Can’t believe how quickly this swings around. I never have it in my diary – my fault – and it’s never until it pops up in my blog reader that Kate at Books Are My Favourite And Best has done it that I know it’s time to throw something together. Each time I think it will take longer than it actually does. Finding the links is pretty easy so far.
1 The starter book, like a piece of bread dough kept in a warm place in a village house (!) is Virginia Andrews’s 1979 best-seller Flowers in the Attic. I reckon every girl between maybe 13 and 17 was reading this book in 1979. I was in Year 9, what we called Form Three. That year holds memories of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, a particular fragrant lip-gloss with a roller-ball applicator and a fascination with Dolly Magazine, Ishka clothing and silver jewellry. I can’t remember much about this novel other than the idea of children locked up in an attic, and something incesty which was shocking to me, a concept that was kind of freaky for us 14-year-old girls. (Never mind that now the ‘line’ for kids learning about freaky stuff seems way lower.) (I just read the wiki page – the pet mouse! I remember the pet mouse!)
2 The other book that I read in Form Three was The Exorcist. I’m not sure when I first read it, hopefully it was that year and not earlier, but 1979 was the year I did a book review on it. My English teacher, long-suffering Mr Neeson (he had me for French as well the poor man, I was a bit of a terror in class) gave me a good mark, A+ from memory, along with the comment ‘perhaps a better choice of book could have been made.’ I think I just wanted to shock him.
3 A book that shocks and is defo not for the faint-hearted, the light-headed or the easily-disgusted, is a novel called Wetlands by Charlotte Roche. Wiki tells me it was the world’s best-selling novel in 2008, and also that it is ‘partly-autobiographical’ and ‘erotic literature’. It’s about a young woman who is very damaged and who huts herself (but not in the way that self-harmers traditionally do or have, not that that is great but this goes way beyond ‘simple’ cutting). It’s quite a stunning book, and I found it engrossing. It is sexual and graphic and visceral and gut-churning at times. I do not recommend it at all but I found it a powerful reading experience. It was not, however, anywhere near erotic.
4 I’ve been thinking lately about what is erotic in literature. We all know it’s really hard to write sex well. It is hard to read sex if it’s not done well. But what is ‘well’? Isn’t it going to be as varied and individual as we all are? Doesn’t it, like so much else, come down to taste? I don’t purposely look for sex in books, in fact it can be a deterrent if something is described in sexual terms, but when I have come across it, I have found that most supposed erotic scenes just aren’t. But someone told me Krissy Kneen’s Triptych is very erotic, that there is a scene with an octopus in a rock pool that is rather pant-tingling, sorry. It’s not a new idea. There is the beautiful, arousing, disturbing woodblock print The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by Japanese artist Hokusai, and while I’m not into cross-species shenanigans there is something compelling about the squid’s head, looking skull-like and human. It is grotesque and startling.
5 I took a punt and wondered whether there would be a celaphod in Moby-Dick and there is! How could there not be? Apparently Chapter 59 deals with ‘The Squid’. I haven’t read Moby-Dick but it is on the list of books I will really really try to read at some stage. There is a very good audio version of MD, with a whole range of interesting people reading – Tilda Swinton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry and others. While I don’t think listening to a book is the same as reading it, I think that would be a good version to choose.
6 I can only think of one novel that I would actively seek out in audio-book form and that is Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. I loved this book when I read it, mostly because the prose is so unconventional and irregular, and difficult to read at first. But then you learn how to read it – it teaches you somehow – and it becomes fluent and molten and the experience of reading it all the way through makes it a unique and powerful achievement and the emotion of the main character is pressed in to your being somehow. I found out a few days ago that she has narrated Girl for the audio form and I think it would be fantastic to listen to.