The thing is, I know I’m a bit of a w****r when it comes to eating, and food, and food writing, but this man’s journey is literally a dream of mine.
Someone recently described Samantha Ellis’s How To Be a Heroine as “A book I’ve been waiting to read since I was 16” which is pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted from a book so when I started reading it, I had high hopes. Anyway, half way through the first chapter I realised that this wasn’t a book I’d been waiting to read; it was a book I’d been waiting write. A personal history, entwined with serious close-reading of the most important literary heroines? Isn’t that what all devoted readers are doing when they read, all the time? Isn’t that what my whole imagination is for?
The thing is, I have finished How to Be a Heroine now, and I have realised something else. Sam Ellis has done it way, way better than I ever could have done it. Oh, this book is such a pleasure! The index alone delights: On one page alone are found Lace; Love, Courtney; Just Seventeen; Jane Eyre; Orbach, Susie and Rilla of Ingelside. She argues for and against Cathy Earnshaw, identifies the problems and passions of Flora Poste and (correctly) asserts that Emily Starr is a better heroine than Anne Shirley, all without doing a disservice to any of her subjects. For me, Ellis’s work on Shirley Conran’s Lace was the most satisfying to read. It’s about time people started reading Lace as more than just a fabulous load of shagging and leopard-print; Lace is a book entirely about the importance of women working, and working together. I loved that part so much, I read it out loud.
Samantha Ellis’s book is for fangirls, and I think she’ll probably acquire legions of her own as it continues to live in the world. Her editor said at her launch that she realised the book was part of a larger conversation than just girls who read (a male newspaper reviewer had taken the Which Heroine Are You quiz and discovered he was Anne of Green Gables), but I found myself thinking, who cares? This book is just for girls who read! Go away, bandwaggoning men who wouldn’t give Lace the time of day. You are no heroines of ours. Ellis, on the other hand…Her voice – hyper verbal, witty, pragmatic, learned and emotional – is one of the strongest I’ve read recently. Best of all, in my opinion, she has written herself a barnstorming ending: a culmination of confessional writing, joyful imagination and clever reasoning that might just really help people. What more, frankly, could a heroine hope for? Read the book. Take the Quiz. Pass it on.
Two young girls enjoy the sun relaxing in their suits and wraps in England, September 1929.Photograph by Bernard Wakeman, National Geographic
Oh my god. Everything.
Hello! I am here to talk about how Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake is a completely revolutionary piece of television, and one we should all shuffle off and watch in these dog days, before the sky stops hovering about an inch above our heads.
First, forget everything you know about Jane Campion. I am assuming, by the way, that you know the following things about her: 1) The Piano, empty beaches, Holly Hunter plinky plonky in a bonnet, 2) Portrait of a Lady, ship deck, Nicole Kidman gasping quietly in a poufy fringe and 3) Bright Star, which might have been about Keats but you didn’t see it. Now, wipe it all straight from your brain’s white-board and get ready for biker gangs, cults, and Peggy Olsen bottling someone in a bar.
Top of the Lake, my friends. It’s kid-related murder mystery TV a la The Killing or, more closely, Broadchurch, but I’m not really interested in any of that. The mystery is fine, a 6.5 out of 10. But the rest of it! There were times, watching this TV show, where I was struck dumb by how powerful this project is.
What exactly is the project at hand? First things first: aesthetically, it’s beautiful. Sure, the budget is high and the landscape is New Zealand, but Campion’s eye is drawn both to the tiny details, the moss and bark, of the natural world and the glorious snow-covered, blonde-prairied, turquoise-laked enormity of it all. The place feels empty and teeming. In fact, the only other film-maker I can think of who does the outdoors so well is Terence Malick, and that’s another bloody story. And among this seduction are young and old people, nude and weird and having a brilliant time (a long-haired, bollock-naked Peter Mullen, tripping on Ecstasy in the middle of the woods? Say yes – say yes and be glad).
Campion’s not just nice; she’s nasty too, and the actors in Top of the Lake are allowed to be as raw and ugly as they need. There are scenes in Top of the Lake that are so emotionally immediate it’s like being at the theatre, or like being there: Peter Mullen as a hobbled cockerel strutting round a yard of furious women, “Un fuckable, UNFUCKABLE” he says to each of them in turn, and they gather and split like defensive, protective atoms, pushing him towards the gate as Campion’s camera gets right in amongst them. A teenage girl hisses like a cat to protect her child, a young mother mourns her son in a tight dress and high heels, a woman drinks a bottle of vodka and staggers into a lake to drown, and Campion understands more than TV people do how to allow those things to occur, how to encourage them in her actors. It’s what directing should be.
Actually though, none of that is the point, though it serves the whole thing well – the point is that Jane Campion has made a show about women that is genuinely and angrily, actually about women. More specifically, Top of the Lake is about the violence and trauma that women (especially poor women) experience at the hands of everything. And it is about the way women respond to this, about their survival strategies, co-option, silence, battles and strangeness.
How often, on TV, do you see a woman walk into a bar and pay a stranger $10 to fuck her? How often do you see a women leave a man with a small baby so she can do her job with no sense of guilt or concern? How often do you see a group of older women played for their weirdest, most out-there and mockable qualities? There are such satisfactions to be had from Top of the Lake. The most profound, I think, is an act of violence – a woman smashes a bottle on a table and glasses her rapist; her rapist has no idea who she is. It is a terrifying and cathartic moment, and one played with such abandon and viciousness by Elizabeth Moss that I can’t help but be sure it will be her finest moment of television; narratively, at least. Moss is so good at vague, struggling women that it takes ages to see how wild her character really is. Her detective disrupts the story of Top of the Lake as much as she reconstructs it.
But my favourite moment in the whole show comes elsewhere; a group of women are driving in a minivan down the highway and, stopped by the police, are asked where they’re going. “Book club.” says the nearest one, dryly, and the female detective smiles at the joke. And in that moment, I thought, Jane Campion, yes. You are my hero.
By now, you may have heard that my son does not actually have autism. Whoops, haha. And now I am just a weensy bit embarrassed about the fuss I kicked up about the whole vaccines thing. (Sorry, kids. Measels are totally steampunk! Like cool gears, except on your skin.) So,…
Specific Jenny McCarthy immunisation denial satire: worth it.
master chronicler of the human condition Bridget Jones (via ruthcurry)
the gospel of St. Bridget Jones, ever-relevant
This month we have very exciting news. For the first time — and for a limited time — we’re offering the option of buying a physical copy of our December pick, the The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante.
Olga’s husband Mario has just left her and her two young children for a younger woman, with zero warning. Over the next two days, her world falls apart: a sick child and a misbehaving dog derail her sanity completely, and she becomes literally trapped in her apartment. Olga’s interiority is so skillfully rendered as to be horribly familiar to anyone who’s ever been devastated by loss and grief. So, well, not our most lighthearted pick, but a perversely enjoyable read nonetheless and an overdue introduction (for us, at least!) to this great author’s work.
Elena Ferrante is an Italian novelist whose books are published in the U.S. by Europa Editions. Her most recent novel is the acclaimed The Story of A New Name. From now until December 23, The Days of Abandonment will be available in paperback from our website. Just be sure to select “paperback” from the dropdown menu when you check out.
You can also read the book in our iOS 7 app, which has essays this month from Minna Proctor, Diane Mehta and previous Emily Book pick author Paula Bomer.
Diane Mehta wrote about how immersive Ferrante’s novel is, and how closely she empathized with its narrator, without really touching on her own life and emotions. Minna Proctor wrote a Ferrante-esque description of a harrowing, manic, holiday-time day of banal and dire errands in NYC. And Paula Bomer mined the deep vein of grief in Ferrante’s novel in an essay about her own emotional dissolution in the wake of her father’s suicide.
Reading these essays, we were reminded that Emily Books is more than a bookstore or a publisher; it’s also becoming a community. Writers and readers are having real conversations about the books we’re choosing, and we’re getting closer to our goal of creating a space and defining an audience for new books like the ones we’ve been choosing. As we close out another year of Emily Books and prepare for next year’s picks, we’re excited to be sharing these experiences with you, and we are eager to hear what you think as we continue to read together.
YOU GUYS. Elena Ferrante’s DAYS OF ABANDONMENT is the last Emily books pick of the year!
This beautiful little bastards appeared in the office today without a note, and we were frightened and excited - frightened because what if it was a mistake? We went round to the cake shop to investigate, and it was not a mistake! Christmas cupcakes for all. I mean, Christmas comes but once a year! (it lasts for 2 months and I eat cake the entire time, but you know.) Thank you for making our day, International Cupcake Sponsor.
Mallory Ortberg’s TEXTS FROM JANE EYRE, the often passive-aggressive, sometimes strange, and always humorous imagined texts from classic and modern literary figures, from Scarlett O’Hara to Jessica Wakefield, to Allison Adler at Holt, by Kate McKean at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency (World).
oh my god
Go Kate! Go Mallory! I will read the crap out of this.
TODAY IN HIGHLY IMPORTANT PUBLISHING NEWS.