I Love Dick (1997) by Chris Kraus

I love Dick (1997) by Chris Krauss made an appearance on my Twitter feed thanks to Elizabeth Morris’ account last Autumn when she gushed about the book and the upcoming TV adaptation. She highlighted how the book dwells on women, sex, agency, and art:

I was sold from that same minute. Not only because the book promised to be a landmark in my feminist reading, but because I had been reading about rape culture and forensics for three months and I craved something different. This hype about the book, along with Wallace Yovetich’s series on romances novels for Book Riot I realised the ‘something different’ that I wanted was a story about female desire. So, when M and I decided to exchange books in Christmas instead of splurging on presents, I knew what I wanted: I love Dick.

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Even though I finished reading the book some weeks ago, I haven’t been able to put my thoughts in a coherent order. Reading I Love Dick parallels the main characters’ chaotic descent into her desire for Dick, a man she met during a networking dinner with her husband. The woman is named after the author after – as gossip goes – she had a relationship with art critic Dick Hebdige. This much was said after the book’s cool reception twenty years ago, but after the rise of the unlikable female character, all the Nasty Women, and a constant fight to be human and not perfect, I Love Dick was rediscovered by pop culture as a chant to freedom and female agency.

As an academic the book posted some interesting and complex questions about who gets to speak in specific contexts and why. Chris is an experimental artist married to Sylvère, a professor who embodies all the post-structuralist and post-modernist theories that I live by, and that I write about. However, as the couple goes to dinner with Dick, Chris finds herself unable to join the conversation. She feels an outsider to a world – Academia – that is masculine, theoretical and patronising to women and women’s experience. As the novel progresses, we learn about Chris’ past as an artist in NYC, and the many lived experiences that have shaped her into the person that falls immediately head over heels in love with a stranger.

Sylvère keeps socializing what I’m doing through with you. Labeling it through other people’s eyes – Adultery in Academe, John Updike meets Marivaux… Faculty Wife Throws Herself At Husband’s Colleague. This presumes that there is something inherently grotesque, unspeakable about femaleness, desire. But what I’m going through with you is real and happening for the first time.

The novel is divided into two parts. The first one – ‘Scenes from a marriage’ – presents the reader with a third-person narration of the events the set the plot in motion and how Chris shares her infatuation with Sylvère and they jointly decide to start writing letters to Dick. In them, they describe how the stranger is profoundly changing the way they relate to each other with desire taking central stage, as the couple had given up on sex for a few years now. Their sexual relationship relinked, they wonder how the introduction of a third person may change their identity as a couple, but also individually (*). The author’s vast knowledge of literature and postmodern theory allows for references to every unfaithful partner in literature, as well as even more dark references that can only be gasped at during second or third readings. Because if there is something that characterises I Love Dick that is the impossibility to control the text and pin it down to references known by the reader, a process that mirrors the beautiful yet chaotic event of falling in love and seeing your life turned upside down and blurry for a period of time.

The second part of the book is called ‘Every letter is a love letter’ and it takes place after Chris abandons Sylvère and reappropriates the relationship the couple had with him as hers only. During this period she is travelling across the United States and she presents herself to Dick by sharing her past with him: How she worked at a strip club, how she is dismissed because of her art, her constant struggle against anorexia, and how she ended up marrying Sylviere. As someone interested in the representation of eating disorders, I was shocked by the blunt description of Chris’ necessity to stop eating sometimes and the happiness that comes with the restrain and the supposed control derived from the starving. The main character’s lived experience emerges in this part of the book as her own, and she unties herself from Sylvères-wife through her desire for Dick. This does not mean that the main character replaces one partner from another as Dick is just a recipient for her letters and the only voice that we hear is hers. Instead, the return of her sexual desire brings back her desire to live and to exist outside institutions and discourses that deem her a secondary character, a side-passenger. The ending, as it happens with every infatuated state, is a crash against reality reminded the reader that the process is as important as the goal.

The fact that Chris Krauss (author) and Chris Krauss (main character) seem to be the same person posts a lot of question about women in the arts and how we have been told to dismiss the female voice and avoid questioning why it is not being heard. I Love Dick challenged the status quo and inscribes two women’s lived experience as a female artist in pop culture: the fictional Chris’, and the real-life Chris’. With the upcoming television adaptation starring Kathryn Hahn as Chris and Kevin Bacon as Dick, the wold is about to be taken by storm by a tour de force on what it means to be a woman and dare to have any kind of desire for one’s self.

