In the Media: 10th May 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. 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.

It’s Mother’s Day in 80 countries around the world today. Not surprisingly, there has been a whole range of articles, from a whole range of view points, about mothers and motherhood this week. The Hairpin ran a series including  ‘Mommy Queerest‘ by Sarah Liss; ‘Thoroughly Modern Murdering Mothers; or, Women Who Kill for Their Children‘ by Meredith Haggerty; ‘A Joke, A Story‘ by Naomi Skwarna; ‘Going for the Burn: Revisiting Jane Fonda’s Workouts‘ by Alison Hamm’ ‘Mothers and Moms‘ by Haley Mlotek, and Randi Bergman, ‘The Weirdest Beauty Tips I Learned From My Mom‘.

Tameka Cage-Conley wrote, ‘Motherhood, Art, And Police Brutality‘ on VSB; Amy Shouse wrote ‘My mom never wanted kids‘ on Salon; Anne Enright wrote, ‘When Mother Leaves the Room‘ in The New York Times; Cheryl Strayed wrote, ‘The ‘Painful Personal Toll Lung Cancer Has Taken on My Life’‘ on The Huffington Post; Monica Hessler, ‘The long drive to end a pregnancy‘ in The Washington Post; Mary HK Choi, ‘The Dicks Of Our Lives‘ on Buzzfeed; Mary Elizabeth Williams, ‘Sorry about Mother’s Day, my childfree girlfriends: Moms aren’t any more special (or unselfish) than you‘ on Salon; Edwidge Danticat, ‘A Prayer Before Dying‘ on Literary Hub; Brogan Driscoll, ‘I Refuse to Celebrate ‘Dad Bod’, Until We Appreciate the ‘Mum Bod’ Too‘ on the Huffington Post

Catherine Bennett wrote in The Guardian, ‘It’s dehumanising to be ‘an oven’ for someone else’s baby‘; Jessica Roake wrote, ‘An Ode to the “Mom’s Night Out”‘ on Slate; Rebecca Mead wrote, ‘A Woman’s Place Is on the Internet‘ in The New Yorker; Sophie Heawood wrote, ‘I’ve read all the advice, but I still don’t know – am I raising a serial killer?‘ in The Guardian; Laila K wrote, ‘Up with the kids‘ in The Pool; Dahlia Lithwick, ‘“Bye-Bye, Normal Mommy”‘ on Slate; Christie Watson, ‘The Joy and Pain of Trans-Racial Adoption‘ on Literary Hub; Meagan O’Connell, ‘It’s My First Mother’s Day As a Mom. Now What?‘ in The Cut; Kate Spencer, ‘How I Finally Let Go Of Grief For My Dead Mom‘ on Buzzfeed; Domenica Ruta, ‘Can Having a Child Help Me Get Over My Abusive Mom?‘ in The Cut.

Danah Boyd, ‘I Miss Not Being Scared‘ on Medium; Melissa Duclos, ‘To the Doctor Who Reported Me to Child Protective Services‘ on The Offing; Christopher Frizzelle, ‘The Day Virginia Woolf Brought Her Mom Back to Life‘ on Literary Hub; Lauren Laverne, ‘“Mum” as a diss‘ in The Pool.

And if you’d rather read a book instead, Literary Hub suggests, ‘Five Intense Books for Mother’s Day‘ and the Huffington Post recommends, ‘Mother’s Day Reads: Eight Great Mother Characters in Literature‘.

Photograph by Idil Sukan

In the UK, there was a general election. 3AM Magazine ran a whole series of reactions including, Lauren Elkin, ‘an open letter to mark-francis vandelli‘; Juliet Jacques, ‘london – 2015‘; Eley Williams, ‘rosette manufacture: a catalogue and spotters’ guide‘, and Rachel Genn, ‘you wouldn’t like me when i’m disappointed‘. Other reactions included: Laurie Penny, ‘Don’t give in: an angry population is hard to govern; a depressed population is easy‘ in the New Statesman; Joan Smith, ‘Almost a third of all MPs are now women – a milestone has been reached‘ in The Guardian; Janice Turner, ‘Why the north is in revolt against Labour‘ in The Times; Beluah Maud Devaney, ‘Unfriending Tories on Facebook Is Not the Answer‘ on the Huffington Post

