Recipe for Being a Woman

Recipe for Being a Woman, Hermione Cameron: Ampersand Publishing, 2018

Recipe for Being a Woman is a playful and pithy debut collection from a poet whose awareness and grip on language allows her to create a concise and deeply ironic sense of being in the world. Hermione Cameron speaks of, to and for the modern age in 28 poems, in which she shows us the world anew, as if standing on our heads. The collection is published by Ampersand, a newly established independent literary publisher who print their own books from Seven Sisters, North London.

The edition is beautiful, made with care and attention to its contents. The decadent decay of flora on the cover reflects decaying ideals of beauty and femininity that the poems present: they offer something brave and honest.

The collection opens with the title poem, ‘Recipe for Being a Woman.’ It is a prose poem that is pithy in both senses of the word, substantial and fruitful like the pulp of an emollient peach: “Her skin should be clear and peachy, her features should be elegant and refined.” Cameron treats femininity with uncanny, at times potentially abject, consideration: “Measure the organs, skin, form and facial features into a bowl and stir together to form a dough. The dough should be firm yet pliable, once she is fully baked.” The result is a manual of tongue-in-cheek aphorisms that elbow-nudge ideas of ready-made gender moulds:

Fold the dough in half and knead it, making sure that all the beauty is contained. Beauty is a woman’s most powerful asset and must, under no circumstances, be wasted.

The language is formal and antiquated, a pastiche of domestic cookery books, which are, in terms of syntax, instructive and imperative. A woman should be edible. The ideal of beauty is upheld by a multi-billion-dollar cosmetic industry that depends on that image. Women consume industry in order to be consumable themselves. The poet’s irony insists that, rather than being told how to be a woman, we be let alone to figure out how to be own separate selves.

Recipe for Being a Woman

Cameron is playful with poetic form. ‘ID,’ for example, is a concrete poem dealing with Freudian psychoanalysis. It seems to put neuroses on the page, wherein the lines that make up the poem warp and scatter in a cerebral formation. The poem looks like a brain and may visualise chatter in the skull that we endure and struggle to silence: “all I have and all I ever really had / is something I can’t hold in my hands.” It is difficult to read the lines in any coherent order, which is representative of a chaotic mind.

She is also playful with language. Such as in ‘Cliches,’ “gone are the days / When we’d sit praying for it to rain / Cats and dogs / Barking up all the wrong trees / in the hopes we would reach our dreams,” she reissues passé habits of language to speak for a new generation in crisis. She shows that a modern or “millennial” existence is far more troubling and complex than we imagine. These poems suggest, with a subtle spirit, that the future is in the hands of a youth who struggle and strive with being born into an accelerating world: 

We never run from the spider

That lures us

Into the World Wide Web

Come let’s see the sites he says

This world he weaves

Words we read

Emoticons over emotions

The collection is political, philosophical and psychological and, at the same time, accessible and relatable. Cameron handles issues of heartache, grief, and self-identification with humour and kindness; in the sense of having things in-kind and an understanding of each other. Her poems are honest and generous with real gumption.

Click here to order Recipe for Being a Woman direct from Ampersand Publishing.

About the Publisher:

Ampersand is an independent literary publishing house based in Seven Sisters, London. Their selection encompasses everything from innovative contemporary fiction, poetry, and criticism, to new editions and translations of literary classics.  Ampersand own their own press and their books are handmade using a combination of traditional and contemporary methods.

Review by Kirsty Watling

Kirsty Watling is a writer, bookseller and recent Literature graduate specialising in twentieth century literature, visual culture and critical theory.

 

Grief’s Sudden Grip

L’Anglaise by Helen E. Mundler: Holland House Books, 2018

It’s not easy being difficult.

The language of families is often confusing. Ella is a successful British academic based in Strasbourg who, following her father’s death, takes a sabbatical to finally start writing her first book. Attempting to tell her mother’s story based on remembered snippets, she chips away at the polished version of events to uncover the harrowing reality. Her distant parents happened to reside under the same roof but rarely communicated, living separate lives within their outwardly prim London townhouse. Life stories intertwine as Ella attempts to make sense of the present by translating the past and exploring what home really means to her.

Intimacy is elusive to Ella. Her late father, Hugo, conversed like an automaton leading to constant misunderstandings. Close in blood ties but little else, she was never introduced to his parents and when she went to boarding school, his young boyfriend quietly moved in to the family home. Her mother, Margaret, is impervious to sarcasm or argument and renders Ella an intruder at the funeral by inviting her along only if she wants to come.

Ella’s alienation is further emphasized by her struggles with language. She speaks French but at emotional moments loses her fluency, revealing a vulnerable disconnect. As she begins a halting relationship with Max, the owner of a cat she is looking after, words – or the lack of them – threaten to create a gulf between them.

She felt again bizarrely self-conscious about speaking French, groping for words, seeing herself uncomfortably like a parody Englishwoman in a French film.

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The novel’s backdrop is both unique and relatable and the story will particularly resonate with people who, like me, moved to another country or dream of doing so. Having lived in Rome, I found Mundler’s vivid imagery illustrative of the light and shade of European life. The sunlight that comes through Ella’s bedroom window is ‘thrown over her bed like a perfectly unruffled quilt.’ As her perceptions of both France and England become less set, so does her sense of affiliation to either place. Unsure where she belongs, she feels like a foreigner in the country of her birth. Nationality, sexuality, and identity all seem fluid and old labels are called into question in what is a richly complex and thought-provoking read.

Ella’s feeling of transience as an expat is subtly drawn out. While she has a much-coveted permanent university job, she is still perceived as somehow ‘other’ despite speaking the language and setting up home. She battles everyday misogyny and her attempts to object achieve mixed results. She is inevitably defensive during these encounters but at times is herself harshly critical of the more traditional choices made by other women. Her personal brand of feminism seems to allow for routinely dismissing women who disagree with her. Despite her frustration at being judged for choosing not to have children, for instance, she seems to look down on other women regarding everything from their lifestyle choices to their appearance.

Narrative voice changes frequently as Ella attempts to see things from the point of view of her own mother and Max’s mother.  Margaret spent time in a psychiatric ward before being married off, engagement viewed as her only possible route to social acceptance. She therefore views Ella as incomplete without a husband, rather than as the successful woman she actually is. There are parallels, too, with Max’s artist mother who committed suicide, providing a compassionate insight into the impact of post-natal depression on the mother-child relationship.

There are frequent references to suicide as a sort of security blanket that has become a regular part of life. Bereavement sometimes catches Ella unawares, leaving her ‘howling on the kitchen floor,’ and she keeps enough medication in the house so that she could take an overdose at any time.

At bottom, however, it was herself she doubted most, the depth of the black holes of her own soul.

Ella’s introspections reveal her isolation as she searches for a sense of belonging. At times there are multiple inner voices whom Ella addresses directly in her head.

‘Well?’ she enquired, sharply, within. But at this the bluestocking and the soul-keeper exchanged a glance and then only lowered their separate eyes, each with the merest and most lady-like of shrugs.

These slightly cringe-worthy inner monologues jar with the overall tone of the novel. Fifty Shades of Grey did unexpectedly spring to mind! Ella’s character is brought to the surface better through her interactions with other people, subtly revealing her thoughts through her reactions. Her character is eloquently drawn and her voice is clearest when unimpeded by clumsy narrative tricks. There are laugh-out-loud funny moments, too, like when she imagines reducing her patronising manager to six inches high and ‘banging him into the ground like a tent peg.’

L’Anglaise is a profound exploration of the damage caused by parental neglect and the ensuing struggle to rebuild self-esteem. Painful snapshots capture this perfectly, like when a very young Ella is told to kiss her Daddy and ‘paralysed and powerless to perform as required’ she holds her arms up to the wrong man. But it is ultimately a hopeful story as time and experience allow the main characters to comprehend a little more about each other’s experiences and find forgiveness. As this intensely personal story unfolds, the rich prose and beautiful details ensure that the reader will be captivated from beginning to end.

Click here to order L’Anglaise direct from Holland House Books.

About the publisher:

Holland House is a bold, dynamic publisher of high quality literary and genre fiction. Investing time and energy into producing books by unique voices, they are not afraid of advancing new and challenging work, as well as great books written in the classic style. ‘We want to produce quality writing and to work with good people’. Imprints include Caerus Press for historical fiction and Grey Cells Press for crime fiction.

About the reviewer:

Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, book reviewer, and dog lover. She recently won the City Writes competition for her short story, The Anniversary. She is currently organising a UK and Ireland-wide poetry and short story competition which will launch very soon. Follow her on Twitter: @BeckyD123 or visit her website: www.beckydanks.com

 

 

Bone Ovation

Bone Ovation, Caroline Hardaker: Valley Press

Bone Ovation is the debut poetry pamphlet from Caroline Hardaker. It is a slim collection of 20 poems, published by Valley Press, that satisfy an interest in myth and folklore. Hardaker’s poetry is an example of mythology as a splitting open of the present, of stories and a deep-seated connection to the past. It considers an element common to
all: “Composite of brittle chalk and precious like the stalks of daisies in chains.”  Bone.
Hardaker positions humans in relation to non-human things, so much so that they are transfigured. This at first seems anthropomorphic, in that human attributes are applied to non-human entities. But, as we pick these poems apart, it transpires that the human is morphing into the non-human; becoming less human and more planetary. The pamphlet is varied and vicarious, each poem adding to the deep well of stories that constitute mythos.

Hardaker’s skill as a poet is apparent from the first pages. Blank space cleverly settles the reader into the collection:

W h i t e s p a c e

for eyes’ respite

Acclimatise.

Sink.

She experiments with the page and shows no fear, using the blank page to create meaning as much as the signifying words. The result is abstract and expressive. Her style is distinctive in its use of assonance and alliteration in a play of patterns between phonetic sounds. ‘The Rains,’ for example, is a short poem (only nine lines in two stanzas) yet it glows.

Each raindrop contains a soul
I’m told, and sleet is nought
but the urgent need of the dead to meet
their loved ones in the mortal world.

The narrator recalls her grandmother habitually eating drops of rain: “She said it made her feel alive again.” Traces of the past fuse with the present, handed down orally from one generation to another. It is a celebration of kinship, etched in memory and the natural imagery of falling rain. The poetic voice tends to our mortality – a life cycle that repeats, repairs, restores – but also regards a transcendental and immortal consciousness, a spiritual being-in-the-world, in a simple ritual of remembering and returning.

‘The Weight of My Feet’ recounts the experience of having a/living in a/being a physiological body: “tired feet / tired fire-feet.” The aching body distracts the mind from itself, simultaneously returning the mind to itself as part of a body that aches. The poem is thick with imagery of flora and food to explore the restorative responses of the body to
survive, seemingly of its own accord. The speaker’s feet “shed skins,” are “red plums to stand on,” an adolescent bulb “amongst nimbler water lilies.” Aching is expressed through the italicised refrain and interruption: “My tired tired fire feet,” where, in its excess of sensation, pain disrupts thought and, in the end, stops the poem altogether: “I have so much more to say.”

Bone Ovation

‘The Paper Woman’ depicts a mythical figure, told as hearsay between folk: “Who is she, sir?” The figure in question is a fragile woman whose body is metaphorical paper. She is slow and magnified:

once an hour dropping crepe lids

over ochre corneas, crusted dry

more to shut off the world than moisten the eyes.

She is rapt, tainted, even cursed, and alienated from the rest of the world. Her porous skin is stained with pigments of ink, “bold tattoos / like the Bayeux Tapestry,” a body that bears the consequences of history:

The event is etched on her skin
with a sharpened stave, leaving bitter rivets which
itch to a depth she can’t scratch.

Hardaker conjures a beautiful parable of “warm, soft cloth” on paper, water seeps into the fibres “to expose her raw insides.” Her exposure is potent, cleansing the skin, in order to relieve the inner itch. Fragmented, but elegant and humorous, ‘Sticky White Rice’ demonstrates the humanness in Hardaker’s poetry through simple, ordinary, everyday observation. The subject of the poem is making sushi, a fiddly task, and the lines knock into each other as an effect of enjambment: “but / I want to crush it – / push it tight in my fist / humiliating it.” Juxtaposing Pictish painting with neatly setting the table, the poem is a short and sweet expression of our internal dissension.

In ‘The Woman is Like the Picasso,’ Hardaker explores art through aspects of cubism in short line stanzas, abundant in its painterly quality:

You’ll not know her, she looks to the side
all eyes
a spectrum of illicit shades
hair all quantum in sharp directions

It is descriptive of Picasso’s many cubist portraits of women (Weeping Woman with Handerchief III, for example), a retelling of painting through writing to communicate a point of view: “See that fierce pride under bashful eyes? / Even Picasso couldn’t capture it. / He tried.” ‘The Woman is Like the Picasso’ speaks to ‘The Paper Woman,’ each
exploring the blank, flat or delicate qualities of the page that art and writing attempt to release, like moments of time to be filled.

In many of these poems, personality is a physical attribute and the separate stories speak to each other in the cosmos of the collection, as in ‘Marriage & Black Holes’: “I’m the sucking goop between galaxies there, / spread thin like emollient blackcurrant jam.” The handle of myth is light-hearted and humble, using art and language as tools for reference and meaning. Bone Ovation is a small fable of poetic thought, shaping new imaginings of the modern world to add to an ancient history of mythic story-telling.

Click here to order Caroline Hardaker’s Bone Ovation from Valley Press.

About the Publisher:

Valley Press is an independent publishing house based in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, UK. They publish poetry, including collections, pamphlets and the occasional anthology; fiction, including novels and collections of short stories; and non-fiction, including memoirs and travel writing.

Review by Kirsty Watling

Kirsty is a writer, bookseller and recent Literature graduate specialising in twentieth century literature, visual culture and critical theory.

In the Blink of an Eye

Truth, Beauty and Death: Photography, the Artist and Mourning

In the Blink of an Eye, Ali Bacon, Linen Press, 2018

In a single instance, a transformative and indelible impression may be etched onto the mind via vision, a happening that occurs in “the blink of an eye”. There was seemingly one such moment for the author of this novel. Ali Bacon was working in Oxford’s Bodleian Library when she found a cache of famous Victorian photographs. The overwhelming surge of emotions aroused by that encounter with the first wave of photographic images sparked a life-long interest in early photographers. This, Bacon’s second novel, is the fruit of those powerful feelings and interest. It follows the life of the Scottish artist David Octavius Hill, one of those early pioneers of nineteenth century photography, as he brings to completion the first painting based on photographs, an endeavour that spanned decades. Hill brought a refined sensibility to his photographic partnership with the more technically minded Robert Adamson to establish photography as a recognised art form and the novel is very much a song of praise to this innovator.

The novel is also more than that, of course. It is both history and biography, imagination and reality, fact and fancy. The writing playfully and self-consciously alludes to its status as both truth and fiction, as prominent characters in the establishment of photography as a serious pursuit debate in its pages whether the photographic form of representation is art or artifice, the representation of things as they are or a reimagining of the world. That the issue is relevant to an understanding of the novel itself is indicated by the headings that the chapters fall under: the names of early photographic processes. Thus the novel is seemingly constructed as a photograph and presented as a photograph, one that invites philosophical reflection on its capacity to represent the world and to bear truth beyond surface appearance.

in-the-blink-of-an-eye

There are a number of themes which develop in the novel besides its focus on truth and
artifice. Bacon makes much of imbuing her photograph of a novel with the sensibility of
women. She draws on Hill’s relationships with women and often writes from the perspective of these women to understand the man. The novel is therefore interesting in being a “her-story”, rather than a “his-story”, and a self-consciously feminine biography. However, the great theme of the novel which struck me the most was the relationship that it constructed between truth, beauty and mourning. Death is one of the most significant characters in the novel and touches all those involved. From the first, Hill is shown as a widower and then his partner in photography dies. There are further tragedies. All the art and photography that takes place in the novel, described constantly in terms of truth and beauty, can therefore be situated in ideas of death, bereavement and mourning. As Hill’s wife remarks to him towards the close of the novel in a terse summary of the perspective of the novel, Hill’s art can be understood thus: “‘[t]he sadness gives it beauty, the beauty gives you comfort” (204-5).

Inevitably, one wonders why, in Bacon’s view, sadness gives beauty. Is it the sense of
mortality that gives what is beautiful its value and meaning, the sense of an impending
ending? Is it the fleetingness of the moment that gives both art and photography, and this
novel constructed like a photograph, their ultimate raison d’être? Or can we only understand the true artist in the Western tradition as one that suffers?  That is, can Hill only be given recognition as a “proper” artist since he suffers and his suffering bears fruit? After all, one popular image of the artistic genius is “the tortured soul” who is besieged on all sides by harsh happenings, experiences which appear to give his or her art greater depth, value and meaning to the public. One thinks of how their biographical details add to the status of figures like Vincent Van Gogh and the feminist icon Frida Kahlo, who is in fact called “La Heroina del Dolor”, or “The Heroine of Pain”.

Bacon’s novel is certainly a substantial and well-wrought affair which invites the larger
questions on the part of readers. The individual chapters have been nominated for and won several awards and the novel is an engrossing read which also has a feminist dimension. It is a good second novel. It is also a good introduction to the early history of photography and the key debates that the medium first aroused, debates which follow us to the contemporary moment. In the Blink of an Eye is therefore, in my view, a richly rewarding read.

Click here to order Ali Bacon’s In the Blink of an Eye from Linen Press.

About the Publisher:

Linen Press is “a small, independent publisher run by women, for
women”. It published its first book in 2006 to much acclaim and strong sales. The Press
describes itself as the only indie women’s press in the UK. Its policy is “to encourage and
promote women writers and to give voice to a wide range of perspectives and themes that are relevant to women”. Linen Press, in its own words, aims to “publish books that are diverse, challenging, and surprising”. The collective background of the writers in the publishing house is described as “a multi-coloured patchwork of cultures, countries, ages and writing styles”.

Review by Suneel Mehmi

Suneel is currently researching the relationship between photography and law in fiction from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1920s. He is a scholar and an amateur writer, poet, singer/songwriter, musician and artist. Suneel is a member of the British Asian community and lives in East London. He holds degrees in Law and English Literature from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Brunel University and the University of Westminster.

Giant by Richard Georges

Giant, Richard Georges: Platypus Press

I was entranced by Richard Georges’ poetry collection, Giant, from the very first words. I found myself understanding and appreciating his visions out to the ocean from an island home. I felt a sense of timelessness from this poetry too. Connections with creation stories (and scientific truths) from across the globe blend together with memorable imagery such as this initial sentence from Giant:

“Having lost their sight in unlighted deep,
the gods of our fathers rose and strode
towards falling shards of sunlight”

This collection includes such almost mythical poems as well as poems describing specific places. Georges has a sharp eye for seemingly insignificant details and his vivid portrayals of sights as everyday as the angle of plants:

“tamarind trees lean over narrow
coastal roads like wiry grandmothers”

Allowing me to clearly envisage Caribbean landscapes as he does. We observe goats precariously but blithely feeding by the roadside and, later, see the grotesque image of a lamb who was less lucky with the traffic. We also learn of families blighted by alcoholism and grief.

giant

Giant uncovers many aspects of island life that diverge from the tourist brochure promises, but I never thought that these poems lost hope. There is anger certainly, and a resentment perhaps of a colonial past that still rears its uniformed head from time to time but does not provide the basic resources to ensure that the lights stay on in the people’s homes.

Since my initial reading of Giant, I have found myself returning to the book either simply to reread those poems I particularly liked or, more frequently, because a certain concept or turn of phrase suddenly occurred to me and I saw it in a new light. I love that I can continue to interpret and understand Georges’ ideas in different ways.

Click here to buy Giant direct from Platypus Press.

About the Publisher:

Platypus Press is a boutique publisher based in England.  We seek to unearth innovative contemporary poetry and prose from a broad variety of voices and experiences.

Review by Stephanie Jane

Stephanie is a travelling blogger usually to be found in her caravan somewhere in Western Europe. She loves long country walks, theatre trips, second-hand shops, coffee and cake, and, of course, reading. She makes a point to read diverse authors from around the world as this allows her to experience countries and cultures that she may not get to visit in person. Literary fiction is her favourite genre, but she is happy to try niche reads across the board and enjoys supporting small publishing houses and indie authors.

 

Gaudy Bauble

Has there ever been a Lesbian Zoo?

Gaudy Bauble by Isabel Waidner: Dostoyevsky Wannabe Originals

Shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2018

Olivia Laing was not wrong in saying “the future of the queer avant-garde is safe with Isabel Waidner”, as Waidner creates a topsy-turvy, destabilising, dismantling, distorting post-identity Britain inhabited by Gilbert & George-esque lesbians, Peggy “the let’s-get-the-hell-out-of-here Pegasus”, hoofed fibreglass sculptures, Healthy-lips, chalk faeries, a transarmy with red question marks compressing the left-facing heads and the “phantom of prohibited futures”. In this novel, the riff raff are running the show and you’re in for a treat.  Gaudy Bauble explores the political potential of innovative writing at the intersections with intersectional subjectivities – issues of gender, class, sexuality and race are at the forefront of this short novel, which seeks to disrupt normative social and literary structures at every turn.

Do you remember playing make-believe games as a child, engrossed in your own imagination where a teddy bear could suddenly be an evil genius and a pencil could become a frog? Where your toys took on a life of their own as characters in a twisted plot that only made sense to you, as you hadn’t learnt the “rules” of the game yet and anything could still be anything? Waidner creates this world anew in a queer dystopian utopia, expanding the possibilities of identity, narrative and style beyond any limits one might usually find within a novel. The reader is reminded that not only is imagination for adults too, but that our abilities to imagine, to go beyond categories, labels, genres, constructs and stereotypes, is only limited by our own boundaries, preconceptions, and compliance with social norms to keep them all intact. The best way to read this novel, therefore, is to shed those constructs and enjoy the rollercoaster ride.

Waidner breaks down conventions, literary genres, historical stereotypes and identities with style and finesse; if you let the text hit you right, moments of poignancy find themselves enmeshed with humorous undertones. Picture the character P.I. Belahg finding themselves wearing a bikini over their clothes, as they sleepily put it on without the realisation of what it was, only to awaken fully to the nightmare childhood trauma of gender conforming clothing and succumb to a meltdown. Here, the bikini acts as a trigger for memories of the “gender police” who “had seen to the dyke child being taught many life lessons. Lest she become a bulldagger. Lest she become a fully-fledged, raving, raging, reckoning and incorrigible adult powerdagger. Strong and unhinged. What if she organised. Already there had been Techtelmechtel with that wildgirl interpretation of John Taylor. Girl-on-girl hanky-panky. Innocent, but. Best nipped in the bud.” Waidner tackles age-old perceptions of lesbianism in subtle and effective ways. The reader catches a glimpse of Pre-Bikini Atoll, a 12-year old from West Croydon – whose name also gestures toward histories of colonialism, occupation, oppression and nuclear weapons testing at the site of Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean – and who preferred gender neutral pronouns: the past merges with the present in a significant moment of transformation whereby Bikini Atoll is “born”, as a performance act in a cabaret troupe called ‘The Avant-garde of the Oppressed’. This scenario ends in a poignant recognition of the struggles and pressures of gender conformity and the ways in which clothes can come to signify this in society, as Blulip, in drag as Painlevé Hypercamp, assists in providing the “context in which a bikini on a butch meant genderqueer camp rather than normative femininity.” These two characters partake in “Hypocamp micromovement […] a strangely microfied, butoh-like, and restrained full-body expression of gay exuberance” – an act I only wish I could see in real life!

gaudy-bauble

Historical gay identities creep in and start taking control of the workshop as queer identities wrestle with a history that still haunts their present. As team Reco.Mö hijack Tulep.tv, “Combating A Localised Evil” by airing a be-on-the-look-out and attempt to locate Cadavre Exquis for a Mördervogel that none of the characters can truly define or draw, Hilary adorns Bobák’s abdomen and face with maroon-coloured lipstick in the shape of tiny kidneys only for this creation to evoke the haunting inscription of sarcoma, an illness that shares a lineage of being known as the mark of aids. Present and past collide in the body’s inscriptions, highlighting how the body tells all, how it has been marked as the bearer of identity, of histories and of stigmas one does not choose. Waidner’s ability to swiftly alter the perception and representation of the smallest things, whether that be lipstick marks, hoofed figurines, chalk faeries, glittery faces or carpets that hold entire ecosystems of germs, continuously wrong-foots the reader in the best of ways.

Taking us through a gay taxonomy of anthropomorphic animals deemed appropriate for gay stereotypes, the reader is introduced to the gay zoo, a newspaper article entitled Who’s Who at the Zoo? that lists male homosexuals as Gay Bears, Owls, Cygnets, Pussycats, Gazelles, Afghans, and Marmosets. Waidner addresses the lack of a lesbian equivalent with an amusing tangent about creating lesbian counterparts. Had there been a lesbian zoo? And if there was one, what would there be in comparison to the cubs, otters, and other animals that allowed gay men to strip themselves of their humanness and take on animal qualities? Detailing the scenario with creations, such as Ursula “a lesbian-identified Bear, or a Bear-identified lesbian”, the reader sees the woeful lack of a lesbian history and how, in a post-identity Britain that would prefer to forget the past before women have had a chance to create their own equivalents, women are left to grapple with their own makeshift identities, often restricted to the femme-butch dichotomy that cannot seem to be shaken. Waidner addresses crucial issues and hard truths, but wraps them up in glitter and imagination, so that the reader doesn’t fully realise the richness of Waidner’s narrative as it creates a present so haunted and full of the past that brought us to it. There is no comparing this novel to previous texts, for it is one of a kind and will take many more reads in order to fully engage with all the references and attention to detail that Waidner has brought to these eccentric, quirky and queer characters and the world they inhabit.

Click here to buy Isabel Waidner’s Gaudy Bauble direct from Dostoyevsky Wannabe.

About the Publisher:

Dostoyevsky Wannabe publish independent/experimental/underground things: We publish a lot of books, any types of books − short books, long books, flash fiction, poetry, anthologies, samplers, chapbooks, experimental things.

Review by Isabelle Coy-Dibley

Isabelle Coy-Dibley is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, where her research predominantly considers inscriptions of the female body within women’s experimental writing.

 

 

Darker with the Lights On

Darker with the Lights On, David Hayden: Little Island Press

Shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2018

“The mind is a slope and the words run off like water and who knows where they go?” (from ‘Memory House‘)

Darker with the Lights On is a collection of 20 short stories by David Hayden, a prolific writer of short fiction, published by Little Island Press.  

With an abundance of imagination through surreal and unbounded worlds beyond and beneath the world we inhabit, Darker with the Lights On is like taking a train in the dark, the carriage so brightly lit that you struggle to see a world you know is there, beyond the pane of glass. You cup your hands around your eyes and press your nose against the window, trying to see into the darkness, only to be confronted by your own reflection. You cannot see past the ghost of yourself. If only they’d turn the lights off, so you might see clearly the world outside. It is this strange juxtaposition of sense, sensation and rationalising that Hayden captures so brilliantly in this collection.

“The dark was outside, thick and blue, while in the dining room light glinted off silk and silver becoming general glitter that, if seen from the night, would have signified a happy party.” (from ‘The Bread that was Broken’)

Hayden inhabits nowhere places and nothings as intrinsic parts of life. He asks what it means to call somewhere a place and what it means, in fact, to say or do anything at all.

“The train travelled through quiet places with unused piles of gravel, abandoned cars, hard patch farms […] Michael paid close attention to the gradual aggregation of the city, trying to discover the point at which nowhere became somewhere.” (from ‘Last Call for the Hated’)

The stories are works of metafiction that assert the idea that the most radical, surreal, illusory imaginings can be brought to the page:

“Words are just mute smudges until you know what they mean, and when you put them together they can tell all manner of things. There’s plenty you can’t say with words. You can fall through words down into a seething belly world of billions of objects and notions, all shrieking and hiding.” (from ‘How to Read a Picture Book’)

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Hayden constructs pockets of hyper-reality that are nonsensical and radiant: “When you die – when you die – you revive in the world of the last book you were reading before your… demise” (from ‘Reading’). It is writing that reaches for the depths of our minds’ possibility. It asks: what can be imagined? Beyond sense, rationality, logic. On reading, I admit, I became confrontational, annoyed, indifferent, dozing off. How dare you, Hayden, try to test the limits of my mind! But I caught glimpses, symbolic moments of meaning, which pulled me in, and continue to do so. Mine was the response of a reader tired, rushed, distracted, shut off, but I fought the shadow of myself to find ways into the text that Hayden offers wholeheartedly.

“I grow calmer and darker, waiting for the world to fall away not knowing whether it will fall up or down.” (from ‘Memory House’)

Much lies dormant beneath the juddering page inflicted with Hayden’s prose, poised to ambush the reader with its brilliance. This is writing that it is a pleasure to write about – to think about with as much vigour as if it were your own. That is what it asks of you: to be curious, clenched and to grapple with consciousness in the act of reading.

“Books let you circle around time, find the root of time, lose time, recover time.” (from ‘How to Read a Picture Book’)

Often returning to the first line in the last, each story picks words out of themselves, repeating and filtering down its own language. Time is a curious factor throughout, how it passes and how it is experienced. Each story balances philosophical, psychological and physiological elements, and contributes to the balance of the collection as a whole. Not a balance serene and unwavering, but a struggling and unstable attempt at equilibrium that is inexplicably human. 

Click here to buy David Hayden’s Darker with the Lights On direct from Little Island Press.

About the Publisher:

Little Island Press is an independent publisher of fiction, poetry and essays. Founded in 2016, it publishes innovative, intellectually ambitious writing in elegant editions designed by the award-winning design studio typographic research unit.

Review by Kirsty Watling

Kirsty Watling is a writer, bookseller and recent Literature graduate specialising in twentieth century literature, visual culture and critical theory.