In the Media, April 2017, 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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Photograph by Murdo MacLeod

 

Women have been dominating the prize wins for the past fortnight. Hollie McNish won the Ted Hughes Prize and Kiran Millwood Hargrave won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize with The Girl of Ink and Stars.

While The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was announced. Rebecca May Johnson writes ‘Notes on . . . the Baileys Women’s Prize‘ (and reading women more generally) in the Financial Times. There are interviews with several of the longlisted writers on the prize’s site: Madeleine Thien, Naomi Alderman, Linda Grant, Yewande Omotoso, Heather O’Neill, Fiona Melrose, Eimear McBride, Emma Flint.

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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: 21st December 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.

Lots of end of year round-ups this week, as you might expect. Two great things happened on Twitter: on Saturday morning, the @#ReadWomen2014 account became @#Read_Women and will continue. I say reading books by women is for life, not just for 2014 (I might make that the blog’s subtitle). Proustitute is convening a goodreads group for 2015 and Travelling in the Homeland has begun a list of Indian women writers available in English translation to help you continue and broaden your reading of books by female writers. Secondly, in response to a male dominated piece on hits and misses in the year in publishing in The Guardian, Ursula Doyle, Associate Publisher at Virago started #hitsandmisses which women in publishing then used to respond with their own take on the year. It’s well worth a read to pick up any gems you might have overlooked.

Elsewhere, Electric Literature told us Why 2014 Was the Year of The Essay; The Guardian had The Best Thrillers of 2014; Buzzfeed had The 28 Best Books By Women in 2014; Rabble in Canada had The Best Book Reviews of 2014; The Huffington Post had The Highlights: Best of Fiction 2015 and The Ones to Watch: Best Debut Fiction Coming in 2015 both from Hannah Beckerman; Flavorwire had The Best Non-Fiction Books 2014; Longreads had the Best of 2014: Essay Writing, and The Coast had Top 15 Books of 2014. And more mini-round-ups were published on The Millions. Ones by Rachel Fershleiser, Yiyun Li, Rebecca Makkai, Gina Frangello, Michelle Filgate, Emma Straub, Jean Hanff Korelitz and Tess Malone are particularly interesting in terms of female writers.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction or poetry to read:

And the lists:

And because it’s Christmas:

In the Media will be taking a two-week break over Christmas and new year. Thank you to everyone who’s read, shared and commented over the last three months.

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.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis

Hattie is 17. With her mother and sisters, she has left Georgia and the Jim Crow laws for Philadelphia and a better life.

If she lived to be one hundred, Hattie would still see…her father’s body collapsed in the corner of his smithy, the two white men walking from his shop without enough shame to quicken their pace or hide their guns.

At that very moment [while Hattie, her mum and sisters are leaving Georgia] the white men were taking his name plaque from the door of his blacksmith’s shop and putting up their own.

Unbeknownst to Hattie, she’s pregnant with twins to a man ‘she only liked…because he was a secret from her mama and because it thrilled her to go out with a country boy she thought beneath her’.  As the novel begins, she is nursing the twins – Philadephia and Jubilee – as they battle with pneumonia. Their death frames the rest of Hattie’s (and her husband/the twins’ father, August’s) life. She becomes stoic, making sure the nine children and one grandchild that follow have the basic necessities of life while August womanises, drinks and gambles.

The chapters are each about, or told from, the point of view of the children and grandchild – the twelve tribes. We learn about their lives and through them, the life that Hattie and August lead.

Hattie’s children have their own issues: one, a touring Jazz trumpeter womanises to try and cover his homosexuality; another has become a preacher, moving state to escape punishment for the horrific beating he has given another boy; a third has gone to war not knowing that his estranged wife was pregnant when he left. Of the girls, one has married well – a doctor – but is depressed and delusional, misremembering childhood abuse that was inflicted on one of her brothers; another tries to kill herself after an affair ends badly, and the one who is a mother herself has to be sectioned while Hattie and August protect her daughter.

This all makes it sound rather grim and depressing but the novel’s so beautifully written, the characters so fully fleshed, that you’re immersed in their worlds – the worlds that this matriarch has survived for so long (Hattie’s 71 at the end of the book) – and it becomes a story of human resilience. This is not a book about the experience of black people – although their migration and the Jim Crow laws certainly frame the novel – it is a book about the experience of all of us.

Ayana Mathis has written an incredible debut. Already a firm contender for one of my books of the year.

Thanks to Hutchinson Books for the review copy.