Wednesday, 7 March 2018
A selection of
FICTION BY WOMEN
compiled for International Women's Day (8.3.18).
Discover a new author.
The Complete Stories by Leonora Carrington $38
“Carrington’s stories are optimistic and nihilistic, beautiful and grotesque, tender and cruel. She never contented herself with something simple or trite.” - Sheila Heti
“Her stories are vivid, funny and surprisingly fresh, combining satire with surrealist situations to deftly mock the pomposity of organized religion, sexual repression or the endless forms of bureaucratic hypocrisy and ineptitude.” - The New York Times
>> Leonora Carrington at VOLUME.
Inside Madeleine by Paula Bomer $32
A collection of raw but unflinching stories, all examining the complexities of women's relationships with and through their bodies.
"Bomer offers her characters no outs only the creeping sense that they're doomed to swing forever between futile attempts at self-determination." - The New York Times
"Reading Paula Bomer is like being attacked by a rabid dog - and feeling grateful for it. This is some of the rawest and most urgent writing I can remember encountering." - Jonathan Franzen
Black Ice Matter by Gina Cole $32
A collection of short stories exploring connections between extremes of heat and cold. Sometimes this is spatial or geographical; sometimes it is metaphorical. Sometimes it involves juxtapositions of time; sometimes heat appears where only ice is expected. In the stories, a woman is caught between traditional Fijian ways and the brutality of the military dictatorship; a glaciology researcher falls into a crevasse and confronts the unexpected; two women lose children in freak shooting accidents; a young child in a Barbie Doll sweatshop dreams of a different life; secondary school girls struggle with secrets about an addicted janitor; and two women take a deathly trip through a glacier melt stream. These are some of the unpredictable stories in this collection that follow themes of ice and glaciers in the heat of the South Pacific and take us into unusual lives and explorations.
"Aotearoa New Zealand has yet to hear a voice as striking as this one from its Pasifika diaspora: Fijian-infused, queer-inflected, and crafted with legal precision." - Selina Tusitala Marsh
The Which Way Tree by Elizabeth Crook $37
When her mother, a former slave, is killed by the panther that also leaves herself disfigured, Samantha crosses the Texan frontier with her brother Benjamin, and, with an unlikely posse, seeks revenge on this implacable and unknowable force of nature.
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton $37
Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, was a poet, philosopher, essayist and playwright in the 17th century. Eccentric, erratically shy but desiring of fame, she was both shunned and celebrated by the aristocracy and the thinkers of the time. Dutton’s fictional account of this fascinating character is lively and absorbing.
"A small miracle of imaginative sympathy." - Guardian
>> A Description of the New World, Called the Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish
>> An introduction to her philosophical work.
Not One Day by Anne Garréta $30
An intimate exploration of the delicate connection between memory, fantasy, lover and desire, written under strict OuLiPian constraints: a tour de force of experimental queer feminist writing.
Winner of the Prix Médicis.
"For Garréta, it may just be possible that the body occupies the space of language so powerfully as its capacity to produce it." - BOMB
Roxy by Esther Gerritsen $35
When Roxy's husband and his lover are killed in a car accident, Roxy will not be denied her revenge. Who will she direct this at, though?Written in a concise, lucid style, this book is a clear exploration of the emotional weight grief and anger lever upon ordinary details.
Gerritsen's skillful writing creates tension with its forward-propelling relentless plot, a compelling awkward narrator and uncertain outcomes. The clever ironic conversations between the characters and zany happenings hit you like a slap, while what is unsaid, what is hinted at and implied between the words and lines on the page, jolts you awake. Like Craving, Roxy is a candid portrayal of damage and trauma, sometimes shocking, often blackly funny.
How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti $27
This book is at once an excoriating self-examination, a pitiless self-satire (although it may in fact not be as satirical as it seems to be) and an unforgivably self-indulgent exercise in self-exposure (and is these things all at once and not by turns). You will be irritated by Sheila, but she is irritating in pretty much the same way that you are irritating to yourself, and you will grow tired of Sheila, but in the same way that you grow tired of yourself. You will put the book aside, but, without really knowing why, you will keep coming back to it in pretty much the same way you keep coming back to vaguely important but imprecise and somewhat irritating aspects of your own life. Sheila nobly asks herself “How should a person be?”, and gets the same unsatisfactory, earnest and ridiculous answers as you would get if you asked yourself the same impossible question. The book contains passages of painful honesty and vapid bullshit (both at the same time, mostly), and beautiful, sad and hilarious passages, too (again, beautiful, sad and hilarious all at once and not by turns). By asking big questions in a life that contains only small answers, Sheila holds herself up to show us that we don’t know how to be, or how to make our lives the way we want them, or even to know what we want with any sureness or consistency.
Baby by Annaleese Jochems $30
"Sultry, sinister, hilarious and demented, Baby blazes with intelligence and murderous black humour. Heavenly Creatures for a new generation." – Eleanor Catton
"Patricia Highsmith meets reality TV in this compelling debut. Jochems nudges up the tension until we can’t bear to look – and can’t bear to look away: thrilling, dangerous and deliciously funny." – Catherine Chidgey
"This funny, sexy, unnerving novel challenges received ideas and delivers jolts of pleasure and disquiet throughout. Jochems, like her extraordinary creation Cynthia, is a force to be reckoned with." –Emily Perkins
>> "The best novel of 2017." - Spinoff
Short-listed for the 2018 Acorn Prize in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards
Mildew by Pauline Jonguitud $26
On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, a woman finds a green spot on her pubis. She scrapes at it half-heartedly but fails to remove it and it rapidly spreads over her lower body, a sort of mould or fungus about which she seems strangely not distressed but even seems to become rather fond of. As she wanders about her house, she wanders also through her memories, particularly concerning her niece, with whom she shares a name (and all the literary doubling that that implies), and the switching of her husband’s affections from the older to the younger Constanza. The further the mildew spreads, the less grip the narrator has on the habitual patterns of her life, or, rather, the less she is gripped by them, and the more her memories are shown to be arbitrary, partial, unreliable, self-seeking (or self-harming). As the mildew spreads, the reader, too, finds their grip on facts loosened and the psychological forces which underlie the narrative send filaments up through the pores in the surface of reality and softly overwhelm both its momentum and its meaning. Despite the great psychological weight carried in this book it is written very lightly and directly, with a sharp pen and not a wasted word, and the damp claustrophobia of the narrator’s mind is perfectly expressed, as is the release she (sort of) experiences as the mould or fungus becomes a symptom and externalises whatever it is that it is a symptom of.
When I Hit You: Or, A portrait of the writer as a young wife by Meena Kandasamy $28
Seduced by politics, poetry and an enduring dream of building a better world together, the unnamed narrator falls in love with a university professor. Moving with him to a rain-washed coastal town, she swiftly learns that what for her is a bond of love is for him a contract of ownership. As he sets about reducing her to his idealised version of an obedient wife, bullying her and devouring her ambition of being a writer in the process, she attempts to push back - a resistance he resolves to break with violence and rape. At once the chronicle of an abusive marriage and a celebration of the power of art, this is a smart, fierce and courageous take on traditional wedlock in modern India.
"It would take Carol Ann Duffy, Caroline Criado-Perez, Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie to match Kandasamy's infinite variety." - Independent
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus $23
First published in 1997, long before Knausgaard and Heti, this novel was a well-placed detonation beneath the wall dividing memoir and fiction. Ostensibly an account of Kraus’s all-consuming middle-aged crush on a man she has met only briefly and who has seemingly done nothing to encourage her obsession, the first half of the book consists of a hilarious compilation of letters addressed to ‘Dick’ by Kraus and her husband, with whom she plays a hugely ironic game of cultural and psycho-social toe-to-toe positioning. Following the delivery of the great mass of letters to ‘Dick’, Kraus and her husband separate and Kraus continues to pursue the passive ‘Dick’, who remains a tabula rasa for her projections, until he becomes little more than a ‘dear diary’ figure, recipient of essay-letters concerning art and cultural theory. Kraus pursues her ‘crush’ through a maze of received social constructs and gender-role expectations with a snide irony that both deepens and ridicules the pathos of her rather abject attempts to ‘possess’ ‘Dick’. A letter from the ‘real’ Dick at the end implies that the liaisons recounted in the second half of the book are entirely fictional, and that Kraus has used her projected ‘Dick’ as a sort of catalyst to examine and make changes in her personal and artistic life. In any quest for authenticity, each manifestation of the personal is a struggle with the demands of form. Here, Kraus forces the bourgeois genre of the epistolary novel to burst from interior pressure to allow the first person to penetrate from the letters into the more empowering narratorial frame.
Moonbath by Yanick Lahens $30
A Haitian family is burdened by a curse lasting generations. This novel gives insight into the lives of disenfranchised women in the Caribbean.
