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.

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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:

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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:

In the Media: 5th October 2014

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.

Is anyone else aware there’s a film version of Gone Girl out this week? Love it or loathe it, you certainly can’t miss it. Gillian Flynn’s been interviewed by Emma Brockes in The Guardian and told Vulture about 21 Things that Influenced her books. Erin Kelly wrote in the Telegraph about Why we are all in the grip of suburban noir, while Stylist ran some Words of Wisdom from History’s Greatest Female Crime Writers and Vulture ran a list of Seven Books to Scratch Your Gone Girl Itch which are not what you might expect (I’ve reviewed four and have two of the remaining three on my TBR).

Also having a moment is Jane Eyre and her creator Charlotte Brontë partly due to The Secret Life of Books episode dedicated to the book last week. Presenter of that episode, Bidisha, wrote a piece telling us Beware Your Classic Heroines as they might not be all you thought they were. Pam McIlroy wrote Is Jane Eyre passive or strong? in reaction to the programme. While Claire Hayes wrote about rereading and rethinking Jane Eyre as part of the Massive Open Online Course she’s taking. And if you can’t stand Jane Eyre (just me?), here’s Lucy Hughes-Hallet’s piece from earlier in the year about Why Villette is better.

Lots this week about gender parity or, more specifically, the lack of it. Anne Boyd Rioux wrote on her blog about the Challenge to a (Woman) Writer’s Credibility following the Washington Post’s review of Karen Abbott’s Liar Temptress Soldier Spy and on The Millions asked Is There No Gender Equity in Nonfiction? (I don’t need to remind you not to read the comments on that one, do I?) Rebecca Winson from For Books’ Sake wrote in the TES about their Balance the Books campaign, to challenge the gender divide on the new UK GCSE specifications. While Elisabeth Donnelly wrote on Flavorwire about the difference between Lena Dunham and Aziz Ansari’s Million Dollar Book Deals.

(Portrait by Jay Grabiec )

Talking of Lena Dunham (and other current high profile feminists), she’s still big news this week following the publication of her book. Roxane Gay interviewed her on Vulture and posted the outtakes. While the New York Times ran a piece on how she was turning her book tour into ‘a Literary Circus’. While the LA Times linked her with Laurie Penny to discuss how they are ‘rewriting womanhood for the 21st Century‘. Standard Issue interviewed Penny while the TLS ran a piece discussing Penny’s book alongside Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism and The Vagenda titled ‘Modern Sexism‘. And as I’ve mentioned Gay, I’m very excited by the news that The Toast have hired her to run their new sister site ‘The Butter’.

In translated literature news, there’s a great portrait of Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya in The New Yorker and a piece on Chinese Women Writers by Chialin Yu on Women Writers, Women’s Books. Still the Elena Ferrante pieces continue: there’s a podcast on The New Yorker about her mysterious power and Kat Stoeffel has a girl-crush on her on The Cut. While there’s an extract of Catherine Bessonart’s forthcoming novel And if, at Notre Dame, by nighttranslated by Louise LaLaurie on French Culture. All the more interesting for having the original text alongside the translation. And finally, Sal Robinson at Melville House commented on the possibility of a Women in Translation prize.

I never mention poetry. It’s not because I don’t enjoy it, more that I don’t feel even vaguely qualified to talk about it. However, I’m changing that as of this week (talking about it, that is). Poet of the moment, Kate Tempest is in The Guardian talking about how rapping changed her life. This fantastic poem, Leak by Lauren Levin in The Brooklyn Rail is well worth a read. While Patience Agbabi performs the Prologue from her reworking of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

If you prefer prose, Lionel Shriver emerged as the winner of the BBC National Short Story Award, you can read ‘Kilifi Creek‘ on The Guardian site; Hilary Mantel’s ‘The Long QT‘ from The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher; the opening of Marilynne Robinson’s new novel ‘Lila’ on the Virago Books, or Bidisha’s new novel-length fiction work Esha Ex on her blog.

The best of the rest articles:

And the interviews:

This week’s lists:

And my favourite pieces this week:

Books of the Year 2013

Choosing the books that I’ve loved, recommended and bought the most copies of for friends wasn’t difficult, whittling them down was. Because of that, I’ve gone for fifteen books that I enjoyed the most this year. If you click on the title of the book, it will take you to my original review.

Questions of Travel – Michelle de Kretser

Questions of Travel follows Laura and Ravi. Laura chooses to travel, using her inheritance from her aunt to do so; Ravi is forced to travel when the civil war in Sri Lanka visits his doorstep. de Kretser considers the myriad of ways in which we travel in modern society in a novel that’s sublimely written with a perfect ending. Winner of three awards in Australia, I’m astonished it hasn’t had a bigger fanfare in the UK.

