In the Media: May 2017

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.

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In prize news, the Granta Best of Young American Novelists list was announced:

Fiona McFarlane took The Dylan Thomas Prize for her short story collection The High Places, Maylis de Kerangal won The Wellcome Book Prize, and Sarah Perry and Kiran Millwood-Hargrave were winners at The British Book Awards. While Kit de Waal and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan were shortlisted for The Desmond Elliott Prize.

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Chris Kraus and I Love Dick are having a moment:

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And The Handmaid’s Tale has generated even more pieces:

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

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

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2016

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8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

Here they are, the 20 books longlisted for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. In alphabetical order (of author’s surname):

A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

Whispers Through a Megaphone – Rachel Elliott

The Green Road – Anne Enright

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Gorsky – Vesna Goldsworthy

The Anatomist’s Dream – Clio Gray

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

Pleasantville – Attica Locke

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie

Girl at War – Sara Nović

The House at the Edge of the World – Julia Rochester

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

My initial reaction is that the three books I thought were certs are all on there – A God in Ruins, My Name Is Lucy Barton and A Little Life. Very pleased to see all three.

I predicted six of the titles, which is my highest success rate ever! Very pleased to see Girl at War on the list as well as The Portable Veblen. I’ve enjoyed all those I’ve already read, which includes The Green Road which I haven’t posted my review for yet.

As for the rest of the list, I’m delighted to see Pleasantville – I loved Black Water Rising and have had the latest on my TBR pile for ages. I’ve also heard good things from people I trust about The Book of Memory, At Hawthorn Time and The Glorious Heresies.

As always with The Bailey’s Prize there are some books I hadn’t heard of before I saw the list. My absolute favourite part of this is reading those titles, there’s always one in there that surprises me with its brilliance. On looking through the blurbs, I can’t believe I hadn’t come across Ruby, it’s had so many fantastic reviews, and The Anatomist’s Dream is perfect for my PhD thesis so I’m very pleased it’s come to my attention.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the reading and debating the books with the rest of the shadow panel. I’m hoping you’ll join in the discussion on our blogs and Twitter too. Can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of the chosen titles.

 

 

My Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016 Wishlist

It’s almost time! The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist will be announced next Tuesday, 8th March. Once again, I’ll be shadowing the prize and for the second year running, I’ll be doing so with a panel. I’ll introduce you to the members of that panel on Friday.

For now though, here are the books I’d like to see appear on Tuesday’s list. They’re a combination of books I’ve loved and those I’m keen to read based on what I’ve heard about them so far. I’ve had to cull this list significantly to keep it to 20 books so, as usual, anything’s possible with the real one!

To be eligible, books have to be written in English and first published in the UK between 1st April 2015 and 31st March 2016. Publishers can enter three full length novels per imprint plus anything eligible by writers who have previously won the prize.

I’ve reviewed the first eleven titles – click on the covers to go to my reviews – and read the next three as well (reviews coming soon).

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In the Media, February 2016, part two

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 traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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On Friday, the death of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird was announced. Obituaries followed from Ed Pilkington and Matthew Teague in The Guardian; Eric Hamburger also in The Guardian; Casey N. Cep in The New Yorker, and The Irish Times, and appraisals of her work from Michiko Kakutani, ‘In Harper Lee’s Novels, a Loss of Innocence as Children and Again as Adults‘ in the New York Times; Sarah Churchwell, ‘Harper Lee: author battled to reconcile racial justice with a racially unjust society‘ and Elaine Showalter, ‘Harper Lee: an American novelist deserving of serious attention‘ both in The Guardian; Michelle Dean, ‘Did Go Set a Watchman spoil Harper Lee’s literary legacy?‘ in The Guardian; Katy Waldman, ‘What Is Harper Lee’s Legacy After Go Set a Watchman?‘ on Slate, and Alex Clark, ‘Why Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird endures to tell its tale of radical change‘ in The Observer

You might have heard that a fortnight ago Beyoncé released a new song ‘Formation’ which she went on to perform at the SuperBowl. Lots of people had lots to say about it. LaSha wrote, ‘Kendrick Lamar won’t face backlash like Beyoncé: Socially conscious art, sexual expression and the policing of black women’s politics‘, Priscilla Ward wrote, ‘White Beyoncé haters don’t get it: “Formation” isn’t “race-baiting” — but it is unapologetically about race‘ both on Salon; Banseka Kayembe wrote, ‘Beyonce Gets Political: Here’s Why it Matters‘ on the Huffington Post; Shantrelle Lewis wrote, ‘“Formation” Exploits New Orleans’ Trauma‘ on Slate; Nikita Richardson did ‘A Deep Dive into the Important, Unapologetic Blackness of Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’‘ on Hello Giggles; Suzanne Moore said, ‘Black Pride at the Super Bowl? Beyoncé embodies a new political moment‘ in The Guardian; The Pool asked, ‘Four women on what Beyoncé’s Formation means to them‘, and Anna Leszkiewicz said, ‘Beyoncé and #BlackLivesMatter: why “Formation” is her most radical release to date‘ in the New Statesman.

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Last weekend was Valentine’s Day; there was plenty of writing around that too. Emma Dowling wrote, ‘Love’s Labour’s Cost: The Political Economy of Intimacy‘ on Verso Books; Eleanor Franzén wrote ‘V Daze‘ on Elle Thinks; Eileen Myles, ‘on the Excruciating Pain of Waiting for Love‘ and Heather Haverilesky, ‘What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of Marriage‘ on The Cut; Marie Phillips wrote, ‘What I learnt from a year of being in love‘ and Emer O’Toole shared, ‘The Rules, and how I fell in love‘ both on The Pool; Lauren Duca asked, ‘Is There Such a Thing As a Feminist Marriage Proposal?‘, Laura June revealed, ‘What I Thought Romance Meant, Age 12–Present‘ and Meaghan O’Connell told us, ‘Getting Married in One Week Was the Most Romantic Thing I Ever Did‘ all in The Cut; Emma Flowers wrote, ‘Finding, Nearly Losing and Finally Building Love Across Two Genders‘ on the Huffington Post; Heidi Julavits on ‘My High-School Boyfriend, the Con Artist‘ in The Cut; Tiffany Yannetta wrote, ‘Lights, Camera, Love‘ on the history of dating shows on Racked, and Alana Massey said, ‘Tinder Is the New Meet-Cute‘ in The Cut.

Congratulations to Ríona Judge McCormack who won the inaugural Galley Beggar Press short story competition with ‘Blackburn‘. And The Stella Prize announced its 12 book longlist for 2016.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

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

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The interviews:

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The regular columnists:

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

In this short but complex and fulfilling novel, Lucy Barton, a writer, recounts a time many years earlier when she had to stay in hospital, in NYC, for nine weeks. Initially she goes into hospital to have her appendix removed but an unexpected fever follows and she’s confined for longer than expected. Her husband hates hospitals and between looking after their two daughters and working, he has little time to visit Lucy. About three weeks after she’s admitted, Lucy’s mother arrives.

I had not seen my mother for years, and I kept staring at her; I could not figure out why she looked so different.

“Mom, how did you get here?” I asked.
“Oh, I got on an airplane.” She wiggled her fingers, and I knew that there was too much emotion for us. So I waved back, and lay flat. “I think you’ll be all right,” she added, in the same shy sounding but urgent voice. “I haven’t had any bad dreams.”

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Tentatively, they begin to talk. Initially the conversation’s about Lucy’s older siblings before her mother starts to tell stories of people she knew in the past, moving on to people Lucy knew in childhood.

She talked in a way I didn’t remember, as though a pressure of feeling and words and observations had been stuffed down inside her for years, and her voice was breathy and unselfconscious.

Between these stories, Lucy begins to tell the reader of her upbringing. ‘We were oddities, our family’ she says. Poor, filthy, hungry and isolated; Lucy recalls being struck by her mother on occasion, sometimes for no reason at all. Her mother worked at the local library until she was told they could only hire someone with a proper education and her mother stopped reading. The consequence for Lucy and her siblings was that they grew up in a house without television, newspapers, magazines and books; this affected how they conducted themselves in the world – how do you know how to behave if you’re not aware of how things are done?

Lucy questions how bad things were when she was younger, from the seemingly safe distance of her very different adulthood:

But there are times, too – unexpected – when walking down a sunny sidewalk, or watching the top of a tree bend in the wind, or seeing a November sky close down over the East River, I am suddenly filled with the knowledge of darkness so deep that a sound might escape from my mouth, and I will step into the nearest clothing store and talk with a stranger about the shape of sweaters newly arrived. This must be the way most of us manoeuvre through the world, half knowing, half not, visited by memories that can’t possibly be true. But when I see others walking with confidence down the sidewalk, as though they are free completely from terror, I realize I don’t know how others are. So much of life seems speculation.

As the book continues, Lucy reveals more about her upbringing and particularly her father who’s cruel and uncompromising. She reveals how she came to be a writer and introduces a question about how much she’s telling us is ‘true’. She questions the validity of memories and, by talking about the writing process and the guidance she gained from another writer, raises ideas of stylised accounts. The novel’s as much about the things her and her mother won’t discuss as the things they do.

My Name Is Lucy Barton is a sharply observed novel about the relationship between a mother and a daughter, the events which shape us, and how reliable our memories are. It’s one of those novels in which both nothing and everything happens. The plotting is seamless – Strout makes the interweaving of Lucy’s past and current life look easy; the prose is taut, every word earning its place.

