In the alternative world of Body of Stars, women are born with markings on their bodies that predict their futures. During a vulnerable transition from child to woman, when girls are called changelings and their senses are heightened, their markings alter overnight, creating patterns that fix their futures on their skin. The markings and their interpretation are noted and regulated by the state through a book called Mapping the Future: An Interpretive Guide to Women and Girls. Men have no such markings, their future and skins blank, and they are denied the authority to interpret.
During a girl’s transition to womanhood their beauty, alongside their sensory perception, is heightened. They are warned of how vulnerable they are to male attention and desire. They are encouraged to cover up, never walk alone, and stay home after dark.
The novel tracks Celeste’s transition from her girlhood markings to her adult markings. We follow her as she moves from one state to another, attempting to understand her role in life through the confines of her skin. A skin her brother, Miles, has always been fascinated by. He has examined, drawn and redrawn a particular patch near her left elbow and he has managed to find a woman to teach him interpretation even though it is forbidden for men to become interpreters.
The Girls Are All So Nice Here is a real thriller exploring the lengths some women will go to keep their best friend.
I’m not sure I’m the target audience for this novel. Though I did pretty much read the book in one sitting, unable to leave the page before I found out quite what dreadful event happened all those years ago at University, I found the exploration of obsessive female friendship somehow outdated. These young women were so firmly situated in their roles within the patriarchy that though they may have been invented to challenge it, to show how stereotyping women could have horrifying consequences when those very women used that stereotype for their own means, they instead felt unreconstructed, rigid caricatures. But again, perhaps I wasn’t quite the right reader.
The writing is certainly compelling and written with twists in just the right places to keep you guessing. It also begins with a reunion. That kind of hook is hard to ignore.
If you like a campus mystery with mean girls whose behaviour is more acerbic than most you can think of on our screens, then this darkly twisted tale will be right up your street.
I’ll be reviewing Body of Stars by Laura Maylene Walter next.
Sameer is an extremely hard-working commercial lawyer from Leicester, living and working in London. He has money, a nice flat in Clerkenwell, and enough good friends to fill the hours outside the office.
Everything changes when one of his oldest friends, Rahool, decides to move back to Leicester and work in the family firm. His other close friend, Jeremiah, also has a new job and though it looks as if Sameer’s career is going well – he has after all been offered a job setting up a new office in Singapore, which would be a huge promotion – he can’t quite bring himself to tell his family, partly because they’ll be disappointed he too isn’t returning home to the family business, but partly because the departure involves an acknowledgement of the racism he faces from some of his colleagues that up to this point he has decided to overlook.
Things are pushed to an even greater level of tension when Rahool is beaten into a coma in a racially motivated attack, only weeks after returning to Leicester. Sameer and Rahool are second generation immigrants whose parents were forced to leave Uganda when Idi Amin expelled all the Asians. They have no memory of Uganda, but they live with the pressure of their parents entrepreneurial success, success hard-earned from their status as refugees with little money or connection to their names.
This may seem like a strange way to begin a review of Acts of Desperation, which in broad terms is about a woman’s account of her obsessive relationship with an abusive man, but I’m currently taken by an article by Maria Tumarkin, ‘This Narrated Life’ in the Griffith Review, which outlines her suspicion of turning all experiences into stories. She’s talking about the danger of turning experience into the typical arc that brings personal development because of the enforced omissions and elisions the form requires. She’s talking about the danger of repeating difficult stories that remain, regardless, unlistened to.
One of the things that Megan Nolan does so well, is to avoid the clichés of speaking her trauma. I know this is a novel, but the character is definitely someone who sits very neatly in this arc of personal development and yet very early on Nolan writes: