Author: Danielle McNally

Night Moves Book Cover Night Moves
Jessica Hopper
In Store Now!
Paperback

“To love this city, I attest, you must also hate it dispassionately.”

I was introduced to Jessica Hopper through her work as a music journalist, which was compiled in book-form in 2015 with The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. The essays were succinct. And they sent my timid, bound heart into spasms. She was declaring and demanding space in an arena that relied on the silence of the unsayable but wrote so that every word made me eager for the next.

Her writing cuts deep that way. Male egos stand no chance. Her dissection of R.Kelly, for instance: bloody brilliant.

Needless to say, I love her.

And now she is back, with Night Moves. A book that brings us closer to Jessica, if in a roundabout way, as we witness her journal entries, selected, and carefully curated (though never performing as such). I’ve not been to Chicago, but reading this book I’m transported there. Moving through the early noughts with her as my guide, biking and hip-shaking through a very specific time in an artist’s development.

This book is blurbed as genre-defying, but I don’t see it that way. It’s more like meeting up with your best friend (who is both superior to you in every way and yet radically down-to-earth) and hearing her tell you stories of days gone, but lingering... Hopper navigates the city—its streets and strange encounters—with a seeming effortlessness. She oozes cool with every sip of water (no alcohol for Jessica—bless a good sober ally), bike ride, missed connection, dance move.

And yes, there are dance moves. I was giddy in my seat, giggling, as she describes one in particular—The Hungry Pony: ‘Hands up like you’re about to catch a baseball. Mime a sort of cud-chewing motion, opening your mouth to the beat of the song, or you can also eat for real. Stare blankly at anyone who even so much as glances at you.’

This book is blurbed as genre-defying, but I don’t see it that way. It’s more like meeting up with your best friend

In these pages, teenagers are geniuses. DJ sets are a fantasy, made real. And the library is a space to return to, again and again, because it is a place where everyone belongs.

I love this book in a real, fierce way, and because time has taught me that I am not special, nor unique in my interests, I guarantee others will find a home in this book, too.

Peach Book Cover Peach
Emma Glass
Bloomsbury
In Store Now!

Working at a bookstore is wonderful and daunting, in that people value your tastes enough to trust your recommendations. So often, though, a request for a recommendation comes with a caveat: Nothing too violent, please. No incest, no rape, no bodily harm… And I quieten, as my favourite books are slipped back onto the shelf.

So I won’t sugarcoat it: Peach is the story of a violent assault, and what happens to bodies and psyches in the days that ensue. It is an uncomfortable read. Upsetting and unsettling. At times, it is gross.

But it is absolutely engrossing. In under a hundred pages, Emma Glass will have you viscerally transfixed. I read it in one sitting. I was ‘hooked,’ from the first page.

“Thick stick sticky sticking wet ragged wool winding round the wounds, stitching the sliced skin together as I walk, scraping my mittened hand against the wall. Rough red bricks ripping the wool. Ripping the skin. Rough red skin. Rough red head.”

The awkwardness of trauma is its temporal slipperiness: Even as it obliterates you, life goes on. Peach has a mam and a dad to come home to. A ‘squidgy’ baby to check on. And there are everyday exchanges to be had. Supper to eat. Secrets to swallow. Bedtime.

And as a new day breaks, distress dissolves into paranoia, anxiety following everywhere, as Peach has classes to attend, and friends to avoid. She has a boyfriend, too. Who is kind and devoted. Who wants to touch and make love to her.

Emma Glass outlines these critical conflicts and internal inconsistencies in language so instinctual, you physically experience Peach’s pains and joys with her. And there is pain, in all its gory detail, exposure to which makes life’s moments all the more precious. All the more joyous. And like a good peach, this book is sweet. Tender and wet and dripping with affect.

“I don't know what to do with myself. After silently dancing around the house in pyjamas for a really long time and dancing silently beside Baby asleep in his cot and feeling silly, I go into the living room and decide to watch TV. I think I should study but Im too distracted. A bit happy and unfocused. Loose and juicy. I laugh.”

It is absolutely engrossing. In under a hundred pages, Emma Glass will have you viscerally transfixed.

As a reader, Peach did what I hoped it would do: It offered a nuanced appreciation of the horrors of having your body brutally interfered with. It shed light onto the darkening silences that encircle sexual violence. It detailed how attempts to make meaning within one’s self clashes and then casually coincides with exterior facade.

But my succeeded expectations gave way to astonishment. And that is what sets this book apart. Peach isn’t, like a lot of rape literature, a mere education in empathy. Peach isn’t out to preach.

This book is privy to our growing, collective rage at the regularity by which violence is conducted against young bodies. It is hilarious and unpredictable and…

Well, that’s enough. I can’t spoil a story this deliciously well-crafted.

Just read it.

 

(I triple dog dare you.)

Bad Dreams and Other Stories Book Cover Bad Dreams and Other Stories
Tessa Hadley
Penguin Random House
In Store Now!

I've never understood it when people say they take their time with good books, that they savour the pages to prolong the experience. When I like a book I immediately and completely immerse myself in it. It becomes a lifeline.

So, I found myself in an odd predicament this weekend, when I realized I only had one story left in Tessa Hadley's collection Bad Dreams. I felt really sad. I wondered if I should wait until bedtime.

It is fitting, then, that this book helped me understand the unfamiliar practice of others, because that is what Hadley does with these stories: she assists in breaking down the patterned decisions that constitute personalities. She introduces ordinary people, places you in their circumstance, and offers glimpses into a life that is not your own:

The book opens with “An Abduction,” following Jane Allsop as she navigates the perils of adolescence, where bodies are made strange by the hankering for first tastes. Hadley details how much, when attended to, can be communicated by a gesture.

In “Experience,” newly divorced Laura goes to stay in another woman’s home. As she engages with the domicile and its owner’s personal belongings, she fiddles with more than just objects. Quick decisions weigh heavy moral consequences.

These ten stories, each deceptively simple in their mundanity, offer a cover for those who share a curiosity about the intimate and everyday lives of other people.

In “Flight,” Claire visits her sister—who, refusing to talk to her, seeks refuge in a bedroom upstairs—and her sister’s adult children, who end up engaging in hilarious tactics to coax their mother out of the room. The dialogue pierces the unique bond of siblings— one of shared history and an acute awareness of the glaring imperfections of the people who raised you.

These ten stories, each deceptively simple in their mundanity, offer a cover for those who share a curiosity about the intimate and everyday lives of other people.

I won’t say more. If you’re not yet convinced, visit your local bookstore and read the title story. It is disturbing. Brilliant. And likely to help you understand just what I’m trying to convey.

The Lesser Bohemians Book Cover The Lesser Bohemians
Eimear McBride
Fiction
In Store Now!

This book is, in its simplest form, a transgressive love story.

Similar in style, but lighter in scope, to McBride’s first novel (A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing), the reader shares the thoughts of a vibrant young woman (18) after she’s left her Irish homeland to attend drama school in the big city (London).

The protagonist, a curious character, intent on expanding her selfhood and her social sphere, meets an established man whose troubled past fractures their every encounter. Together, we share her sexual awakening (and subsequent descent into a maddening love affair).

 “Fright I. He holds to. The make of his lip, turning into my own, turn until I kiss back. I think he is smiling but means it the same. Kisses to bit breaths and touch of his tongue making fast me, does he notice?”

This book explores deeply complex and human questions, such as the sustainability of passion, the residual effects of trauma, and the oft-cited rigidities of sexual identification—submissive/dominant; erotic/pathological. By virtue of reading McBride’s novel, the reader is directly implicated in moral questions of a sexual nature. I experienced this book as sexy, but also very confusing.

That said, we are all bound by our sexual histories, which impact our daily scripts in ways that so often go unnoticed—rarely are we summoned to interrogate our relations of desire. This, I think, is the genius of McBride’s writing: she does not allow her readers a pass at passivity, but through a unique method of storytelling she invites and entices you in, and then proceeds to unsettle the boundaries of your sense-making.

By virtue of reading McBride’s novel, the reader is directly implicated in moral questions of a sexual nature.

 “I’ve been naked, embarrassed, touched and kissed and brought the whole way like any woman might. So after that what is it to say            When I was little someone used to and now I don’t think I can any more. Then the past sits forward and the cold comes pouring in. He looks down at me What did you say?”

As these passages demonstrate, this book won’t be for everyone—stream of consciousness can be complicated that way—but I think fans of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing will find McBride’s narrative voice gains fluidity in this book. The pace is balanced, witty, well-versed; and with rhyming sequences so bouncy and original I found myself completely absorbed.

In sum: This is a fairy tale love story for the cynical and sexualized.

eimearmcbrideEimear McBride was born in 1976 and grew up in Ireland. Her debut novel, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, was published in 2013 and catapulted the author to international recognition, earning her numerous prize nominations and wins. The novel won the 2013 Goldsmiths Prize, was shortlisted for the Folio Prize and won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2014. McBride currently lives in Norwich with her family. The Lesser Bohemians is her second novel. The author lives in Norwich, UK.