 

Love, Nina – Nina Stibbe

Love, Nina contains a series of letters from Nina Stibbe to her sister Vic, written in the 1980s. At the time, Stibbe was a nanny to the sons of Mary Kay Wilmers, editor of the LRB. Alan Bennet frequently pops round for dinner, while the street contains a number of the UK literati. Stibbe’s letters are full of keen observations delivered in the same tone, regardless of the participants, and this makes the book both warm and humorous. It’s one of those books that’s larger than the sum of its parts. A joy.

Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

Apple Tree Yard tells the story of Yvonne Carmichael, a 52-year-old geneticist, who embarks on an affair with a stranger. An affair that will threaten her family, her career and ultimately, her freedom. Told in retrospect beginning with Yvonne standing in the dock at the Old Bailey, Apple Tree Yard had me up late at night, frantically turning pages. It’s a tightly plotted tale with an ending that will leave you gasping.

 

A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being is the dual narrative of Ruth, an American novelist living on a Canadian island, and Nao, a Japanese school girl. Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox, washed up on shore, containing Nao’s diary, some letters and a watch. She assumes it is debris from the 2011 tsunami. As Ruth reads Nao’s diary and the store of her family unfolds, we read Ruth’s story and are manipulated by it. A wonderful story of time and quantum physics.

 

 

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

After almost a decade of rejections, the small, independent Galley Beggar Press published this gem which went on to win The Goldsmith’s Prize. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is the story of an unnamed female narrator as told to (for?) her brother who is dying of a brain tumour. It is brutal both in its short, staccato prose and in content. (I don’t recommend reading it in the depths of January, it’ll send you over the edge.) This really is ‘a new voice in fiction’.

 

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

Winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize, The Luminaries is a yarn of a tale set amongst gold diggers during the gold rush in New Zealand. It is a story of murder, theft and love with a with a structure that builds throughout the first half and explodes with revelations in the second. One to indulge in.

 

 

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

Barrington Jedidiah Walker, 74, born in the Caribbean but resident in London has kept a secret for fifty years from his wife and two grown-up daughters: the love of his life, his best friend Morris. Barry decides it’s time to come-out but obviously, it’s not going to be that easy. Evaristo has a wonderful ear for dialogue and the rhythms of Barry and Carmel’s speech are a joy.

 

Jacob’s Folly – Rebecca Miller

A story told from the point of view of a fly shouldn’t work but it does and it does so brilliantly. The fly is the reincarnation of Jacob Cerf, an ex-peddler from 18th century France. When Jacob the fly becomes aware that he can influence others, he decides to meddle with the life of Masha Edelman, a 21-year-old Torah Jew and Leslie Senzatimore, a man who lives his life in order to help others. Miller uses their stories to consider whether we really have free will or whether our lives are constrained by other forces.

The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer

Six friends meet at summer camp in the 1970s and their lives become entwined forever despite the huge differences in their statuses. Wolitzer follows them through adult life looking at the choices they make and how these affect the whole group dynamic. It’s a dense novel but one that is driven forward by a non-linear narrative and a thread that you know is going to explode spectacularly.

 

The Engagements – J.Courtney Sullivan

The Engagements opens in 1947 with copywriter, Frances Gerety, creating the line ‘A diamond is forever’. The novel then goes on to intertwine her story – one of a woman who definitely doesn’t want an engagement ring – with those of four others: Evelyn Pearsall, whose son Teddy has just left his wife and children; James McKeen, a medical responder whose wife was recently mugged; Delphine Moreau, whose young lover has betrayed her, and a human rights officer whose helping with the preparations for her cousin Jeff’s wedding to his boyfriend, Toby. An unashamedly feminist look at our society’s values.

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Life After Life is the story of Ursula Todd, bound to relive her life until the changes are made that prevent her previous death. The concept sounds bizarre, the execution is brilliant. Atkinson takes us through the war, affairs and a meeting with Hitler. The section of the novel during The Blitz is particularly well drawn, so much so, you’ll want to hide behind your hands during some passages. This one will leave you wanting to find someone else who’s read it to discuss in detail.

 

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

The only book on the list not published this year, however it is one of this year’s Fiction Uncovered titles. Set in 1830, 14-year-old Mary tells us about life on her father’s farm with her four sisters and her elderly grandfather. Offered work at the vicarage, Mary is forced to go and tend for the vicar’s ill wife. When the vicar’s wife dies, she is kept on and the course of her life takes a turn for the worst. A novel about the control of men over women told with a voice that will have you rooting for this young girl.