Despite her Pulitzer win in the USA (for Olive Kitteridge) and her Bailey’s/Orange Prize nominations in the UK (shortlisted for Amy and Isabelle, longlisted for The Burgess Boys), Strout isn’t well known in the UK, I suspect My Name Is Lucy Barton will be the novel to change that. If you haven’t read Strout’s work, I highly recommend everything she’s written and My Name Is Lucy Barton is an excellent place to begin.

 

Thanks to Viking Books/Penguin for the review copy.

In the Media: January 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 traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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January’s been living up to it’s reputation as the most miserable month in the calendar. There’s been the misogynistic and racist response to Sarah Howe’s Young Writer of the Year Award and TS Eliot Award wins. Poet, Katy Evans-Bush responded with ‘TS Eliot prize row: is winner too young, beautiful – and Chinese?‘ in The Guardian.

The deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman at least inspired some great writing: Stacey May Fowles, ‘Reconciling David Bowie‘ on Hazlitt and Sali Hughes, ‘I’ve had it up to here with the grief police‘ on The Pool. Gwendolyn Smith, ‘Forget Snape – in concentrating on him, we leave out one of the greatest roles Alan Rickman ever performed‘ in The Independent and Daisy Buchanan, ‘Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon taught me an important lesson about love‘ on The Pool

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In happier news, there were a number of other prize wins for female writers: Kate Atkinson won the Costa Novel PrizeAnuradha Roy won the 2016 DSC prize for south Asian literature; A.S. Byatt won the Erasmus Prize, and the writers shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award were revealed, including Annalisa Crawford, Peggy Riley and Erin Soros.

Glamour welcomed a transgender columnist: Juno Dawson will chart her journey in the magazine. I’ll add Juno’s column to the regular columnists list once it has a permanent URL.

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The Observer revealed their New Faces of Fiction for 2016 and Joanna Cannon wrote this great piece – The Monster Under the Bed – about her inclusion.

And the woman with the most publicity of late is Amy Liptrot with ‘I swam in the cold ocean and dyed my hair a furious blue… I was moving upwards slowly‘ in The Guardian; interviews in The Independent and The Pool.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

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Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

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The interviews:

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The regular columnists:

The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout

One of the things recent events in Boston has highlighted is that people can be quick to jump to conclusions based on very little evidence, or – as some puppets on Avenue Q sang – ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’. Maybe ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Ignorant of Other People’s Cultures’ might have been more factually accurate but often the outcomes are very similar.

Elizabeth Strout’s latest novel explores this idea through a wave of Somali immigration to the small town of Shirley Falls, Maine on America’s east coast. Shirley Falls was once home to the Burgess family – older brother Jim and twins, Bob and Susie. Jim left for New York as soon as their mother died, with Bob not long behind him. Susie has remained in Shirley Falls where she lives with her son, Zach, his father having left them and returned to his ancestral country of Sweden.

Early in the novel, Jim receives a telephone call from Susie which he relays to his wife, Helen and brother, Bob.

“Our nephew, Zachary Olson, has thrown a frozen pig’s head through the door of a mosque. During prayer. During Ramadan. Susan says Zach doesn’t know what Ramadan is, which is completely believable – Susan didn’t know what it was until she read about this in the paper. The pig’s head was bloody, starting to melt, it’s stained their carpet, and they don’t have the money to buy a new one. They have to clean it seven times because of the holy law. That’s the story, you guys.”

Helen looked at Bob. Puzzlement came to her face. “Why would that be all over the papers, Jim?” she finally asked, softly.

“Do you get it?” Jim asked, just as quietly turning to her. “It’s a hate crime, Helen.”

So the novel gains two major themes – that of immigration and ignorance, on both sides – and of family and what it means to be part of one, whether that be from the point of view of a spouse, a parent, a child, or a sibling.

The Burgess family is an interesting, although I would suggest fairly typical, family. Jim is a hot shot lawyer, still living off a big televised case some years previously. He married into money and continually feels the pressure to make sure that he’s earning and paying the family’s way. Bob works in legal aid and is the butt of the family’s jokes – particularly Jim who continually jibes him, referring to him as ‘slob dog’ and calling his apartment a ‘graduate dorm’. Bob was responsible, aged 4, for a tragic accident which killed their father, something he has had to bear all his life. Suzie works in a shop and has a lodger – Mrs. Drinkwater – to help make ends meet.

The Burgess Boys is a mature novel that successfully explores the actions and reactions of a family in crisis. Through the family members and the people closest to them, Strout creates a group of fully rounded humans who bicker and support and hurt each other and love. The focus on the family means that the issue of immigration and cultural understanding never threatens to overwhelm the novel and make it feel as though Strout is preaching to us as opposed to telling a story. This is an engaging novel well worthy of a few hours of your time.

Thanks to Random House (US) for the proof copy.