In short, I Love Dick by Chris Krauss is an essential read for anyone interested in women’s agency in art, feminism, female desire, relationships and postmodernism. It is not an easy read, and the process will be plagued with chaos, infatuation with the book, hate towards the book, and a necessity to run back home to read one more chapter. But that is exactly the power of the book: Its ability to make us feel like Chris does, with no Dick whatsoever.

(*) If you are interested in how the introduction of a third-party may affect a couple I highly recommend the Netflix show You Me Her (2016 – ), where a couple gets obsessed with a female escort that eventually enters their relationship in nonprofessional terms.

Flashbacks by J.E Hall

I borrowed Flashbacks by J.E Hall from a friend from university who, knowing of my passion for crime fiction, thought I would enjoy a thriller by a local author that she is familiar with. Turns out, she was right!

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Meet Adam, a nineteen-year-old about to enjoy his gap year bicycling all the way from his native England to the Middle East. Over-protected by his parents, who insist on safety issues that he, clearly does not need.

Kaylah is doing Business Studies at Southgate University and daughter to Bishop Sam Kone, descendant of Caribbean immigrants and a television star. As any young woman, Kaylah does not agree with her parents’ beliefs, and keeps her mind open to other religious ideas.

Ali has recently given up his engineering studies to join IS because that is what was needed of him. However, after the expansion of the group in late 2014, things are now too quiet for his taste, until he is assigned a very special mission.

Flashbacks tells the story of these three main characters interconnected as they meet, work together, and fight against each other at a time when religious freedom and mobility has defined the UK as a true melting pot. However, the lives of Adam, Kaylah, and Ali are far more complicated, and as they prepare to celebrate Armistice Day, they all have different goals in mind. The novel is an outstanding representation of contemporary diversity in which religion plays a key role. The first in the Adam Taylor trilogy, it presents readers with the main character after whom the series is named, but also with Kaylah, one of the most impressive female characters I have encountered in recent political thrillers.

Written in a style clearly reminiscent of John Le Carré, Flashbacks shows the intimacy and social preoccupations that have characterised British crime fiction during the 20th century instead of just focusing on the action. With each chapter devoted to each of the main characters, the book inscribes the youth in the thriller tradition breaking away with middle-aged secret agents who have been doing their jobs for decades. Instead, Hall gives Millennials access to the Intelligence Services and reminds society that we can do some good work too.

Flashbacks is a thriller that will keep you in the edge of our seat until the very last page while also posting important questions to the reading audience. In current times, when religious extremism has changed the world as we know it, it is important to keep an open mind and go beyond essentialism believes and alt-right propaganda. The introduction of Ali’s IS ideals as a main character is a significant change in contemporary literature, even though, as a thriller, the book keeps a clear line between good and bad, and there is no space left for moral relativism. But, in a fast-paced thriller like this, there is no time for lucubrations, and that is OK.

Women and the Forensic Thriller

If last week I shared the books that made me a blogger, this week I’m very happy to bring you a little summary of my research. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than writing about the women writers and the female characters that inspire me and keep me sane. Thanks to Boring Women for this opportunity. Enjoy! x

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By: Elena Avanzas Álvarez

Every time I tell someone I am pursuing a PhD in the Humanities, it is clear to me that they do not think I am in my right mind. Then I tell them that I am doing this with no fixed income or scholarship to support it, and I can see fear in their faces. But my favourite reaction comes when I tell them I am writing a thesis about forensic crime fiction: ‘Why do you write your thesis about trash/airport/commercial literature?’ And every time I tell them that there is more to crime fiction than CSI. There is even more to CSI!!! And here is why:

Crime fiction has been – along with romance – one of the most popular literary subgenres since the 19th century. People are addicted to crime, especially if it comes from a book, as it appears to…

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Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays + Accounts on What It is to be a Woman in the 21st Century

Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays + Accounts on What It is to be a Woman in the 21st Century by indie publisher 404Ink took the Internet by storm some months ago. The book contains essays by women writers on their lived experience as women in the 21st century. The project caught the attention of feminist all over Twitter, and it was even backed up by Margaret Atwood herself:

‘An essential window into many of the hazard-strewn worlds younger women are living in right now.’ – Margaret Atwood (Twitter

I first encountered Nasty Women through their Kickstarter campaign in which 404Ink aimed to get the book published, paid the 20 authors they had commissioned texts from, and spread their nastiness all over the world. The campaign went viral and it raised £ 22.156, an amount which greatly exceeds the funding proposed by the publishers by a 369%. In an attempt to make my next visit to the UK more interesting I had hoped to buy a book at a local library when I saw they had review copies, and they were being sent to bloggers, and yes, 404Ink would be generous enough to send me one. I could not believe my luck.