And there were a few pieces written prior to the result that I still think are worth reading: Sam Baker, ‘When voting doesn’t make you feel good‘ in The Pool; Suzanne Moore, ‘By Friday we’ll be reduced to bystanders at a revoltingly macho political stare-off‘ in The Guardian; Concepta Cassar, ‘Food For Thought: Hazlitt, Malthus and the Tragedy of Food Banks‘ in Litro; Katy Guest, ‘Sandi Toksvig’s Women’s Equality Party is a movement for which time has come‘ in The Independent; Salena Godden, ‘Colour-blind: What colour are you?‘ on her blog, and Isabel Rogers’ poem ‘The truth about political correctness‘ on her blog.

I promised myself I wouldn’t mention it but there have been a few good pieces written about the birth of THAT baby: Sian Norris, ‘She’s not like other girls…‘ on Sian and Crooked Rib; Heather Havrilesky, ‘Royal Baby Girl Fated to Lead International Mob of Fake Princesses?‘ in The Cut, and Viv Groskop, ‘She’s a tiny baby, not a Kardashian‘ in The Pool.

Congratulations to Gill Lewis who won the Little Rebels children’s book award with Scarlet Ibis this week; to Emily St. John Mandel who won the Authur C Clarke award, and to Alice Notley who won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Foundation Prize. A gender balanced shortlist was announced for the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2015 and a female dominated one for the Branford Boase Award 2015. The ALS Longlist and NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlists were also announced.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

If you want some poetry to read:

If you want some non-fiction to read:

Photograph by Cybele Knowles

The lists:

In the Media: 1st 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.

I’ve spent a fair proportion of this week agog at some of the comment pieces, particularly in regard to the three girls from Bethnal Green who appear to be en route to Syria. Emma Barnett in the Telegraph wrote, ‘Stop pitying British schoolgirls joining Islamic State – they’re not victims‘; Grace Dent in the Independent said, ‘If teenage girls want to join Isis in the face of all its atrocities, then they should leave and never return‘; Mary Dejevsky wrote, ‘If Britons want to join Isis, let them go‘ in The Guardian and Allison Pearson said, ‘Let’s stop making excuses for these ‘jihadi brides‘ in the Telegraph. Judith Wanga responded on Media Diversified with, ‘The Denial of Childhood to Children of Colour‘, as did Chimene Suleyman with, ‘It’s Time To Talk About Why Our Young People Turn Against Their Country‘ and Nosheen Iqbal in The Guardian with, ‘The Syria-bound schoolgirls aren’t jihadi devil-women, they’re vulnerable children‘. Emma Barnett responded with ‘Racists are alive and well in Britain – but I’m not one of them‘ in the Telegraph. Chimene Suleyman also wrote, ‘‘Defining’ Terror, and Why ISIS Suits the West‘ on Media Diversified, prior to these most recent articles.

The Oscar ceremony was another place for some jaw-dropping comments. Megan Kearns wrote, ‘Patricia Arquette Undermined Her Own “Most Feminist Moment” of the Oscars‘ in Bitch Magazine; Betsy Woodruff commented, ‘The Gender Wage Gap Is Especially Terrible in Hollywood‘ on Slate; Maitri Mehta wrote, ‘Patricia Arquette Defends Her Oscars Backstage Comments On Twitter, But Still Misses The Point‘ on Bustle; Jenny Kutner also wrote about Arquette’s tweets on Salon, ‘Patricia Arquette doubles down on equal pay: “Why aren’t you an advocate for equality for all women?”‘; Amanda Marcotte wrote, ‘Patricia Arquette’s Feminism: Only for White Women‘ on Slate; Katie McDonough wrote, ‘“Fight for us now”: What Patricia Arquette got right (and wrong) about equal pay‘ on Salon. Brittney Cooper wrote, ‘Black America’s hidden tax: Why this feminist of color is going on strike‘ in Salon.

