The Girls by Emma Cline

Evie is staying at a friend’s holiday home, holing up while she waits for her next carer’s job. Suddenly her solitude is interrupted by her friend’s son, Julian, a young man no longer in college who is on a drugs run with his younger girlfriend, Sasha. Julian knows all about Evie’s youth, her involvement in that cult that murdered a bunch a people out in Marin.

The next morning Julian leaves without Sasha and the awkwardness of being a teenage girl longing to find approval, a place to fit in the world, reminds Evie of everything that happened to her when she saw and fell for the charms of Suzanne, the nineteen year old living on the ranch and doing everything for Russell. Russell who slept with all the girls. Russell who was about to get a record deal. Russell who wanted everyone to give up their ego and love.

Evie knows what it’s like to want to be part of something, to be ready to change and put up with shame, self-loathing, objectification, simply to feel as if you belong. She tries to help Sasha, but Sasha won’t be helped. The slow trickle of stories about Julian, the humiliation he subjects her to when he returns with another friend, makes the story of female adolescence one that hasn’t changed since Evie’s youth in the 60s. Continue reading

Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra

I’m not prone to personal reviews, those that track how intimately a book travels along paths I have worn well in my own mind, or in my own life. It feels impossible not to do this with Ways of Going Home. Even the title appeals to my own interests: what is home in terms of locality, relationships, within the self?

This is a novel written for someone who spends a lot of time questioning their interest in writing, interrogating that need to create a whole from the dissperate moments of existence, that desire to observe, record and make sense of what happened and is happening around us. In Alejandro Zambra’s case this is especially important because he is trying to remember what it was like to be a child under the Pinochet regime in Chile. He is trying to document how children grow to understand the complexities and uncertainties of adult life when, if they are lucky, they are ‘running fearlessly around those streets, safe from history’ (p137). Continue reading

Men by Marie Darrieussecq

The quotation from Marguerite Duras – ‘We have to love men a lot. A lot, a lot. Love them a lot in order to love them. Otherwise it’s impossible; we couldn’t bear them.’ – echoes throughout Darrieusecq’s novel, Men, and not only because the man that Solange falls in love with requires exactly this kind of devotion, but also because there is a wider echo of Duras’s work, of her interest in the ebb and flow of love, of its journey that always takes the self into unknown territory. I haven’t read The Lover in years but I feel its heart beating in Men.

Solange, the protagonist of Men, is a French actress working in Hollywood. When she meets Kouhouesso, a Canadian actor originally from Cameroon who is consumed by his big project, the making of an African Heart of Darkness, it is as if she has always been waiting only for him. Rose, a friend from home, reminds her that ‘Waiting is an illness. A mental illness. Often a female one.’(location 413)

The novel would be interesting and compelling, an exploration of desire wrapped in the trappings of gender politics, if it looked at a relationship between a man and a woman of the same ethnicity and culture, but Men has a whole extra agenda to explore: race and the politics of skin. Continue reading

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Rereading Orlando has been a delightful experience. Like the character Orlando, I feel as if the thinking the novel inspired allowed whole ages to pass and hence here I am writing the review long after my allotted week has passed.

Those of you who haven’t yet read Orlando need only know that the novel is a mock-biography of a young boy of noble birth alive in the Elizabethan era, who grows up through the ages and many different kinds of life into a woman still alive in the present of Woolf’s time, 1928.

There are some wonderful and pertinent contemplations of what it is to be conscious, of what makes up a person gendered or otherwise. The idea of trying to fit an entire life of a person into a book is ridiculed – how can you represent all that thought that is never uttered or recorded? It is also very funny – and this was a surprise because I don’t remember finding it funny when I read it last. Continue reading