 

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

The story of Theodore Decker, who’s caught in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, in which his mother dies. The attack leaves him with the painting ‘The Goldfinch’ in his possession and a ring that he’s to return to James Hobart. These two things will set his life on a dangerous course. Told in immersive detail, this is a wonderful novel which will have you living Theo’s eventful life alongside him.

 

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls is the book that reignited my love of thrillers. It’s the story of Harper Curtis, time-travelling serial killer (stick with it, it works) and Kirby Mazrachi, who should have been one of his victims but who survives his attack and sets out to track him down. But The Shining Girls is more than that, it’s also the story of all Harper’s victims and those victims tell the story of women through the twentieth century. Shining, indeed.

 

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie was the first book I read to make the list. It’s the story of Hattie, who leaves the segregated south for Philadelphia and a better life. Hattie is already pregnant with twins and with her womanising, gambling, alcoholic husband whom she can’t stay away from, Hattie will have another eight children. These, along with her first grandchild, form the twelve tribes of the title. Each chapter tells one of their stories, stories of homophobia, abuse and mental illness. A beautifully written story of a family and one woman’s quest for survival.

Thanks to all the publishers who’ve sent books for review this year.

A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

Before I get on to talking about the content of the novel, I just want to mention what a fabulous job Canongate have done with this book. On publication day, you could buy the novel in one of four formats – hardback, paperback, ebook and audio book, all priced as you’d expect. What is really fabulous though is that if you buy the gorgeous hardback from the Canongate online shop, you get the ebook as well – hurrah! I think I’m right in saying this is the first time this sort of package has been offered by a publisher and it’s brilliant. I’ve said several times on Twitter that, as someone who loves beautiful books but doesn’t want to carry them around with me anymore now I have the convenience of an ereader, this is exactly what I want. And although I was given an eproof of the book, I will be buying the hardback because the design is fantastic – and so is the content.

Hi!

My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you. A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.

So begins the novel. Although this may or may not be the start of the story. This start is the one written by Naoko Yasutani, a Japanese school girl who writes her diary inside what was once a copy of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). She says that the diary will tell the story of her great-grandmother Yasutani Jiko, a nun, novelist and New Woman but as Nao’s story progresses it really is her story and that of her family.

However, we are only reading Nao’s story because Ruth, an American novelist now living in Canada, has found a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of the island she inhabits with her husband Oliver, cat Schrödinger (although they tend to call him Pest or Pesto) and the sort of characters you might expect to find on an isolated island. The lunchbox contains:

a small stack of handwritten letters; a pudgy bound book with a faded red cover; a sturdy antique wristwatch with a matte black face and a luminous dial.

They suspect that the package is one of the many items lost during the 2011 tsunami and swept out to sea. Ruth begins to read the diary, adding footnotes for the Japanese colloquialisms and then searching online to see whether she can trace the girl and her family. As the novel progresses, she becomes increasingly wrapped up in Nao’s story and wants to interact with her, even though this diary must have been written several years previously.

I will write down everything I know about Jiko’s life in Marcel’s book, and when I’m done, I’ll just leave it somewhere, and you will find it!

How cool is that? It feels like I’m reaching forward through time to touch you, and now that you’ve found it, you’re reaching back to touch me!

If you ask me, it’s fantastically cool and beautiful. It’s like a message in a bottle, cast out onto the ocean of time and space. Totally personal, and real, too, right out of old Jiko’s and Marcel’s pre-wired world. It’s the opposite of a blog. It’s an antiblog, because it’s only meant for one special person, and that person is you. And if you’ve read this far, you probably understand what I mean. Do you understand? Do you feel special yet?

I’ll just wait here a while to see if you answer…

I love a good bit of metafiction but Ozeki takes it further than that. Really this is a book about quantum physics and whether we can exist in more than one state at the same time. Does Nao exist in the time she wrote the diary and also Ruth’s time as she reads and edits it and also our time as we read it?

If that sounds complicated and off-putting, please don’t let that stop you from reading the book. It’s one of those rare texts which works on several levels meaning that if you want to read a cracking good story, this is a cracking good story and if you want something you can mull over, discuss with other readers and re-read again and again to unpick the ideas further, this is also your book.

I’m baffled as to why this book isn’t on the Women’s Fiction Prize longlist; I suspect, in time, we will be proclaiming it a masterpiece.

Thanks to Penguin (US) for the review copy.