Fiction Round-Up

There are some books that, for a range of reasons, I read but just didn’t get around to reviewing in full this year. Because I’d like to start the new year without a pile of books I haven’t reviewed yet glaring at me I thought I’d do a couple of round-ups instead. Today it’s fiction, later in the week will be non-fiction.

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The Vanishing Futurist – Charlotte Hobson

In 1914, Gerty Freely moves from Cornwall to Moscow and becomes a governess. Narrated in Gerty’s old age from the house in Hackney where she lived with her husband until his death sixth months previously, The Vanishing Futurist tells a story of the Russian Revolution through Gerty’s involvement with Nikita Slavin and the commune they establish with friends. We know from the prologue that Slavin, an inventor, disappeared in January 1919. The official story is that he left in an invention of his own making but Gerty reveals the truth. A smart and ultimately heart-breaking novel about the price of freedom from social norms.

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Speak – Louisa Hall

Five voices tell the story of the evolution of Artificial Intelligence. In 2040, Stephen R. Chinn, incarcerated in Texas State Correctional Institution, tells of how he designed babybots to help children with their speech. The babybots were programmed to respond to the things their owner told them, storing details in their memory. In transcripts from Chinn’s trial, we meet Gaby Ann White who talks to the voice of a former babybot called Mary3. Through the discussion we learn about the bond these children developed with their babybots before they were taken from them. In 1968, Karl Dettman writes to his wife, Ruth, who is using the computer he’s designed, called Mary, as a child substitute, causing tension in their marriage. The fourth voice are letters from Alan Turing which chart his friendship with Chris Morcom and his thoughts regarding Artificial Intelligence. Finally there’s The Diary of Mary Bradford, a pilgrim girl from the 1660s, which Ruth Dettman is editing – and has named her husband’s voice activated computer programme after. Hall weaves the five voices together showing a society both enamoured with and frightened of AI. A superb novel which should have garnered far more attention than it has.

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The Big Lie – Julie Mayhew

A counterfactual novel in which the Nazis have won World War Two and the UK is part of the Greater German Reich. Jessika Keller is the daughter of a high-ranking official, loyal to the state and a promising ice skater. When Jess is seven, the Hart family move onto her street and their daughter, Clementine, becomes her best friend. But Clementine and her family aren’t like the Kellers. Clementine is a rebel and soon her attitude starts to have an effect on Jess. And what would happen in a right-wing state if Jess were to fall in love with the wrong person? Beautifully written and all the more chilling considering current world events.

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LaRose – Louise Erdrich

LaRose begins with Landreaux accidentally shooting dead his neighbour’s young son. Following traditional example, Landreaux and his wife, Emmaline, send their young son, LaRose, to live with their neighbours in place of the dead son. LaRose not only tells the story of the fallout of the death, the switch and the impact on both families, it tells the families’ backstories. There had been a LaRose in each generation of Emmaline’s family for over a hundred years. We follow the story of Emmaline’s ancestor LaRose and discover the relationship between Landreaux and Romeo Puyat, who used to be classmates and now despise each other. A complex, engrossing, family/community saga that explores how earlier generations affect and influence the present.

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The Girls – Emma Cline

No doubt you’ve already heard of Emma Cline’s debut The Girls. Set in California in 1969, Cline details the summer when her narrator Evie becomes enamoured with a group of girls and becomes part of a cult. This leads to an encounter with a Manson-like figure. The summer and adolescence are well-captured. Evie rebels against her mother, pushing boundaries at home, as well as legally, in her desire to be part of an adult world she doesn’t understand. However, Cline inserts chapters told in a present day in which Evie is staying at a friend’s apartment with her friend’s son and his girlfriend. This gives Evie the opportunity to reflect upon what happened in 1969, commenting on some of the behaviour displayed by the two young adults she finds herself living with. Not only are these chapters not as vivid and atmospheric as those from Evie’s adolescence but knowing Evie survives to middle-age also serves to undercut the tension of the 1969 scenes. Cline’s a writer with a promising future but The Girls fails to live up to its promise.

 

Thanks to Faber and Faber, Orbit, HotKey Books, Corsair and Chatto & Windus for the review copies.