Remarks made by one television reporter about Zendaya Coleman’s locs prompted pieces by Loretta de Feo, ‘Why do we feel the need to taunt and judge black hair, rather than embrace it?‘ in Stylist; Jodie Layne, ‘Why Zendaya’s Response To Giuliana Rancic’s Awful ‘Fashion Police’ Comments Is Important‘ on Bustle, and Grisel E.Acosta wrote, ‘“Racism begins in our imagination:” How the overwhelming whiteness of “Boyhood” feeds dangerous Hollywood myths‘ on Salon.

The Brits were written about by Tracey Thorn in the New Statesman, ‘The Brits are so polite these days. One reason? There’s no bands left‘; Bidisha wrote, ‘Madonna is superhuman. She has to be to survive the ugly abuse‘ in The Guardian; while Salena Godden covered both the Oscars and the Brits in ‘Julianne Moore is 54. Madonna is 56.‘ on Waiting for Godden

Writing awards wise, the Sunday Times Short Story Award shortlist was announced and is dominated by women. As is the Walter Scott Prize longlist, released to the public for the first time.

There’s an entire series of articles currently being published in the Irish Times on Irish Women Writers. The link will take you to the round-up so far. While academic Diane Watt has just completed 28 days of LGBT book recommendations. You can read this week’s in a Storify here; links at the bottom of the page will take you to previous weeks.

And the woman with the most publicity this week is Kim Gordon. She’s this week’s New York Times ‘By the Book‘; there’s an excerpt from Girl in a Band in The Cut; you can listen to Gordon herself read an extract on Louder than War; there are five standout moments from her memoir on Slate, and in The New Yorker, Michelle Orange writes about ‘Kim Gordon, Kurt Cobain, and the Mythology of Punk‘.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

Or some non-fiction:

The lists:

In the Media: 2nd November 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.

The week kicked off (almost literally) with Julia Stephenson writing a piece in the Telegraph with the headline ‘Can a Woman Be Happy Without Having Kids?’ to which Bryony Gordon responded also in the Telegraph. They weren’t the only woman writing about children this week; The New Yorker ran an extract ‘No Babies, Please‘ from Megan Amran’s book; Kate Long wrote about ‘The Five Stages of Motherhood‘ for Mslexia, and Shappi Khorsandi wrote on ‘Raising Girls‘ on Huffington Post.

This was followed on Tuesday by Hollaback’s film of a woman being catcalled for ten hours in New York which raised issues about race as well as the way some men behave towards women in the street. Emily Gould wrote about it for Salon and Hanna Rosin for Slate.

On lighter issues, it seems I was pre-emptive putting Amy Poehler top of the list last week as this week she’s EVERYWHERE. (Which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.) If you don’t know who she is, I’ll direct you towards her 10 Funniest Clips on the Telegraph first, then you can feast on the rest: Amy Poehler reading from the Prologue of Yes, Please on Pan Macmillan’s Soundcloud; an extract on taping SNL while pregnant on Vulture; talking about writing being ‘hellish’ on Huffington Post; interviewing George R.R. Martin on Vulture; 11 Amy Poehler Stories You’ve Never Heard Before, But Will Totally Relate to Your Life in The Huffington Post; 30 Hilarious Truth Bombs Amy Poehler Dropped During Her Reddit AMA on Buzzfeed; doing #AskAmy at Twitter HQ;

The other high profile funny feminist woman who’s had plenty written about her this week is Lena Dunham, who was in the UK promoting her book. Alex Clark interviewed her in the Observer; Emma Gannon interviewed her for The Debrief and wrote about meeting Lena and her event at the Southbank Centre with Caitlin Moran on Friday night on her blog. She’s on video on The New Yorker talking about Girls and Sex at The New Yorker Festival and there are facts about her on Oprah. While Rebecca Carroll wrote about Lena Dunham’s Race Problem on Gawker and Sonia Saraiya responded in Salon.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

In translation:

If you’d like some fiction to read:

Photo by T. Kira Madden

And the lists:

In the Media: 28th September 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.

