Archive for the ‘book review’ Category

It was impossible, I said in response to his question, to give the reasons why the marriage had ended: among other things a marriage is a system of belief a story, and though it manifests itself in things that are real enough, the impulse that drives it is ultimately mysterious. What was real, in the end, was the loss of the house, which had become the geographical location for things that had gone absent and which represented, I supposed, the hope that they might one day return. To move from the house was to declare, in a way, that we had stopped waiting; we could no longer be found at the usual number, the usual address.


“I kept waiting for the children to ask to go home,” he said, “but in fact it was I who wanted to go home: I began to realise, in the car, that as far as they were concerned they were home, at least partly, because they were with me.”

That, he said, was the loneliest of realisations…


I thought often of the chapter in Wuthering Heights where Heathcliff and Cathy stare from the dark garden through the windows of the Lintons’ drawing room and watch the brightly lit family scene inside. What is fatal in that vision is subjectivity: looking through the window the two of them see different things, Heathcliff what he fears and hates and Cathy what she desires and feels deprived of. But neither of them can see things as they really are. And likewise I was beginning to see my own fears and desires manifested outside myself, was beginning to see in other people’s lives a commentary on my own. When I looked at the family on the boat, I saw a vision of what I no longer had: I saw something, in other words, that wasn’t there. Those people were living in their moment, and though I could see it I could no more return to that moment than I could walk across the water that separated us. And of those two ways of living – living in the moment and living outside it – which was the more real?

From Rachel Cusk’s brilliant novel, Outline. 


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This misses a couple of big points, maternal feminism for one, and probably misses the mark in taking on a target like Beyonce, however lovingly. Plus, as my friend, Helen pointed out, feminism holds itself to account in a way few other movements do. This means we can focus on criticism without recalling that it is also ok for feminists to specialise at times, or to just not have time and that doesn’t necessarily equate to a disinterest in structural issues.

But certainly, Sarah Jaffe’s “Feminism for Sale” in the New Republic describes the overlap of some areas of feminism with neoliberalism very well. This may be an especially useful read if you found Eleanor Robertson’s piece on liberal feminism too much, too soon.

I picked a side in this fight a while back, and so I have been waiting rather excitedly for Andi Zeisler’s new book, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. (This is where I disclose that Zeisler has edited me in the past for Bitch magazine, where she remains creative director.) In a political moment that has seen thrilling, radical new movements spring up around racial justice and economic inequality, the fact that mainstream feminism still seems so enthralled with neoliberalism has been a source of deep frustration to many. And yet when we attempt to argue about issues, we get bogged down in battles over personality; pointing out that the liberation of a CEO does little for her nanny is likened to “trashing.” The personality trap is itself a function of the problem that Zeisler has put a name to in her book: marketplace feminism.

In the world of marketplace feminism, she writes, “the fight for gender equality has transmogrified from a collective goal to a consumer brand.” It is a world where “purchasing itself [is] a feminist act,” where status is confused with liberation, where freedom is measured in what we consume or who we control, where what we wear, watch, and wax is more important than what we organize and fight for. Under marketplace feminism, feminism is a commodity to be purchased, an identity to proclaim and print on a T-shirt, a litmus test to be applied to other commodities, rather than a collective social movement that aims to change the structures of a sexist society. The problem with marketplace feminism is simple: marketplace feminism is good for capitalism, but what is good for capitalism is not necessarily good for women.

Zeisler avoids entering the war of personalities. Indeed, up front, she includes herself in her critique, noting that we are inundated with feminist critiques of pop culture, many of which owe their lineage to her work at Bitch, which has been publishing “a feminist response to pop culture” since 1996, with articles ranging from “Amazon Women on the Moon: Images of Femininity in the Video Age” (by Zeisler, from the magazine’s very early days) to updates on the battle of pop star Kesha to extricate herself from her record contract, which ties her to the man she says abused her. Meanwhile, abortion restriction bills and “bathroom bills” aimed at institutionalizing discrimination against transgender people proliferate, the gender wage gap continues, and women are the fastest-growing part of the prison population. These are problems, she notes, that will not be solved by marketplace feminism. They will require collective political action.

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I just can’t believe it. That all you have to do is sleep with somebody and get caught and you never have to see your in-laws again. Ever. Pfffft! Gone. It’s the nearest thing to magic I have yet found.

But I am being hard on my husband, who I loved, and who is now fighting with me about money, never mind broken dreams. In fact everyone is fighting with me about money: my sister, too. Who would have thought love could be so expensive? I should sit down and calculate it out at so much per kiss. The price of this house plus the price of that house, divided by two, plus the price of the house we are in. Thousands. Every time I touch him. Hundreds of thousands. Because we took it too far. We should have stuck to car parks and hotel bedrooms (no, really, we should really have stuck to car parks and hotel bedrooms_. If we keep going the price will come down – per event, as it were. Twenty years of love can be consummated for tuppence. After a lifetime it is almost free.

Anne Enright in The Forgotten Waltz. I adore Enright’s books and this one was a terrific recent read.

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Quotes/evidence from Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. My favourite novel in a long while.

But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.

The baby’s eyes were dark, almost black, and when I nursed her in the middle of the night, she’d stare at me with a stunned, shipwrecked look as if my body were the island she’d washed up on.

What did you do today, you’d say when you got home from work, and I’d try my best to craft an anecdote for you out of nothing.

But my agent has a theory. She says every marriage is jerry-rigged. Even the ones that look reasonable from the outside are held together inside with chewing gum and wire and string.

Is she a good baby? People would ask me. Well, no, I’d say.
Also because I’m always saying he could quit his job if he wanted and we’ll go somewhere cheap and live on rice and beans with our kid. My husband doesn’t believe me about that last bit. And why should he? Once I spent $13 on a piece of cheese.
..get a job writing fortune cookies instead. I could try to write really American ones. Already, I’ve jotted down a few of them. Objects create happiness. The animals are pleased to be of use. Your cities will shine forever. Death will not touch you.
At night, they lie in bed holding hands. It is possible if she is stealthy enough that the wife can do this while secretly giving the husband the finger.

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I was very flattered to be a guest writer for Meanjin this week for their series on writers reading. I was told to be very reflective on my year and.. I was that. Eek.

There’s a small child in the bed with us. I hold the sheet over me and reach down blindly to find clothes on the floor. Under the sheet I slip my underwear and t-shirt back on. So, this is dating now.

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Wonderful short story writing in The New York Post from George Saunders with “Jon”.

..and I will turn to her and say, Honey, uh, honey, there is a certain feeling but I cannot name it and cannot cite a precedent-type feeling, but trust me, dearest, wow, do I ever feel it for you, right now. And what will that be like, that stupid standing there, just a man and a woman and the wind, and nobody knowing what nobody is meaning?

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If sex is dangerous territory for memoir writing then it is surpassed only by motherhood. Mothering is so wrapped up in notions of sacrifice that it can scarcely sustain even the mildest critical eye without some controversy. Rachel Cusk, one of my favourites in this field, is completely vilified for her memoir writing. In fact, a scathing review of her latest memoir, Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation won Hatchet Job of the Year. Sometimes the criticism of her motherhood writing is about her taking domestic life too seriously; something that is notably considered “brave” when done by a male author.

But more often it is about Cusk being insufficiently cheerful about domestic life. In depicting herself as a mother in Aftermath, Cusk is devoted to her children but you are still invited to consider her selfish. Cusk describes an argument around shared parenting revealing her own monster. For Cusk to pursue her writing career, her ex-husband had given up his job and become a stay-at-home father. Now that they’re divorcing, Cusk is horrified to discover her rights as a mother aren’t enough to allow her primary care of the children. Cusk was roundly criticised for this moment in the book – oblivious, nasty and domineering.

But you only know this information because Cusk gave it to you. She realises her sense of injustice is perverse. She is exploring a wider point about how ill-equipped early attempts at feminist living are for the emotional bonds of motherhood. She is thinking not just about what the moment means for her but what it means for everyone else, too. If you think she’s selfish because of this anecdote I have to wonder how well you’ve received the gift of confession. Because personal writing, more than anything else is a favour of empathy.

From here.

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