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

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It seems there’s been a return to traditional topics this fortnight. Having children (or not) and body image are back at the top of the agenda. On the former, Daisy Buchanan wrote, ‘I’m economically infertile, and I’ve made peace with that‘ on The Pool; Stephanie Merritt, ‘Sheryl Sandberg admits she did not get how hard it is to be a single mother‘ on The Pool; Ashley Patronyak, ‘A Slight Risk‘ in Guernica; Jordan Rosenfeld, ‘On Discovering Real Mothers on the Page‘ on Literary Hub; Diana Abu-Jaber, ‘Motherhood vs. Art: There Is No Wrong Choice‘ on Literary Hub; Rivka Galchin, ‘Why Does Literature Hate Babies‘ on Literary Hub; Willa Paskin, ‘Speak, Motherhood‘ on Slate; Jennifer Gilmore,’I’m Glad My Mother Worked‘ on The Cut, and Louise O’Neill, ‘I think I would be a good mother; I just don’t want to be one‘ in The Irish Examiner.

Discussions about body image seems to be around the publication of two new books: Shrill by Lindy West and Dietland by Sarai Walker. West wrote, ‘The ‘perfect body’ is a lie. I believed it for a long time and let it shrink my life‘ in The Guardian. Walker was interviewed in The Bookseller and The Pool. And Mallory Ortberg wrote, ‘“We would have paid her the same if she weighed 500 pounds”: Publishing, Weight, and Writers Who Are “Hard To Look At”‘ in The Toast

And then there was this: the men-only bookclub who only read books about men. LV Anderson at Slate decided to tell us all off for being outraged about it, ‘Feminists Shouldn’t Roll Our Eyes at Men-Only Books Clubs. We Should Applaud Them‘.

This fortnight saw the deaths of Sally Brampton and Geek Love author, Katherine Dunn. Kathryn Flett wrote, ‘Sally Brampton – the woman who made ‘Elle girls’ the new normal‘ in The Guardian and Daisy Buchanan wrote, ‘Depression is not a battle that can be won or lost‘ on 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, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

In the Media, May 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.

Jenny Diski at the LRB bookshop in London.

The last fortnight’s been dominated by death. On Thursday, Jenny Diski died less than two years after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Literary Hub ran ‘Remembering Jenny Diski‘ including pieces from Hayley Mlotek, Michelle Dean, Joanna Walsh, Bridget Read, Laura Marsh, Marta Bausells and Charlotte Shane. The Guardian ran an extract from her cancer diary. Joanne Harris wrote a found poem ‘Opium Ice Cream‘ from Diski’s tweets, and The London Review of Books opened Jenny Diski’s entire archive to non-subscribers.

The previous week comedian Victoria Wood died. A.L. Kennedy declared her, ‘My Hero‘ in The Guardian; Helen Walmsley Johnson wrote, ‘Victoria Wood gave us the gift of being able to laugh at ourselves‘ in The New Statesman

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Although he’s not a female writer, Prince also died just over a week ago and so much brilliant writing by women has come from that: Porochista Khakpour, ‘Prince’s Woman and Me: The Collaborators Who Inspired a Generation‘ in the Village Voice; Maya West, ‘A Hierarchy of Love and Loss and Prince‘ on Jezebel; Bim Adewunmi, ‘Celebrating Prince For 48 Hours In Minneapolis‘ on Buzzed; Heather Haverilsky, ‘Prince Showed Me a Whole New Way of Existing‘ on The Cut; Amanda Marcotte, ‘Sexy MFers, unite: The feminist power of Prince’s sex-positive songs‘ on Salon; K.T. Billey, ‘Prince and the queer body: Our dirty patron saint of pop gave me permission to think outside the gender binary‘ on Salon; Kaitlyn Greenidge, ‘Surviving a Long Alaskan Winter with Prince‘ on Literary Hub; Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, ‘Prince Spent His Life Elevating and Mentoring Women‘ on Jezebel; Lily Burano, ‘Why Prince Was a Hero to Strippers‘ on The Cut; Ashley Weatherford, ‘Understanding the Politics of Prince’s Hair‘ on The Cut; Mona Hayder, ‘Prince Was a Demigod Who Uplifted the Masses Through Music‘ on Literary Hub; Naomi Jackson, ‘Prince: Finding Joy Outside Conformity‘ on Literary Hub; Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, ‘Prince conjured the kind of sex you’d want to have – filthy and fun, and sometimes offensive‘ in The Independent; Tracy King, ‘We should celebrate Prince for championing female musicians‘ in The New Statesman; Laura Craik, ‘“I loved him because of how his music made me feel”‘ on The Pool; Michelle Garcia, ‘Prince gave black kids permission to be weirdos‘ on Vox; Ijeoma Oluo, ‘Prince Was The Patron Saint Of Black Weirdos‘ on The Establishment.

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Other brilliant writing about music came from the launch of Beyoncé’s new album Lemonade. Brittany Spanos, ‘How Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ Reclaims Rock’s Black Female Legacy‘ in Rolling Stone; Mandy Stadtmiller, ‘How Lemonade Helped Me Talk to My Husband About Cheating‘ on The Cut; Treva Lindsey, ‘Beyoncé’s Lemonade Isn’t Just About Cheating, It’s About Black Sisterhood‘ in Cosmopolitan; Caroline O’Donoghue, ‘Monica, Becky With The Good Hair, and the power of the Other Woman‘ in The Pool; Diamond Sharp, ‘Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ Is an Anthem for the Retribution of Black Women‘ on Vice; Morgan Jerkins, ‘‘Lemonade’ Is About Black Women Healing Themselves and Each Other‘ in Elle; Daisy Buchanan, ‘What can Beyoncé’s Lemonade teach us about love?‘ on The Pool; Vanessa Kisuule, ‘Why Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ Shows a Refinement of her Artistry‘ on Gal-Dem; Carrie Battan, ‘Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” Is a Revelation of Spirit‘ in The New Yorker; Priscilla Ward, ‘Beyoncé’s radical invitation: In “Lemonade,” a blueprint for black women working through pain‘ on Salon; Ezinne Ukoha, ‘I Will Do Better By My Sisters‘ on Medium; June Eric-Udorie, ‘Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and the power it bestows young black women‘ on The Pool; Rafia Zakaria, ‘Warsan Shire: the Somali-British poet quoted by Beyoncé in Lemonade‘ in The Guardian; Juliane Okot Bitek wrote, ‘On the Poet Warsaw Shire, Nobody’s Little Sister‘ on Literary Hub. While Jamila addressed Piers Morgan’s criticisms of the album with ‘Dear Piers…‘ on her blog.

And I wanted to include this story because it’s just lovey: Jessie Burton’s new novel The Muse includes a setting named after Waterstones’ bookseller Leila Skelton. Skelton does the most incredible window displays at the Doncaster shop which are often shared on Twitter.

The best of the rest:

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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/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

In the Media: 22nd March 2015

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.

The big news this week is that Kath Viner became the first woman appointed to the role of editor-in-chief at The Guardian in its 194 year history. The first woman to edit a UK broadsheet and only the second EIC of The Guardian to have attended a (selective) state school.

Unfortunately, the other trend in articles this week have been about the abuse women have suffered from a variety of sources; Heidi Stevens wrote in the Chicago Tribune ‘Hate mail lesson: Uncombed hair threatens the natural order‘; Sarah Xerta wrote ‘The Brick Wall: The Intersection of Patriarchy, Privilege, Anger, and Language‘ on VIDA; Juliet Annan ‘is a Lazy Feminist‘ in publishing on the Penguin Blog; Sara Pascoe wrote ‘The hymen remains an evolutionary mystery – and the focus of the oppression of women’s sexuality‘ in The Guardian; Katie McDonough wrote ‘If you’re shocked by this Penn State frat’s nude photo ring, you’re not paying attention‘ on Salon; Jessie Burton took ‘Speakers’ Corner‘ on Hunger TV; Claire Byrne wrote, ‘One sordid, gross and offensive comment must have been thought up while he sat there scratching himself in his grey fading jocks. I wonder what makes people think it’s acceptable to make comments like that?‘ in the Irish Independent, and Ashley Judd wrote, ‘Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass‘ on Mic.

And there’s been a number of articles about race; Rebecca Carroll wrote ‘Calling out one racist doesn’t make white people any less complicit in supremacy‘ in The Guardian; Jia Tolentino wrote ‘How to Talk About Race With Your Starbucks Barista: A Guide‘ in Jezebel; Maya Goodfellow wrote, ‘Climate change is easier to ignore because right now it’s people of colour who suffer the most‘ on Media Diversified; Vulture interviewed Claudia Rankine on ‘Serena, Indian Wells, and Race‘ and KCRW’s Bookworm asked her about writing the racial ‘other’.

This week’s Harper Lee news: To Kill a Mockingbird was named #78 on The Guardian list of The 100 Best Novels; Casey N. Cep reported on ‘Harper Lee’s Abandoned True-Crime Novel‘ in The New Yorker, and Jonathon Sturgeon asked ‘Is It Time to Get Hopeful About Harper Lee?‘ on Flavorwire.

And prizes this week went to Louise O’Neill who won the inaugural YA Book Prize and Louise Erdrich won the Library of Congress Award.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

Or some non-fiction:

The lists: