Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh was one of the most talked-about books of 2016, especially as it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Not only that, but some of my favourite book bloggers kept raving about it, and after Naomi from The Writes of Woman said I would love it, I knew I had to give it a try. On the release of the paperback, I was sent a review copy by Vintage Books. Thank you!

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Eileen tells the story of twenty-four year old Eileen Dunlop just before her disappears from her stereotypically New England town in 1964. In the first chapter, we learn that she is telling the story from the present, fifty years after everything happened, and she warns us: ‘I was not myself back then. I was someone else. I was Eileen’. That Eileen works as a secretary at a boy’s prison while she cares for her alcoholic father. One day, a smart, elegant redhead called Rebecca appears at the prison and disrupts Eileen’s life. By the end of the first chapter, Eileen is clear about what the rest of the story is about: ‘In a week, I would run away from home and never go back. This is the story of how I disappeared’. The rest of the novel is organised daily, with Eileen and Rebecca’s relationship building up, slowly progressing to the day that, surprisingly for the reader, Eileen will be brave enough to break away with everything she has ever known.

So far, so good. The novel’s structure very much responds to classic crime fiction, with tension building up each day, making the reader wonder what path Eileen and Rebecca’s relationship will take. What will happen to make Eileen run away? Eileen has been widely described as a psychological thriller, and it is. But I was particularly interested in Moshfegh’s statements about the writing, and how they relate to the general perception we have about crime fiction as a highly structured subgenre beloved by the general public. In a very disruptive interview for The Guardian, Moshfegh said:

 [I] wanted to write a novel to start a career where I could live off publishing books. That was my prime motivation for writing Eileen. I thought, fine: I’ll play this game. And I still feel like I’m playing it […] Because there are all these morons making millions of dollars, so why not me? I’m smart and talented and motivated and disciplined and … talented: did I say that already? I said: fuck it. Which was also: fuck them. I was pretty hostile. I thought: I’ll show you how easy this is.

Although I am perfectly fine with the author’s desire to make a living off art- a right every artist should have – I was troubled by her implications that thrillers (and/or crime fiction in general) are a game to be played. As in any other subgenre, there are good books and bad books, but my own experience as a reader is that a good crime or mystery novel takes a lot of work, and is not an easy task. Moshfegh’s lack of knowledge about crime fiction was made patent when she continued:

Most people who pick up a book labelled ‘thriller’ or ‘mystery’ may not be expecting to confront troubling ideas about women in society … I couldn’t be like, Here’s my freak book … So I’ve disguised the ugly truth in a kind of spiffy noir package.

I wholeheartedly disagree. Good crime fiction’ raison d’être is to open discussions about gender, race, social class and morality, the very way Eileen does. Because let me make this clear right here right now: Eileen is a good novel, not a fascinating one, especially for crime fiction readers. The whole text feels like a character study of the anti-femme fatale, and that is fine. Gildas no longer run the world. But, going back to the consideration of crime fiction and popular literature, I am afraid Eileen is built on a conservative approach to crime fiction as a minor subgenre that is meant to just sell books in a package. Said package refers to the overused formulas of genre fiction, that, however: ‘ease the transition between old and new ways of expressing things and thus contribute to cultural unity’ (John G. 1976:  35 – 36). After these disruptive statements, Moshfegh was interviewed by the team at Virago, and she admitted she did not like how she came off in her Guardian interview as arrogant (whether or not this was damage control, that is for each of us to judge):

Eileen is plagued with scatological references, as well as vivid descriptions of the main character’s lack of personal hygiene, and her narcissistic personality. There are also references to Eileen’s virginity and her struggle to negotiate her sexual desire with her own body, which she finds disgusting. Moshfegh has admitted she has suffered eating issues since her adolescence, making her main character an informed user of laxatives, enemas and a compulsive control of her eating habits. Unhappy with her life, and unable to escape it, present-day Eileen describes her past self as a prude who wanted to erase her own body and exert control over her only subject: Herself.