"Lahens describes her country with a forceful beauty - the destruction that befell it, political opportunism, families torn apart, and the spellbinding words of Haitian farmers who solely rely on subterranean powers." -Donyapress
Winner (in French) of the Prix Femina, 2014.
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride $30
Very occasionally you come across a book that impresses itself upon you so heavily that the next several books you read seem contrived and inconsequential by comparison. Eimear McBride’s story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, the on-going impact of his childhood brain tumour, their mother’s hysterical Catholicism and the narrator’s increasingly chaotic and self-annihilating sexuality is tremendously affecting because of the highly original (and note-perfect) way in which the author has broken and remade language to match the thought-patterns of the narrator. Short sentences like grit in the mind, snatches of unassimilable experience, syntax fractured by trauma, the uncertain, desperately repeated and painfully abandoned attempts to wring a gram of meaning or even beauty out of compound tragedy, to carry on, both living and telling, despite the impossibility of carrying on, situate the reader right inside the narrator’s head. This book is upsetting, intense, compassionate, revelatory, unflinching, and sometimes excoriatingly funny. It gives access to what you would have thought inaccessible.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado $28
Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women's lives and the violence visited upon their bodies. A wife refuses her husband's entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A sales assistant makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the dresses she sells. A woman's surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest.
"Carmen Maria Machado is the best writer of cognitive dysphoria I’ve read in years. " - Tor
"Life is too short to be afraid of nothing." - Machado
Oreo by Fran Ross $28
A playful, modernised parody of the classical odyssey of Theseus with a feminist twist, immersed in seventies pop culture, and mixing standard English, black vernacular, and Yiddish with aplomb. Oreo, our young hero, navigates the labyrinth of sound studios and brothels and subway tunnels in Manhattan, seeking to claim her birthright while unwittingly experiencing and triggering a mythic journey of self-discovery. First published in 1974.
"A brilliant and biting satire, a feminist picaresque, absurd, unsettling, and hilarious, Ross' novel, with its Joycean language games and keen social critique, is as playful as it is profound. Criminally overlooked. A knockout." —Kirkus
The Rending and the Nest by Kaethe Schwehn $27
When 95 percent of the earth's population disappears for no apparent reason, Mira does what she can to create some semblance of a life: she cobbles together a haphazard community named Zion, scavenges the Piles for supplies they might need, and avoids loving anyone she can't afford to lose. Four years after the Rending, Mira's best friend, Lana, announces her pregnancy, the first since everything changed and a new source of hope for Mira. But when Lana gives birth to an inanimate object - and other women of Zion follow suit- the thin veil of normalcy Mira has thrown over her new life begins to fray.
Black Wave by Michelle Tea $32
Desperate to quell her addiction to drugs, disastrous romance, and nineties San Francisco, Michelle heads south for LA. But soon it's officially announced that the world will end in one year, and life in the sprawling metropolis becomes increasingly weird.While living in an abandoned bookstore, dating Matt Dillon, and keeping an eye on the encroaching apocalypse, Michelle begins a new novel, a sprawling and meta-textual exploration to complement her promises of maturity and responsibility. But as she struggles to make queer love and art without succumbing to self-destructive vice, the boundaries between storytelling and everyday living begin to blur, and Michelle wonders how much she'll have to compromise her artistic process if she's going to properly ride out doomsday.
"I worship at the altar of this book. A keen portrait of a subculture, an instant classic in life-writing, a go-for-broke exemplar of queer feminist imagination, a contribution to crucial, ongoing conversations about whose lives matter, Black Wave is a rollicking triumph." - Maggie Nelson
The Complete Madame Realism by Lynne Tillman $35
Through her use of her fictional character Madame Realism, Tillman devised a new genre of writing that melded fiction and theory, sensation and critical thought, disseminating her third-person art writer's observations in such magazines as Art in America and in a variety of art exhibition catalogs and artist books. Two decades after the original publication of these texts, her approach to investigation through embodied thought has been absorbed by a new generation of artists and writers. Provocative and wholly pleasurable, Tillman's stories/essays dissect the mundane with alarming precision.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas $35
In an increasingly plausible dystopian future America, women's reproductive rights have been overturned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers.
"Leni Zumas here proves she can do almost anything. Red Clocks is funny, mordant, baroque, political, poetic, alarming, and inspiring -not to mention a way forward for fiction now." - Maggie Nelson
"A lyrical and beautifully observed reflection on women's lives." — Naomi Alderman, The New York Times
>> Read an extract.
>> Keri Hulme is an object of her gratitude.