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The book covers the complex, and sometimes heart-breaking experience of being a woman in the times of Brexit, Trump, and an economic crisis that has left little time and space for any other issues than money. All the authors make an effort to situate their experience, that is, they acknowledge their race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, family history, gender identity, sexual orientation and even tastes make them who they are. Hence, their stories come from them and do not aim to speak for any collective, they are a subjective approach to a given issue. All of them are survivals of the political experience of identifying as a woman in a patriarchal society, but they choose what to talk about, and why. Some of them self-identify as victims, some others not, but they all have something in common: A desire to keep fighting. Among my favourite topics were social class, the importance of imperfect role models for young women (both famous and familiar!), and the struggle of losing a beloved one and become the next tangible generation.

It is difficult to review Nasty Women as a single work due to the wide range of voices that it contains. The experiences of these women come from other countries and even other times. They have travelled the world, and they have chosen to share their experiences with an audience that is hungry to know more, to learn more and to connect. The book achieves that, but for English-speakers only, as all the women have written their own pieces and they all come from English-speaking countries. However, this tiny blind spot does not take away from the collection as no work is perfect. In fact, the collection covers some silenced issues such as fashion for disabled people, culture from in a working-class environment, and the recovery of traditional female knowledge once deemed ‘witchery’.

Nasty Women is a collection of essays that will open readers’ minds to the complexity of being female and making the political decision to identify as such in a patriarchal society. But above all, Nasty Women will connect the women who wrote it, publish it, and read it. Turning the last page feels like saying goodbye to that group of female friends who you only meet once in a while, but who make life better. And in order to keep them heard and heard, it is necessary to remember their names (in alphabetical order): Alice Tarbuck, Anna Cosgrave, Becca Inglis, Chitra Ramaswamy, Christina Neuwirth, Claire Heuchan, Elise Hines, Jen McGregor, Joelle Owusu, Jona Kottler, Kaite Welsh, Katie Muriel, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! (in conversation with Sasha de Buyl-Pisco), Laura Lam, Laura Waddell, Mel Reeve, Nadine Aisha Jassat, Ren Aldridge of Petrol Girls, Rowan C. Clarke, Sim Bajwa, and Zeba Talkhani. And these are their faces:

[L-R] Anna Cosgrave, Nadine Aisha Jassat, Sim Bajwa, Aiice Tarbuck, Becca Inglis, Chitra Ramaswamy, Christina Neuwirth, Claire Heuchan

[L-R] Anna Cosgrave, Nadine Aisha Jassat, Sim Bajwa, Aiice Tarbuck, Becca Inglis, Chitra Ramaswamy, Christina Neuwirth, Claire Heuchan. From 404Ink.

[L-R] Jen McGregor, Joelle Owusu, Jona Kottler, Kaite Welsh, Katie Muriel, Laura Waddell, Mel Reeve, Zeba Talkhani

[L-R] Jen McGregor, Joelle Owusu, Jona Kottler, Kaite Welsh, Katie Muriel, Laura Waddell, Mel Reeve, Zeba Talkhani. From 404Ink.

Nasty women is set to become THE non-fiction book of 2017 thanks to the complexity of every essay, and the importance of the topics covered in a time when being other than a white, middle-class, Western, abled, cisgender man has become a political act of rebellion against the status quo.

Nasty Women is published by 404 Ink on International Women’s Day, 8th March 2017. You can pre-order your copy directly from the publisher here.

Thanks to Heather McAid and Laura Jones for the collection, the review copy, and the many conversations on Twitter. #NastyWomen.

Readings of Lately

Before I posted my Dolores Redondo review last week I realised that it had been a month since I had last written anything for the blog. I realised that a few weeks had gone by pretty quickly, mostly reading and writing and trying to read and write a bit more for the blog. However, I just ended up reading lots, and writing lots… for my PhD. My reading patterns have been erratic to say the least, with Saturday afternoon binge-reading sessions, and less than 15 minutes devoted to reading from Monday to Friday. The fact that I love crime fiction but have decided to make a job of my passion is not helping either, as I usually find myself looking for a non-crime read during the evenings. So, here’s what I’ve been trying to do:

I visit my local library every week browsing the Spanish literature section in search for my next read. I am not well-read in Spanish literature. Actually, I’m not well-read in Spanish at all. Even though I have read some feminist classics such as Nada by Carmen Laforet and Las edades de Lulú by Almudena Grandes I can’t really think of more books that I would enjoy (recommendations VERY  welcome!). Last week I borrowed Isabel Allende’s La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits) in an attempt to discover Latin American magical realism and I miserably failed at reading the book. Or even opening it. I’m giving it another try in a week.

Also from the local library I am giving a try to best-sellers in English – now translated into Spanish – that I am not sure I would enjoy. After learning a bit about romance from C, a professor that I connect with during my degree, and from Wallace Yovetich from Book Riot, I decided to give romance a try. I thought it would be a good exercise to try to separate what I have been conditioned to enjoy as woman in patriarchal society and my feminist awakening. I borrowed L.S. Hilton’s Maestra and as I write this, I’m considering returning it to the library…

For my PhD I have been reading American crime fiction and crime fiction theory, as well as working on a few articles and projects which I’ll share in due time.

So, this is what’s been going on behind the silence of the blog. I hope I get to reading crime fiction soon, and meanwhile it is lots of TV, walking the Puppy and sleeping in my little free time.

Ofrenda a la tormenta by Dolores Redondo – Giving Closure to the Baztan Trilogy

Right after I finished reading The Lecagy of the Bones by Dolores Redondo I knew I had to read the next (and last) installment in the Baztán Trilogy. Keeping on the promise I made to myself to use the public library as much as I can, I borrowed Ofrenda a la Tormenta – ‘Offering to the Storm’, though there is no translation to English available yet – and I got lost in the dense greenery of the Baztán valley one last time.

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The story picks up right after The Legacy of the Bones, with D.I Amaia Salazar chasing the network of criminals that has been targeting the families of the Baztán valley for decades, and with her personal struggle with the handsome Judge Marquina. Even though I found the second novel in the series a real page-turner, Ofrenda a la tormeta despite its necessity to give closure to the story, does not equal The Legacy of the Bones in holding the reader’s attention. As Salazar tries to solve the case, her past comes to haunt her one more time in the form of dreams that become an over-used resource by Redondo, making me skip whole paragraphs without having any troubles following the story afterwards.

The novel’s strength lies in the cryptic combination of Amaia’s personal and professional struggles, as her husband James takes a secondary role, and her relationship with her son Ibai no longer plays such a big role in the creation of her own identity, which is to thank after the obsession with motherhood that plagued the previous novel. Instead, Amaia’s relationship with Judge Marquina takes a central role, making Salazar question the decisions that have shaped her life until she met him. However, Redondo does not offer a fresh take on female desire in crime fiction, and Amaia’s infatuation with the Judge takes a darker turn – no spoilers! – that will become the most remarkable struggle of the novel. As for the closure, the Baztán readers will get it as all the events from previous novels – that Redondo wisely brings up again with a few sentences – are tied together.

I was very, very disappointed by Ofrenda a la tormenta as the final installment in the most successful crime series in 21st century Spain. Questioned by a few fellow crime readers here, I had to admit that The Invisible Guardian is a good book, The Legacy of the Bones is a great one, but Ofrenda a la tormenta makes for a very poor ending. I think my main problem relied on how Redondo tells the story, and how Amaia’s issues with her mother, as well as her nightmares became tiring narrative strategies that tried to move the plot forward connecting Salazar’s past and present. However, I had no problem finishing the book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has read the two previous installments as a way of finding closure.

As a Spanish crime fiction reader, I must say that I am really happy that Redondo’s books are also enjoying some success in more than 30 countries now. The novels have changed the way many people in this country perceive crime fiction, especially written by women. Even though the novels were a bit expensive (20€ each!), the publishers also released cheaper paperback editions and most local and public libraries have them as well. In an effort to expand the series’ success, a film adaptation combining the three novels is to be released the 3rd of March 2017, with Basque actress Marta Etura starring as Amaia. Here’s the trailer in Spanish. No spoilers!

If you have not heard of Dolores Redondo’s Baztán Trilogy, you can find more information here:

Review: Baztán Trilogy #1 – The Invisible Guardian

Review: Baztán Trilogy # 2 – The Legacy of the Bones

Exclusive Interview with Dolores Redondo for Books & Reviews