In the Media, June 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.

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It’s impossible to begin with anything other than the Stanford rape case. The victim’s court statement was published on Buzzfeed and went viral. The piece, along with responses from Brock Turner’s father and friends, including a female friend who defended him, have prompted some impassioned and powerful pieces: Louise O’Neill wrote, ‘20 minutes is an awfully long time when you’re the one being raped‘ in the Irish Examiner; Estelle B. Freedman, ‘When Feminists Take On Judges Over Rape‘ in The New York Times; Sarah Lunnie, ‘Maybe the word “rapist” is a problem: The utility of nouns and verbs, or accepting who we are and what we do‘ on Salon; Adrienne LaFrance, ‘What Happens When People Stop Talking About the Stanford Rape Case?‘ on The Atlantic; Kim Saumell, ‘I was never raped but…‘ on Medium; Rebecca Makkai, ‘The Power and Limitations of Victim-Impact Statements‘ in The New Yorker; Roe McDermott, ‘He Said Nothing‘ on The Coven; Glosswitch, ‘Does the outrage over the Stanford rape case do anything to help victims?‘ in the New Statesman

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The other big news this fortnight was Lisa McInerney’s debut novel, The Glorious Heresies, taking The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016. Justine Jordan wrote, ‘Sweary Lady’s riot of invention is a well-deserved winner of the Baileys prize‘ in The Guardian. While McInerney wrote about her working day for The Guardian and shared a secret in ‘Bad Behaviourism‘ on Scottish Book Trust

There’s a new series on Literary Hub about women writers in translation. Written by a group of translators, each fortnight they’re looking at a country and the women writers from there yet to be translated into English. So far they’ve covered Germany, China and Italy. I’ve added it to the regulars at the bottom of the page.

And finally, the excellent Jendella Benson has a new column on Media Diversified. This week’s is ‘How to Raise a Champion‘ and I’ve also added her to the list of regulars at the bottom of the page.

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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:

Dan Phillips

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

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

In the Media, May 2016, Part Three

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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Books in translation have been having a moment following Han Kang and translator Deborah Smith winning the Man Booker International Prize for The Vegetarian. They wrote, ‘It is fascinating to ponder the possibili­ties of language‘ for The Guardian; Charles Montgomery wrote, ‘The Triumph of Han Kang and the Rise of Women’s Writing in Korea‘ in The Los Angeles Review of Books; Sophie Hughes wrote, ‘On the Joyful Tears of a Translator‘ on Literary Hub. Judith Vonberg writes, ‘Translated fiction is not a genre. Why do bookshops tell us it is?‘ in The New Statesman and Anjali Enjeti asks, ‘Do Americans Hate Foreign Fiction‘ on Literary Hub

‘The abiding memory of my childhood is being unwelcome wherever we went’… Nina Stibbe.

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:

Tracey Thorn photographed by Suki Dhanda for the Observer New Review

The regular columnists:

Dear Fang, With Love – Rufi Thorpe

When I first saw Vera in the psych ward, she was wearing paper slippers and eating a banana.

Lucas, seventeen-year-old Vera’s father, is our narrator. He and Vera’s mother, Katya, were eighteen when Katya became pregnant. Lucas didn’t stick around, taking himself to university, re-entering Vera’s life briefly when she was four and then on a more permanent basis when she was eleven.

She set down her banana and looked at me. “We see each other on the weekends, and its fine. You rent whatever movie I want, great, fine. But sometimes you are so desperate for me to like you that it makes me annoyed. You’re like a dog begging for attention. It disgusts me. You are honestly the last person in the world I want to talk to right now.”

Vera’s been brought into the psychiatric ward from a party where she stripped naked and began reading from the book of Revelation, after which she attempted to baptize some cheerleaders with sour apple liqueur then tried to slit her wrists. Vera’s diagnosed with bipolar I with psychotic features, a diagnosis that her mother refuses to believe.

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Eventually, Lucas starts to think Vera isn’t mentally ill either, ‘I sometimes felt the doctors were simply trying to medicate the Russianness out of her’ and decides to take her on a trip to Vilnius where his grandmother was born.

Grandma Sylvia came with many stories, but the one that dwarfs the others is the tale of how she escaped the gas chambers: because she was so beautiful, a Nazi soldier pulled her out, raped her, threw her some clothes and money and told her to run.

“And so your grandmother always celebrated that day,” my mother would say, “as her second birthday, her rape birthday.”

The term “rape birthday” made me cringe, especially as I got older.

“Why cringe?” my mother said. “He saved her life. Rape happens. Rape is a fact of life. Nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I’m not ashamed of it,” I would say, but I was lying. I thought that rape was something shameful and terrible that a woman would not ever want to talk about. But I could still remember the cheap supermarket cakes my grandmother would buy for herself on her rape birthday, the blue flowers of lard frosting she would lick off the knife.

I’m sure it’s clear by now that this book isn’t an easy read. There’s a lot in here about survival – surviving war and genocide, mental illness, widowhood, divorce, being a single parent, being abandoned as a baby. Thorpe made an interesting choice in deciding to tell the bulk of the story from Lucas’ point-of-view, that of a privileged, white, American male who spends a fair portion of the book acting like an overgrown baby. There’s a brilliant moment towards the end where he goes to find a woman he’s been having a holiday fling with to share all his woes with her.

“See,” she said, “as you were talking, I realized, you know, I’ve done this a hundred times before. Not with you, I’m not saying you’ve done this to me a hundred times. But in my life, I’ve listened to a man cry and sob and bemoan what a failure he is or what a bad person or tell me how tragic his life is. And I have always let my heart go out to them, and I have always tried to mother and to fix and to help, but you know what? It never actually works. I’m just getting too old to keep doing it, Lucas. You can’t imagine how surreal it was, as you kept going on and on, it was like I was trapped in a scene I had played a thousand times. And the truth is, we don’t really know each other, do we? It’s not my job to leap in and help you get your life sorted. You need to grow up and do that on your own.”

At which point, I punched the air. Of course, having Lucas narrate means he’s unreliable – he doesn’t really know his daughter, and his family stories are, well, his family’s versions of things they’ve been told. As the book unfolds, Lucas’ sense of himself unravels.

He’s not the only one: the beginning of each chapter is an either an email from Vera to her boyfriend, Fang, or a word document Vera’s written. She becomes increasingly obsessed with the idea that Fang has cheated on her after seeing a photograph of him with his arm around another girl on Facebook and then with philosophy and whether the self actually exists.

Dear Fang, With Love is an interesting novel (and a leap from Thorpe’s debut The Girls from Corona del Mar). An examination of whether you can really know another person; whether you can really know where you came from, and whether you can really know yourself. It’s a complex book, one that I think requires several readings. I think they’re the best kind of books but I suspect that’s a matter of taste.

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Thanks to Corsair for the review copy.

 

 

Things on the Internet I've Enjoyed Lately

I suppose this is a very mini version of In the Media with not quite so catchy a title. There are a few things that have caught my attention lately that I thought were worth sharing.

Firstly, The Prime Writers, a group of writers who had their debut novels published at 40+, have joined together and launched their website last week. (No surprise that the majority of the group are female.) There you’ll find everything you need to know about each of the writers and their books. There’s also fantastic content being posted regularly, I particularly enjoyed this conversation between Antonia Honeywell and Claire Fuller about their debuts which are both about fathers and daughters.

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Norwich Writers Centre have announced their Brave New Reads for the summer. They include Black Country by Liz Berry, Green Carnation Winner Any Other Mouth by Anneliese Mackintosh and one of my books of the year so far, Jennifer Clement’s Prayers for the Stolen. You can find out more about the authors, read extracts from the books and find out how to join in the discussion on the website.

Other things well worth reading:

One of my favourite writers, Janice Galloway, has a new short story collection, Jellyfish, out this week. You can read a short story from it in Prospect called ‘Romantic‘.

Lauren Laverne’s blog for The Pool is always worth reading (published on Mondays) but this week’s is particularly good, ‘What’s Happened to Social Mobility?

Also on The Pool and worth reading every week is Sali Hughes. Last week she wrote, ‘Let’s hear it for honest celebrities‘.

Eva Wiseman’s column for the Observer is also brilliant every single week. This Sunday’s was particularly fantastic and beautiful: ‘What is the price of heartbreak?

Rufi Thorpe whose debut The Girls from Corona del Mar is well worth a read, wrote a beautiful piece about publishing a first novel on Medium: ‘The Frightening and Wondrous Things That Will Happen to You When You Publish Your First Novel‘.

Also beautiful is Jess Richards’ piece for Scottish Book Trust, ‘Undrowned‘.

Briliant interviews published in The Guardian/Observer this week with my new favourite writer Nell Zink and feminist YA writer Louise O’Neill whose book Only Ever Yours I bought last week as it sounds amazing.

Last week I said I was considering writing a response to Kamila Shamsie’s piece calling for a year of publishing only women but Foyles Assistant Head of Fiction, Marion Rankine, said everything I was going to say in her piece for The Guardian, ‘Battling bias on the shop floor: how bookstores can support diversity‘. I went into Foyles on the Southbank last week and face on to the door, first book you saw as you walked in was Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. I was impressed (and I bought it).

And if you need a good laugh, there’s an extract from Bridget Christie’s forthcoming A Book for Her in The Guardian, ‘Feminists never have sex and hate men opening doors for them, even into other dimensions‘ and John Crace’s Digested Read of Grey by EL James also in The Guardian is hilarious. Count how many times you can get the phrase ‘enormous cock’ into one article (you’d never get away with that in The Times).

 

The Girls from Corona del Mar – Rufi Thorpe + giveaway

The giveaway is now closed.

This feeling of resigned disappointment, a kind of contained disgust, was present throughout the rest of my life in almost all of my human relationships. Always, people were turning out to be a bit less than they could have been, a bit more what you had uncharitably expected. Even I was less than I hoped I would be, and it was Lorrie Ann, in large part, who made me aware of this…

Mia, our narrator, and her best friend Lorrie Ann grow up in Corona del Mar, a hamlet in California. We meet the pair of them as Mia asks Lorrie Ann to break her toe in order to get out of a softball championship game. The real reason Mia can’t play is because she’s having an abortion.

In a way, Lorrie Ann made me everything I am, for my personality took shape as an equal and opposite reaction to who she was, just as, I am sure, her personality formed as a result of mine…For me, my friend Lorrie Ann was the good one, and I was the bad one…And yet it was not me but Lorrie Ann whom the vultures of bad luck kept on visiting, darkening the yard of her house, tapping on the panes of her windows with their musty, blood-crusted beaks. “Wake up, little girl!” they cried! “We’ve got something else for you!”

Lorrie Ann’s problems begin when a drunk driver kills her father. As Mia begins to mature and achieves the grades to leave and study classics at Yale, Lorrie Ann finds herself pregnant. She marries the father, Jim, and this is where the events that will blot her adult life begin in earnest.

As the book progresses, we follow Mia and Lorrie Ann’s lives as their decisions and the consequences of those decisions take them further away from each other, both geographically and emotionally.

The Girls from Corona del Mar covers a range of significant themes: the American health care system, war, drugs, motherhood and the treatment of women in contemporary society. (There’s a fantastic few lines where Mia reflects on Lorrie Ann’s treatment when she gives birth in the hospital:

And it’s true: everyone ignores a woman in labor.
This was just the way babies got born.
This was just the way women were hung, like meat, from hooks upon the wall.)

But this is also a novel about creation; Mia creates the version of Lorrie Ann that she presents to us, this is also true of the other characters (Mia’s mother’s particularly worthy of note here) and of Mia herself. After Yale, Mia goes on to translate ‘the full Inanna cycle, a series of ancient songs that tell the story of the Sumerian goddess Inanna’, suggesting to us that Mia’s more than competent at telling a story in a way that makes people want to read it. That what she has to say is translated through her thoughts and feelings and that the versions of herself and Lorrie Ann we are privy to are the versions Mia wants us to have.

The Girls from Corona del Mar has a compelling voice and a cracking story, both of which keep you turning the pages. It’s also multi-layered, tackling big themes and ideas without hindering the story. My only complaint would be that I found the pacing slightly uneven but this is a minor issue in a debut that crackles and leaves you wanting to discuss it further.

Thanks to the lovely people at Hutchinson Books, I have a copy of The Girls from Corona del Mar one of you to win. To win, simply leave a comment below before 5pm (UK time), Sunday 14th September. The winner will be chosen at random and notified soon after the closing time. International entries welcome.

Thanks to Hutchinson for the review copy and the prize.

Edit: Giveaway Winner

I’ve allocated everyone a number in order of entry:

1 – madamebibliophile
2 – hastanton
3 – Katie
4 – Anne Coates
5 – Claire
6 – Elena
7 – Kylie Grant
8 – Ametista

And the random number generator says:

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Congratulations, Elena. The book’s on its way to you. Thanks to everyone else for entering.