In the Media: 18th January 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. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

It’s been another grim week for news. There’s been some insightful commentary from a number of female writers on the big stories though:

Charlie Hebdo and terrorism was written about by Caitlin Moran in The Times; while in The Guardian, Natasha Lehrer wrote ‘The Threat to France’s Jews‘; Hadley Freeman covered the same issue alongside the UK’s antisemitism survey, and Suzanne Moore declared ‘Add faithophobia to my crimes: I have no respect for religions that have little respect for me‘. On Reimagining My Reality, Steph wrote ‘Charlie Hebdo, freedom of speech, and male privilege‘ whilst on Media Diversified, Cristine Edusi wrote, ‘Ongoing terrorism in Nigeria is not a novel, the use of children as human bombs is #WeAreAllNigeria‘.

The Stuart Kerner case was commented on by Janice Turner in The Times; Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian, and Antonia Honeywell on her blog.

The lack of diversity in the Oscar nominees was written about by Roxane Gay in The Butter

And if that’s all made you thoroughly miserable/angry, here’s Sophie Heawood on Clooney’s Golden Globes speech and her daughter’s first day at nursery and Hadley Freeman on ‘How Amy Poehler and Tina Fey made the Golden Globes the first feminist awards ceremony‘ both in The Guardian.

Speaking of award winners, Hilary Mantel’s having another moment with the BBC television adaptation of Wolf Hall beginning this week. She’s in The Guardian, writing about the TV version; while John Mullan, also in The Guardian, profiles her ‘strange and brilliant fiction‘, while Kirstie McCrum tells us ‘What TV series like Wolf Hall can teach us about history‘ on Wales Online.

Joan Didion’s stint as a model for Celine has also been big news again this week. Adrienne LaFrance writes about fashion and loss in Didion’s work for The Atlantic; Molly Fischer tells us ‘Why Loving Joan Didion Is a Trap‘ on The Cut; Lynne Segal talks about ‘Invisible Women‘ in the LRB; Haley Mlotek declared ‘Free Joan Didion‘ in The Awl and Rachel Cooke says ‘That’s so smart‘ in The Observer, while Brainpickings revealed ‘Joan Didion’s Favorite Books of All Time, in a Handwritten Reading List‘.


The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

And the best things I’ve read this week:

The Bailey’s Women’s Fiction Prize Longlist 2014

Well it’s after midnight and I’m bleary eyed but here it is, the Bailey’s Women’s Fiction Prize longlist for 2014.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah

Margaret Atwood – MaddAddam

Suzanne Berne –  The Dogs of Littlefield

Fatima Bhutto – The Shadow of the Crescent Moon

Claire Cameron –  The Bear

Lea Carpenter – Eleven Days

M.J. Carter – The Strangler Vine

Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries

Deborah Kay Davies – Reasons She Goes to the Woods

Elizabeth Gilbert – The Signature of All Things

Hannah Kent – Burial Rites

Rachel Kushner – The Flamethrowers

Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland

Audrey Magee – The Undertaking

Eimear McBride – A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing

Charlotte Mendelson – Almost English

Anna Quindlen – Still Life with Bread Crumbs

Elizabeth Strout – The Burgess Boys

Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch

Evie Wyld – All The Birds, Singing

First thoughts: I’ve got a lot of reading to do! I’ve read and reviewed seven: The Luminaries, The Flamethrowers, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Still Life with Breadcrumbs, The Burgess Boys, The Goldfinch and All the Birds, Singing. Am particularly thrilled for Eimear McBride, Anna Quindlen and Evie Wyld. I also think The Burgess Boys has been hugely underrated in the UK, so it will be wonderful to see Elizabeth Strout get the recognition she deserves.

As for the rest, Americanah, Burial Rites, The Lowland and Almost English were already high on my review pile. I have copies of The Signature of All Things and Maddaddam, although Maddaddam’s terrifying me – I love Margaret Atwood’s writing but it’s the third part of a trilogy of which I’ve read nothing and I don’t want to read the end before the beginning. I might have to hide for a long weekend to read that one!

The Dogs of Littlefield, The Bear and Eleven Days were also already on my radar and I’m really looking forward to those.

That leaves four I’ve never heard of, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

As ever, I’ll be linking my reviews on this page as I add to them. I’m excited as to what the next month of reading brings.

The Flamethrowers – Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner’s second novel – her first to be published in the UK – seems to have created somewhat of a kerfuffle. Proofs arrived adorned with glowing comments from the likes of Jonathan Franzen and lots of critics agree that The Flamethrowers is a bloody good book.


However, Adam Kirsch writing for The Tablet suggested that the reason for this praise was due to the book being ‘a macho novel by and about women’. What Kirsch appears to be suggesting is that Kushner deliberately chose to write about motorbikes, land speed records and activism as some cynical ploy which would see her hoisted into the big boy’s realm of ‘The Great American Novel’.

In a period which has already seen A.M. Homes take The Women’s Prize for Fiction with May We Be Forgiven (a definite contender for The Great American Novel), a book which concerns itself with the domestic sphere as a microcosm of contemporary America, and Hilary Mantel claim a double Man Booker Prize win with the first two installments of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, you’d think we’d have moved away from the idea that women are only interested in, and therefore can only write about, marriage and babies.

Kushner’s protagonist, Reno (nicknamed after the place she’s from), has been riding motorbikes since she was 14. As the novel opens Reno’s on her way to take part in the land speed records, a venture that is as much about art – ‘I was bringing to that a New York deliberateness, abstract ideas about traces and speed…’ – as it is her love of speed:

American legend Flip Farmer had shot across these flats and hit five hundred miles an hour, driving a three wheeled, forty-four-foot aluminum canister equipped with a jet engine from a navy Phantom…

Growing up, I loved Flip Farmer like some girls loved ponies or ice skating or Paul McCartney…

When I was twelve, Flip came through Reno and gave out autographs at a casino. I didn’t have a glossy photo for him to sign, so I had him sign my hand. For weeks I took to the shower with a plastic bag over that hand, rubber-banded at the wrist.

Reno assumed that her move to New York, a move which she sold her Moto Valera motorbike to finance, would lead to her losing interest in bikes and speed. But her move sees her meet and enter into a relationship with Sandro Valera, one of the sons of the Valera motorcycle manufacturer.

Sandro has left the running of the family business back in Italy to his brother, Roberto, and come to New York where he’s established himself as a successful artist.

The novel is set in the 1970s and also concerns itself with the social and political unrest of the time. An entire chapter’s dedicated to a group active in New York in the late 1960s, calling themselves Motherfuckers:

“Because we hated women…Women had no place in our movement unless they wanted to cook us a meal or clean the floor or strip down…We saw a future of people singing and dancing, making love and masturbating in the streets. No shame. Nothing to hide, Everyone sleeping in one big bed, men, women, daughters, dogs”.

While in Italy, industrial action by workers grows throughout the novel, playing a major part in the book’s denouement.

The Flamethrowers is a meaty, ambitious novel. It is not a book that asks you to empathise with its characters but to stand back and consider its themes and ideas, to assess it as work of art, in the same way that the art created by the characters within its pages is assessed. It is a work that demands to be taken seriously. And it is deserving of that demand, regardless of the gender of its author.

Thanks to Harvill Secker for the review copy.