I don’t know if it’s just me but there seems to be a lot of writing about bodies this week. The Observer have a whole section on our attitudes to sex, including this piece by Helen Lewis which looks at teenage girls and cites Lena Dunham, Caitlin Moran and Bryony Gordon, amongst others.

Caitlin Moran is also interviewed on the Longreads blog on ‘Working Class, Masturbation and Writing a Novel‘. While Sam Baker focused her Harper’s Bazaar column on two excellent, just published, fashion and beauty books. They are Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton (I bought it this week and it looks fantastic), which you can hear more about on The Arcade podcast and Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes, who you can read an interview with on Get the Gloss.

And as for other points in life and bodies, Megham Daum has written about different types of parenting in the New Yorker and in the Paris Review, the New York Times obituary writer, Margalit Fox is interviewed about her work.

Feminism was headline news again thanks to Emma Watson’s speech to the UN and the launch of He for She. Joanne Harris wrote on her blog about feminism and why it doesn’t need a name change. Alison Mercer wrote about women’s silence on her blog. While Elena Adler, wrote this on banned books and women.

#Readwomen2014 is still going strong. It’s creator Joanna Walsh gave this fantastic interview to LeftLion (I’m not just saying that because I get a mention, either!); Belinda Farrell wrote this on her year of reading women, and Daily Life published this piece by Aviva Tuffield, Stella Prize executive director on why men need to read more books written by women. While VIDA ran a piece on the marginalisation of female writers, focusing on Mavis Gallant.

In writers who are very much in the spotlight, you can listen to all the BBC National Short Story Award shortlisted storiesAlison Bechdel spoke to Buzzfeed about what she’s doing next. Hilary Mantel was on the Culture Show while Sarah Ditum wrote seriously about her in the New Statesman and the Daily Mash took the piss. Ali Smith did The Guardian webchat and Elena Ferrante did the Financial Times Q&A.

Speaking of women in translation, translator Kate Derbyshire wrote this about why she wants to establish a prize for women in translation.

This week’s other noteworthy articles are:

And the interviews:

And this week’s lists:

In the Media: 21st September 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.

In a change to usual proceedings, I’m beginning with non-fiction writers this week as there’s been so much non-fiction talk in the news with the National Books Awards non-fiction longlist and Lena Dunham’s book on the way, in particular.

Alison Bechdel was awarded a MacAuthur “genius grant” this week. Here’s a piece she wrote on her blog last year about The Test which bears her name and how she feels about it. While Elizabeth McCracken wrote this week’s My Hero piece in The Guardian about Bechdel.

Fellow graphic novelist Roz Chast was also in the news for being the only woman to make the non-fiction longlist of the National Book Awards. (More on that in the lists at the bottom.) This piece in Slate looks at why critics don’t take cartoonists seriously.

Caitlin Moran, whose photograph some people can’t take seriously, wrote in her Times column this week about the letters/comments she has from people about the faces she pulls in photographs and why she does it. ‘My face, my rules‘. (Unfortunately UK Times articles are subscriber only.)

Lena Dunham’s book Not that Kind of Girl published a week on Tuesday led Hadley Freeman to question how feminist is writing a memoir? An extract from Dunham’s book ran in The Guardian. The Times ran an interview while Meghan Daum wrote a profile in the New York Times.

Sheila Heti also has a new book out. Heti has collaborated with Leanne Shapton and Heidi Julavits for Women in Clothes. Heti talks about the book in this Los Angeles Review of Books interview, while Julavits and Shapton are in the Observer.

Also in the Observer is an extract from Linda Tirado’s memoir Hand to Mouth about the myths surrounding poverty.

In the fiction world, who else to begin with this week than Hilary Mantel who’s been causing controversy with an interview she gave to Damien Barr for the Daily Telegraph which they refused to run along with the title story from her latest collection ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’. The Guardian picked up both the interview and the story.

Also still causing a ruckus, is reclusive novelist Elena Ferrante. An essay written by her about Madame Bovary and the reoccurring themes in her work ran on the English Pen website, while Rohan Maitzen examined the critical response to Ferrante and Jonathan Gibbs articulated his thoughts on his blog and discussed the UK covers of Ferrante’s novels.