All these characteristic definitely make Eileen a different book, as it insists on still necessary conversation of including non-likable female characters in contemporary literature. Instead of a thriller, I would label Eileen as a complex character study about femininity, domestic roles, family duties, morality, institutionalisation, and the importance of empowering women through knowledge of their own bodies and the outside world. I would definitely recommend it, especially after all the blurb. However, if you are an avid crime fiction reader, Moshfegh does not adhere to the tradition as much as she think she does. The main crimes perpetrated in Eileen are the main character’s total subjection to her father, and her desperate desire to escape her miserable life, which, from a feminist perspective, earn the book a recommendation.

Why Patricia Cornwell is One of the Best Crime Fiction Writers (And Why You Should Be Reading Her Works)

‘Hi! My name is Elena and I’m writing a Humanities doctoral thesis. On Contemporary Literature. On crime fiction. On Patricia Cornwell’s books’. That is how much it takes me these days to get a look of embarrassment from many people, although luckily not my beloved ones. Not only am I pursuing a PhD in Humanities, which apparently is not nearly as important as my expected Medicine career (on which acquaintances gave up a long time ago), but I am also studying bad literature. Airport literature. Beach readings. Pop-corn crime fiction. Best-sellers. You name it. I have chosen the wrong path. Or so they say. Because, how can you build your career on Patricia Cornwell’s books?

Patricia Cornwell

Well, let’s start with the beginning. Patricia Cornwell has been a constant presence in my life for 3 years now. We are still getting to know each other but more importantly, I am getting to know Dr. Kay Scarpetta. If you have wandered a bit around this blog, you may have found my reviews of the Scarpetta series (and if not, click here). The blonde, blue-eyed Florida forensic doctor is my go-to when I am stressed or overworked (or both, which happens quite usually). She knows how it feels to sleep 5 hours a day. She knows how it feels to have to fight your way to your goals, because they are your goals and your passions – and damn! – you never ever give up. She knows sleep deprivation can be fought with good coffee and carbohydrates. In short, she knows me better than many people and she makes me feel I’m not alone. And I have to thank Patricia Cornwell for this.

I am completely aware – current sleep deprivation and all – that I have just told you a fictional character from 1990 knows me better than many people. I may even admit to prefer her company to real life human beings many times. But it’s OK. As years go by I have learned to go with whatever works to make it, and forensic crime fiction has proved infallible on this. However, I have to admit it did not feel right at the beginning. Many times it meant hearing a deep voice – which also happened to be male and middle-aged – telling me those books were not enough. That kind of literature was not supposed to appeal to me, the A-student, the feminist, the voracious reader, the PhD candidate. I should be reading good literature, the classics, complex contemporary authors who openly wrote about depression, politics, gender issues, and so on, and so forth. But I am now safe. I have now shoot down that voice and put it into one of Scarpetta’s fridges so it (he?) can think about what he tried to do to me: he almost robbed me of my passion and my thesis.

As a post-graduate, Humanities student you are taught that there is literature you study, and literature you read in your free time. One is good, another one is bad. I’ll let you guess which one is each. Easy peasy. However, I have been lucky enough to be a Cultural Studies and Contemporary Literature student as well. And I have been under one of my current PhD Supervisors’s care for 6 years now, a wise woman we’ll call “M” and who helped me realise that enjoying crime fiction was fine. More than fine, she told me I had it in me to do research on it. I had it on me to deliver papers on it. Even in the UK. I could even write a thesis on it. And that’s what I’m currently doing: I am the proud writer of a thesis on Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series. And I couldn’t be happier.

So, let’s face it. Let’s dissect it: Why do people disregard Patricia Cornwell’s writings? Why is Kay Scarpetta such a controversial character? Well, I am sorry to tell you, you will have to read my thesis to find critical, theorised answers to those questions. Meanwhile, I will go with what I have been told or what I have read during my research in a more conversational tone:

1)    Crime fiction is not serious literature – I beg the question, what is good literature? Who gets to say so? Why? In which languages is the so-called serious literature written? Time to think about it.

2)    Popular literature is not good. Period – As cultural studies have proven, popular literature is actually the way in which changes are more rapidly inscribed in literature, then read, then thought about, then discussed, then written about more.

3)    Forensic literature and TV shows are not realistic – Maybe, maybe not. I truly believe were they to be realistic, they would find a very specific audience: those forensic scientists who cannot get away from their work at home. Plus, all kinds of narrations are not realistic by definition because they imply the narrator’s one and only point of view. Then, they imply a take on reality, which is even more interesting than based-on-facts narrations.

4)    It reads quickly, it’s a guilty pleasure – If it reads quickly, then we should praise the author’s ability to make you drop out of your real life to go and live in Scarpetta’s world some time every day. As for the guilty pleasure. Why does pleasure have to be associated with guilt? I mean, why? Just enjoy it! (And yes, this applies to cake and chocolate as well, but I don’t think this is the space to write about my Cookie Monster addiction to sweets). Crime fiction has been historically associated with guilt because of the supposed moral corruption that came from reading these novels. I can assure you, we’re not depraved hearts reading crime fiction.

By now, you should have been convinced of the importance of Patricia Cornwell as a crime fiction writer. I would even add, as a feminist, crime fiction woman writer in American literature. However, if my almost bouncing out of your screen through this post is not enough, maybe I should mention that Patricia Cornwell is widely regarded as the founder of forensic crime fiction. CSI, Bones, and all the other forensic novels that we enjoy would not be there were it not for Cornwell’s convincement that Postmortem, the first instalment in the Kay Scarpetta series, was a good novel and deserved to be published.

Finally, I think it is important to stress the importance of the Kay Scarpetta series for crime fiction. I was born in 1989, so DNA profiling is something I grew up hearing and knowing about. So were mobile telephones and GPS. I just always knew about them, they were always there. Can you imagine solving a crime without them? Now, many people will say ‘Of course, haven’t you read Sherlock Holmes or Wilkie Collins?’. But, can you imagine solving a crime in the late 20th century without technology and medicine? Funnily enough, Scarpetta introduces DNA profiling as an expensive and innovative possibility in Postmortem, when blood type is not enough to track down a serial killer who is targeting Richmond’s young, professional, middle-class women.

And that is just another beauty of the Scarpetta series: women are present, and women are given a voice, even though many times that voice has to be filtered through Scarpetta (because the women are dead, and only she can read them). I have now read enough academic texts to do some subtext reading on the novels, and although I do not wholeheartedly agree with Cornwell’s supposed conservative discourse, I will still give her the benefit of having introduced specific themes and characters to contemporary crime fiction.

Before your roll your eyes at my fangirling, let me be clear: I am not saying that Patricia Cornwell’s novels are perfect, far from it. But they stand for a moment in literary history when women changed the rules in crime fiction. For the first time, there was a Chief Medical Examiner who was a woman, who happened to be beautiful (why not?), and who was the best at her job. And she didn’t care. She didn’t care most men she worked with thought she did not deserve to be there. She stood her ground, and pulled rank if necessary. She broke away with traditional gender roles that would locate her at home, or worried about her family, and became a middle-aged woman who had just gone through a divorce, who had an amazing job she loved, and money enough to buy a new Mercedes if her current one broke down. In short, Cornwell gave readers – through Scarpetta’s life – the possibility to challenge who they were told to be by society and become instead whoever they wanted to be. Guiltless. Fearless. And proudly. At least while they spent time in Scarpetta’s world.

So, if Cornwell is still not your cup of tea, I get it because forensic crime fiction is not for everyone. But, with this post I wanted to put down some reasons why her work and her Dr. Kay Scarpetta series are game changers in contemporary crime fiction and feminism. And, next time you are tired, overworked, sleep deprived or dismissed because you happen to be a woman (if you are), at least you know now there is someone out there who has gone through the same and has come out triumphant of it. And although I’d love to say it’s me, I would like to officially introduce you to my friend Kay, Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia. I think you will get along like a house on fire.

The latest Kay Scarpetta novel, Depraved Heart, is out now:

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This post is part of the official Depraved Heart Tour. Did you enjoy it? Check more Patricia Cornwell and Kay Scarpetta posts:

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Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwell

After the heart-breaking disappointment of From Potter’s Field (Kay Scarpetta #6) by Patricia Cornwell, I thought I had finally reached that stage in the series when the pop-corn quality of the stories turned unbearable, and unreadable. However, Mr.B&R had given me the two next titles on the series, and I decided to give Cause of Death (Kay Scarpetta #7) a try after a disastrous start of the year that left me needing some autopsies, and some pop-corn reading.

Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwell

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Cause of Death takes Doctor Kay Scarpetta to the Southern, Virginia setting where we first met her. I was really glad to see her back to a place where she feels she belongs in, and where she has quite a lot of power. However, despite being Virginia’s chief medical examiner, Cause of Death explores the many ways in which the masculine institutions Scarpetta deals with can, and actually do, discriminate against women. When she first approaches the scene of the crime she is stopped by a young policeman, and she has to prove him she really is who she says. When she finally arrives, she sees herself caught on a jurisdictional war between the Navy and the Chesapeake police department, none of which accept her authority. Later on, she is even sexually harassed by a young policeman who would later claim that desperate, middle-aged Kay actually tried to hit on him. So, if there is a novel in the series that explores gender, age and authority prejudices this is it.

The crime was also very interesting, and I could not glimpse the outcome at any moment. On New Year’s Eve an investigating reporter is found dead at the Inactive Naval Ship Yard in Chesapeake. Scarpetta is there covering for a colleague on leave, when she received a very early call about a fatality, but a later call will prove that no one from the police department had notified her before. So ,who did? Because I do not want to give away anything, I can only say that Cause of Death is quite a political crime novel, where Cornwell’s moderate Republican ideals come through. However, I have to add that she presents them in a very respectful way, and despite my not agreeing to some of these political beliefs, I never felt uncomfortable.

So, yes, I would recommend any reader of the Kay Scarpetta series to keep reading even though From Potter’s Field is not that good. Cause of Death is, and Cornwell brings back the powerful, resolute, and inspiring Kay that we love.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

I discovered Liane Moriarty last year when I read her latest novel, Little Lies, about to be adapted into a TV show with Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. I loved the novel so much – click here to revisit the review – that I asked the publishers if there were review copies left of her previous novel, The Husband’s Secret, and they kindly sent me one of the new editions.

The Husband's Secret

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‘None of us know all the possible courses our lives could have, and maybe, should have taken. It’s probably just as well’.

The Husband’s Secret, like Little Lies, is a choral novel that focuses as much on the community as on the impact that each individual has on it. In this case, Sydney’s suburbia and a primary, Catholic school provide a perfect setting for the development of very different characters: Cecilia is an overachiever mom of three that swiftly moves from PA duties, to her motherly duties, and to her Tupperware representative duties. At her daughters’ school she meets Tess, recently arrived with her son from Melbourne, and Rachel, whose daughter, Janie was murdered decades ago, but who still lives in the area and is active on the school organization.

All the above characters have families, and they are all related to each other. The main characters are, without a doubt, Tess, Cecilia and Rachel, and how they differ on their approaches to motherhood and being a woman with a family. One of Moriarty’s strengths is both celebrating and making critical comments of the many tasks and duties middle-aged women – and especially mothers – are asked to perform on a daily basis. Cecilia struggles with her perfectionism until she no longer can live the lie her perfect life is when she finds a letter from her husband hidden in the attic (where else?!) to be opened on the event of his death. Tess sees her whole world and family questioned when her husband declares their relationship over, so she moves to find comfort and strength at her mother’s home in Sydney. Finally, Rachel has re-discovered her motherly side with her grandson, while she struggles with the unsolved murder of her daughter, Janie.

‘Did one act define who you were forever? ‘

As you can imagine, I loved The Husband’s Secret, mainly because through her characters, Moriarty presents the reader with a reality that feels like real life. Cecilia’s and Tess’ struggles translate perfectly as they question, ponder and make decisions that could very well change their lives forever. Despite focusing on three very different characters – an introvert, and extrovert and a traumatized mother – their voices are unique, and it is easy to sympathize with them. Moreover, the three of them prove that there can be struggles, traumas, and very difficult times, but there is always time, and space, to recover and become a better self. Because if there is something The Husband’s Secret is about, that’s regaining one’s strength, a firm step at a time, always as part of a family, and a community.

‘All the murder victims looked exactly like murder victims: beautiful, innocent and doomed, as if it was preordained.’

As for the crime, Janie’s death is explored not only as a mystery, but as an act that forever changed her family. It is not usual to see the family’s side of a murder in crime fiction, at least not directly, and Moriarty explores Janie’s death through her mother, Rachel. The daily struggle, The Day that is forever marked on her calendar, and her mind constantly wandering to what-ifs, perfectly describes how human beings deal with loss. At times it is frustrating, other times it simply breaks you to read about Rachel’s sleepless nights thinking about her daughter, but above all, the narrative is humane: eventually we all have good days and bad days, no matter what we are going through, but the trick is – like the book says – to keep breathing.

So, I would highly recommend The Husband’s Secret to anyone. It is a complex novel that has it all, but at the same time it reads quickly, because you cannot put the book down. The Sydney community Moriarty describes shows her hopeful take on people, and how we do really help each other.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

If you have been reading this blog for some time, you may have read the disastrous experience I had reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. If you do not, you can read it here. But, when my Twitter feed went crazy this summer with pictures of a gorgeous and very tempting The Bone Clocks review copy, I knew I had to give Mitchell another try. So, I pre-ordered the book and have saved until I had a whole week to just read and pay as much attention to the story as I think second chances deserve.

theboneclocksBuy at Book Depository

From Goodreads:

Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: a sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.

For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born.

A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.

What first called my attention about The Bone Clocks is that, maybe, it could be a crime novel. Or it was verging on a thriller, because the book starts with a disappearance. So, if I was ever to give Mitchell a second chance – and I was very willing to, since most bloggers I trust adore him- I thought this was the perfect opportunity. Now, having read the book, had I known what it was really about, I would have second thoughts about pre-ordering it, but I am glad it was leap of faith and I thought that, this time, I was going to enjoy Mitchell’s novel. I did! I gave the book a 5 star review over at Goodreads.

I think the marketing campaign should stress even more that this is Holly’s book. Of course, there are many other characters across time and space, in what I have decided is a very Mitchell way, but, this is long, complex novel with a strong, equally complex and fascinating main character. If you are not familiar with Mitchell’s narrative, I can sum up the form he uses by saying that he creates a supposedly linear narrative from the past to the future, where characters and events are highly connected. In the first chapter we meet Holly Sykes, a teenager who has run away from home to live with his boyfriend only to find him sleeping with her best friend once she arrives. At a loss, she does not know what to do, but she is sure she will not be returning home, so she runs further away from home. However, she is soon found by a classmate who has been helping her in the last few days and who also informs her of her brother’s disappearance. This is the starting point of the novel and the following chapters will link events through time and space in a very postmodern way.

