachel Cusk: Outline

Lissa Evans: Crooked Heart

Patricia Ferguson: Aren’t We Sisters?

Xiaolu Guo: I Am China

Samantha Harvey: Dear Thief

Emma Healey: Elizabeth is Missing

Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven

Grace McCleen: The Offering

Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star

Heather O’Neil: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

Laline Paull: The Bees

Marie Phillips: The Table of Less Valued Knights

Rachel Seiffert: The Walk Home

Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone

Ali Smith: How to be both

Sara Taylor: The Shore

Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread

Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests

Jemma Wayne: After Before

PP Wong: The Life of a Banana

I’ve read and reviewed six of those already, if you hover over the titles, I’ve linked to my reviews.

Initial thoughts are I’m absolutely thrilled for Lissa Evans whose book I love and made my end of year list last year. Also very pleased for Sara Taylor whose debut I’ve read but not posted my review of yet (it’s published later this month), which is very good. I’ve got lots of reading to do but many of the books there are books I’ve had in my to be read pile for a while! (I also need to apologise to the person who commented on my wish list and mentioned Heather O’Neill’s book; I didn’t think it was eligible and clearly I was wrong. I’m pleased it comes highly recommended though.)

I’m looking forward to reading the rest and discussing with the rest of the shadow panel. Please do join in and let us know what you think of the list and any of the books you read.