No stranger to controversy in her day either, Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘American Fiction’ was discussed in The New Yorker while Maggie Gee was ‘In the footsteps of Virginia Woolf‘ in The Guardian writing about bringing Woolf back to life for her latest novel.

Fiction faired better than non-fiction in awards this week with an all-female shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award. Zadie Smith’s story ‘Miss Adele Amongst the Corsets‘ in The Paris Review, Tessa Hadley’s ‘Bad Dreams‘ and Lionel Shriver’s ‘Kilifi Creek‘ in The New Yorker.

Other good articles this week were:

And interviews:

While in translation news (besides Ferrante, of course!), Marian Schwartz talked about translating Russian Literature and Two Lines Press published an extract from Bae Suah’s novel The Low Hills of Seoul translated by Deborah Smith.

And this week’s lists:

Finally, I’m going to leave you with the three pieces I’ve loved the most this week:

  • Alice Bolin on ‘hoarding verbal matter‘ (with beautiful photographs of Yayoi Kusama’s work)
  • Jess Richards on love and desperately seeking a variety of things
  • Shelley Harris’ video for her forthcoming novel Vigilante. (I am having that wig!)

 

How Should a Person Be? – Sheila Heti Giveaway

Giveaway now closed.

Last year, Sheila Heti’s excellent part-fiction, part-memoir How Should a Person Be? was longlisted for the Women’s Prize (now the Bailey’s Women’s Prize). It’s a book about being a young(ish) woman in the modern era. If you like the TV show Girls, you’ll love this.

photo-16

This is what I had to say about it last year:

How should a person be?

For years and years I asked it of everyone I met. I was always watching to see what they were going to do in any situation, so I could do it too. I was always listening to their answers, so if I liked them, I could make them my answers too. I noticed the way people dressed, the way they treated their lovers – in everyone, there was something to envy. You can admire anyone for being themselves. It’s hard not to, when everyone’s so good at it. But when you think of them all together like that, how can you choose?

Sheila Heti has written a book about a woman called Sheila who has recently divorced her husband and is working out how she should live. During it she’s cultivating a friendship with a female artist named Margaux:

…I realized I’d never had a woman either [for a friend]. I supposed I didn’t trust them. What was a woman for? Two women was an alchemy I didn’t understand. I hadn’t been close to a girl since Angela broke my heart and told all of my secrets to everyone.

The book uses emails and transcripts between Sheila and several characters that, we are led to believe in the introductory notes, are real. Sheila Heti is divorced and is friends with the artist Margaux Williamson. So far, so meta.

I should probably point out here that I am a huge fan of metafiction. Lily Dunn reminded me of a Michael Cunningham quote from A Home at the End of the World yesterday: We become the stories we tell ourselves. And essentially, Heti is creating a story from events that have happened recently in her own life. She turns them into a narrative using two devices: one, a competition between Margaux and their friend their friend Sholem as to who can create the ugliest painting and two, Sheila’s attempt to write a play for a feminist theatre company:

“Does it have to be a feminist play?”
“No,” they said, “but it has to be about women.”
I didn’t know anything about women! And yet I hoped to be able to write it, being a woman myself.

So, through female friendship, art, working in a hair salon, sex with an unsuitable man, Sheila sets about trying to work out how a person should be. If it sounds like something that should be followed with a hashtag of middleclassproblems or firstworldproblems, you’re probably right but Heti balances her angst with humour.

In a scene set in Miami where Sheila and Margaux have gone to attend an art fair at which some of Margaux’s paintings will be displayed, they return to their hotel room after dinner and watch a video in which ‘an heiress gave her boyfriend a hand job’. Sheila thinks to herself:

Consider all the warriors down through time, without great brains – like you! – who nevertheless struck the enemy right through the breast. They just kept their wrists steady and struck.

Then I glanced at the painting of the Statue of Liberty on the wall behind us and wondered, Where would all of America be – and wouldn’t the flame long be extinguished in the sea – if not for the tall girl’s steady wrist?

I won’t spoil the end of the book, where Margaux and Sholem try to decide who’s won the Ugliest Painting Competition and Sheila finally realises how a person should be, but I will say that it’s probably perfect.

I loved this book and the more time I’ve spent thinking about it, the greater I think it is. I’m planning to re-read it soon.

And now you can win one of three copies of the book, thanks to Vintage Books. Simply leave a comment underneath this post. I am accepting worldwide entries. The competition closes as 12pm GMT on Sunday 16th March. Winners will be selected at random and notified as soon as possible after entries have closed. Good luck!

Edit

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

1 – Dan (Utterbiblio)
2 – Samstillreading
3 – Rebecca Foster
4 – Cleo (Cleopatralovesbooks)
5 – Annegret
6 – Elizabeth Moya
7 – Alice
8 – Kevinfreeburn
9 – Lisa Redmond
10 – Helen MacKinven
11 – theabhishekkr
12 – Hearts bigger then the sun
13 – Pooja Shah
14 – Cath Martin
15 – Bookishdubai
16 – Emanuel
17 – Eve Lacey
18 – Isobel
19 – Outonthefringes

And the random number generator says:

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 12.13.32 Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 12.13.46 Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 12.13.57

 

Congratulations to theabishekkr, Cleo and Annegret; check your email. Thanks to everyone for entering.

How Should a Person Be? – Sheila Heti

How should a person be?

For years and years I asked it of everyone I met. I was always watching to see what they were going to do in any situation, so I could do it too. I was always listening to their answers, so if I liked them, I could make them my answers too. I noticed the way people dressed, the way they treated their lovers – in everyone, there was something to envy. You can admire anyone for being themselves. It’s hard not to, when everyone’s so good at it. But when you think of them all together like that, how can you choose?

Sheila Heti has written a book about a woman called Sheila who has recently divorced her husband and is working out how she should live. During it she’s cultivating a friendship with a female artist named Margaux:

…I realized I’d never had a woman either [for a friend]. I supposed I didn’t trust them. What was a woman for? Two women was an alchemy I didn’t understand. I hadn’t been close to a girl since Angela broke my heart and told all of my secrets to everyone.

The book uses emails and transcripts between Sheila and several characters that, we are led to believe in the introductory notes, are real. Sheila Heti is divorced and is friends with the artist Margaux Williamson. So far, so meta.

I should probably point out here that I am a huge fan of metafiction. Lily Dunn tweeted a Michael Cunningham quote from A Home at the End of the World yesterday: We become the stories we tell ourselves. And essentially, Heti is creating a story from events that have happened recently in her own life. She turns them into a narrative using two devices: one, a competition between Margaux and their friend their friend Sholem as to who can create the ugliest painting and two, Sheila’s attempt to write a play for a feminist theatre company:

“Does it have to be a feminist play?”

“No,” they said, “but it has to be about women.”

I didn’t know anything about women! And yet I hoped to be able to write it, being a woman myself.

So, through female friendship, art, working in a hair salon and sex with an unsuitable man, Sheila sets about trying to work out how a person should be. If it sounds like something that should be followed with a hashtag of firstworldproblems, you’re probably right but Heti balances her angst with humour.

In a scene set in Miami where Sheila and Margaux have gone to attend an art fair at which some of Margaux’s paintings will be displayed, they return to their hotel room after dinner and watch a video in which ‘an heiress gave her boyfriend a hand job’. Sheila thinks to herself:

Consider all the warriors down through time, without great brains – like you! – who nevertheless struck the enemy right through the breast. They just kept their wrists steady and struck.

Then I glanced at the painting of the Statue of Liberty on the wall behind us and wondered, Where would all of America be – and wouldn’t the flame long be extinguished in the sea – if not for the tall girl’s steady wrist?

I won’t spoil the end of the book, where Margaux and Sholem try to decide who’s won the Ugliest Painting Competition and Sheila finally realises how a person should be, but I will say that it’s probably perfect.

I loved this book and the more time I’ve spent thinking about it, the greater I think it is. I’m planning to re-read it soon.

Thanks to Harvill Secker/Vintage Books for the review copy.