In the Media, November 2015, 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.

There have been a number of powerful pieces published over the last fortnight by women about women reading books by white men and trying to please an establishment that loves white male writers. Rebecca Solnit wrote, ‘80 Books No Woman Should Read‘ on Literary Hub and Sigal Samuel responded with ‘What Women Can Learn From Reading Sexist Male Writers‘ on Electric Literature. Jennifer Weiner wrote, ‘If you enjoyed a good book and you’re a woman, the critics think you’re wrong‘ in The Guardian but the big one was Clare Vaye Watkins ‘On Pandering‘ published on the Tin House blog. On Flavorwire, Alison Herman published a response titled, ‘Claire Vaye Watkins’ “On Pandering” Describes a Specific Experience of Writing and Gender, But Has the Power to Start a Broader Conversation‘ and it did. Nichole Perkins wrote ‘A Response to “On Pandering” in the LA Times; Aya de Leon wrote, ‘In Gratitude for Claire Vaye Watkins and my own Fatherlessness as a Woman Writer‘ on her blog; Marie Phillips wrote, ‘Writers: we need to stop pandering to the white, male status quo‘ on The Pool; Katy Waldman argued, ‘Claire Vaye Watkins’ Tin House Essay “On Pandering” Has a Very Limited Definition of “Male Writers”‘ on Slate

The woman with the most publicity is Patricia Highsmith. The film of her novel The Price of Salt, renamed Carol was released on Friday (in the UK). In the New Yorker, Margaret Talbot writes ‘Forbidden Love: The Passions Behind Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt‘; there’s an interview with Phyllis Nagy, screenwriter and Highsmith’s friend on Bookanista; Frank Rich wrote, ‘Loving Carol‘ on Vulture

The Irish Book Awards were announced this week, including wins for Anne Enright, Louise O’Neill, Susan Jane White, Jane Casey, Sinead Moriarty,Sara Baume and The Long Gaze Back anthology edited by Sinéad Gleeson. While in London, the Costa Book Awards shortlists were announced.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

The interviews:

The regular columnists:

The Summer of Secrets – Sarah Jasmon

At the end of the day, whatever their provenance, these are stories belonging to a summer which existed outside of the bounds of everyday reality. And its abrupt ending, its total, final and underlying cut-off, leaves them floating there, fairy tales from a world so enclosed I am no longer certain what was real and what I had created for myself.

The Summer of Secrets takes place in 1983 and in 2013. In the latter year, we’re introduced to Helen as she sees a poster for an art exhibition by a woman called Victoria Dover. Helen’s tried to find Victoria several times since 1983 but never succeeded. Now she’s back in Manchester and Helen returns to the memories of the summer they spent together.

Sixteen-year-old Helen lives near a section of the Manchester canal with her father. Her mother has recently left them and gone to live in Southport. Helen refused to go, remaining with her father who is struggling to cope both on a practical level and mentally. Helen is free to come and go as she pleases, her father rarely checking where she is or whom she’s with.

As she lies in the garden reading a book, Helen hears scuffling and whispering voices. Going to investigate, she finds a small girl in the middle of the hedge. She’s been dared to get to the other end of the hedge without Helen seeing her. She identifies herself as Pippa Dover, sister of a twin brother, Will. She also mentions another brother, Seth.

Helen, Pippa and Will play in the garden until a girl arrives to claim them:

It was a girl of about her own age, but so different that she could have been dropped from another planet. She had long hair, heaped and knotted at the back of her head, and she was wearing a tie-dyed sundress, pink going through purple into blue, brown leather sandals with toe-posts, and yellow nail varnish.

This is Victoria Dover.

The Dovers are living in one of the cottages near the canal. It’s noticeably run-down alongside the two other cottages that stand in the same row. The children have a mother, Alice, who lives with them but is fragile and rarely present. Their father, Jakob is absent, it is his brother Piet who pays the rent and comes to check on the family.

Helen is fascinated by them and their freedom. With a lifestyle so different to that imposed previously by her own mother, she’s drawn to the family and the cottage, spending more and more time there as the summer progresses. But almost everyone is keeping a secret and the combination of a hot summer, freedom from parental control and a newfound knowledge about the world will make for a very dangerous combination.

The Summer of Secrets captures those childhood summers which seemed to stretch endlessly as you hung around with friends finding various ways to entertain yourselves during the long days. Jasmon captures the atmosphere of these brilliantly, transporting the reader to warm days by the canal.

The lane had been surfaced at some distant point, but what remained was cracked and dusty, the space reclaimed by the thrusting growth of dandelions and grasses. Helen stopped, pinching a grass stem between finger and thumb and sliding up, so the seeds gathered in a neat bunch. April showers, she thought, as she tossed them away. The sky was cloudless and the air heavy, the heat a dense curtain she had to push her way through.

The sections of the novel set in 1983 are told in third person subjective from Helen’s point-of-view while the 2013 sections are told in first person. Jasmon deliberately separates the Helen of the more recent sections from the person she was at sixteen. The reason for this is revealed at the novel’s climax after long-kept secrets are revealed.

The Summer of Secrets is a gripping read. Although the 2013 sections are drip-fed throughout – and discovering what happened to Victoria is clearly key for Helen – the tension created in the 1983 chapters through Helen’s more conventional lifestyle and behaviour rubbing up against the more bohemian way of the Dovers was what kept me reading. Every encounter between Helen and Victoria or Seth or Piet or Alice felt as though it could end in disaster. If you prefer your summer reading to be smart and a little on the dark side without venturing into psychological thrillers, this could be the one for you.

 

Thanks to Transworld for the review copy.