Laura Waddell writes the latest article in our Spine series, a new regular book club feature for TYCI.
Recently I’ve been re-reading ‘Out’ by Natsuo Kirino (translated by Stephen Snyder), about four women who work in a bento lunch factory in Japan, to a social backdrop of cramped housing, gambling, and off-kilter shift hours at odds with the routine of other people in their lives. They’re dissatisfied with the routine of their lives; family responsibilities, money worries, and gruelling, difficult work where they must hurry to get the best jobs on the line – repetitively ladling rice into trays for hours is one of the worst, causing painful hands. The women are all quite different from each other, and come together after a murder occurs – but like any group of people thrown together, there are tensions, and it’s really the relationships between the four that I find so interesting. I’ve been reading a lot of thick non-fiction tomes recently, slowly for review, and wanted something I could just eat up like air, which is my memory of when I first read it a few years ago. I recently asked around on twitter how people felt about re-reading, and there’s a sense the types of books people choose to re-read are mostly comforting reads, which is not to say they’re not thick or difficult, but that they’re immersive and encompassing. I don’t do it a lot – endlessly, there are so many new books I want to get round to – but I’ve probably re-read ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte the most. Goth for life.
‘Virgin and Other Stories’ by April Ayers Lawson came out from Granta in January and was one of the first books I read this year, and one I particularly enjoyed. The short stories have a distinct contemporary southern gothic flavour and focus on sex and religion. A couple in particular stood out; in ‘The Way You Must Play Always’, a teenage girl fixates on her piano teacher’s recuperating brother in the room next door to her lessons. It’s sensitive and curious, but there are also a couple of great scenes where she interacts with the slightly bolder girl whose lessons take place in the hour after; eye-rolling, they sit on the sofa together disdainful of their teacher. These pages are brief, but a real time capsule. In another highlight, ‘The Negative Effects of Homeschooling’, a teenage boy at an age of standard parental resentment accompanies his mother to the funeral of her transgender friend. We see empathy for his mother bloom over the course of the story, emerging from the tight bud of sulky isolation, and it’s a really beautiful story. See my full review at the Glasgow Review of Books.
‘Dodge and Burn’ by Seraphina Madsen, from new indie publisher Dodo Ink, is what its extravagantly colourful cover might suggest: a madcap tale infused with mysticism and drugs. Put your sense of reality to one side before you begin. When their mother dies in a freak killer bee incident (drawn to the scent of her perfume whilst horseriding), two sisters are brought up in the care of Dr Vargas, an evil ideologue who keeps them away from outsider influence. On a diet of books on mythology and mysticism, the sisters strive to find ways of communicating mentally and cast spells in the woods. When one of them is abducted, the other escapes, and, in the company of a ne’er-do-well musician lover with a similarly day-glo relationship with reality, attempts to trace her sister, sensing her psychically, like divination. The obvious comparison here is Hunter S Thompson, but ‘Dodge and Burn’ takes place in rather different terrain, infused with all kinds of dreamy rave-kid sensibility. It’s a real mixing pot of drug culture and when I found the blend of psychedelic spirituality, paganism, witchcraft, and mythology difficult to follow, I just let it blend together and wash over me. At times the relentless eccentricity of the characters grated, but Dodge and Burn is a lot of fun, certainly different from anything else I’ve read recently, and Dodo Ink have to be congratulated on launching in a unique way with such a distinct voice in Seraphina Madsen.
And if mythology is your thing, you might enjoy new short story anthology ‘The Djinn Falls in Love’, edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Sujin (see my review in The List), which contains a spectacular variety of writers from all over the world writing about djinns, or genies. Reap by Sami Shah sees a surveillance team on an air force base watching a cluster of houses in Pakistan when they begin to see odd results showing up on their equipment. Spite houses, those curiosities of architecture where buildings are erected for the sheer purpose of irritating others are a feature of Kirsty Logan’s memorable ‘The Spite House’, where a genie interferes in neighbourly tension and grows increasingly uncomfortable.
That’s all for this SPINE column. I’ve written an essay in new collection Nasty Women from indie publishers 404 Ink, which is out in early March and contains 20 or so experiences of being a woman today, ranging from birth control to racism, punk to legal rights. I learned a lot from the other contributors. The Nasty Women Kickstarter grew massively beyond target, even backed by Margaret Atwood!
My essay is on breaking stereotypes on being working class and working in the arts, and how a wider variety of stories need to be told, and be on the record. More on that next time. Until then, do say hi on Twitter and tell me what you’ve been reading.
Read more in the Spine series HERE.