Among many other themes, the book camouflaged moral issues behind a war between two secret societies of immortal people, the Horologist and the Anchorites. I am not a fan of this kind of plots, but I am a huge fan or morality issues, so I was very pleased to see myself enjoying the philosophical problems posted by Mitchell. How and when is self-sacrifice necessary? How can we fight evil? But, at the end of the novel, I found myself perplexed and in the very same predicament that I found myself two years ago after reading Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. Even though the good wins, Holly lives her last years in an apocalyptic world where her two grandchildren are saved because of her own connections to Horology. So, even though the good ones win, world is on the verge of being destroyed. The narrative, then, begs the question: what if the Anchorites had won? This would be a simple what if question where it not for one detail I have not mentioned yet: the Anchorites live on souls, which basically means they kill people. Maybe they were killing the people who would eventually destroy planet Earth? Is killing always bad? This is where Mitchell’s magic comes to play. There is not an answer, and the reader is left with their own thoughts and conclusions.

So, yes, I think The Bone Clocks is a great novel that exceeded my expectations and has changed my relationship to David Mitchell’s work. The only thing that I did not enjoy much is Mitchell’s repetition of form and structure. I know that postmodern hyper-connectivity is his forte, but I got a little bit tired of it eventually. And the best part? Connections are so complex and they run for so long that I had to mark the book. Yes! I tried to overcome my fear of highlighting books by not highlighting them, but using colorful book darts:

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 I am really very interested in knowing what you thought of The Bone Clocks and what you make of that apocalyptic ending. Please share your thoughts, theories and ideas on the comments section!

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I first heard of Meg Wolitzer when her novel The Uncoupling came out a few years ago. I added the book to my wishlist and quite forgot about it for some time. However, with the release of her latest novel, The Interestings, I saw some of my favourite bloggers review it and decided to give it a go. So, I asked the publisher for a review copy and they kindly sent me a beautiful paperback.

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From Goodreads:

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

Reading The Interestings was a very interesting process indeed. For a start, the main characters were born the same year my parents did, so it really felt like peaking through a hole into their lives before they became Mom and Dad. Also, the book has some very good opening chapters and Wolitzer shows off her mastery as a writer, because whatever I say about the book, there is no doubt Wolitzer is a very talented writer.

But, The Interestings was not my kind of book. Or, I would rather say, its characters were not my kind of characters. After giving it much thought, I have decided to issue a disclaimer that could very well justify my review: the characters (from the baby boom generation born between 1946-1964) are way too different and difficult to relate to by my generation, which I have found out is call “Millennial” (born between 1980-2000) and, apparently, not much-liked. Reading about the characters in the book and thinking what I would have done I felt an immense gap and no possibility of building a bridge between us. Having said this, I am not implying that there is no way between these two very different generations to connect, I have a very healthy and understanding relationship with both my parents. But, the characters in the book did not feel like them at all.

Jules is the main character in The Interestings. An awkward, redhead teenager with a perm gone wrong who, when attending summer camp, finds herself invited to spend the night with the elite. And this is what the book is really about: Jules’ awkwardness at being considered an equal by the Manhattan jet set. Thanks to this, Wolitzer is able to explore how social class pretty much determines how people behave and what is expected of themselves. While Jules struggles with the idea of becoming an actor, her friend Ash, whose parents have money enough for her to freely explore what she is, is able to live a more relaxed and vocational life. Also, no matter what the group of friends does, Jules always feels an outsider and her envy proves to be an obstacle in her own personal and emotional development.

Just recently Mr.B&R asked me whether I wrote bad reviews about books. I stopped for some seconds before replying, because I have been very lucky with the review copies and the books that I buy or borrow. The answer is that yes, I write bad reviews if I am able to finish the book, if not, I do not think it is fair. With The Interestings, I was able to finish the book, but as the story progressed I felt more and more distance between me and the characters, especially Jules. I am a firm believer in the present and the future, because you cannot undo the past and we should focus on making the most out if of it, mistakes included, as long as we are able to leave it behind. A desire to return to the teenage golden days of the summer camp is a recurrent theme in the book and it made me angry and frustrated, since memories are so constructed and reimagined, that it is almost impossible to remember how things really were. Instead of focusing on her present life, Jules constructs a better past and loses her time wishing she could return.

What I did enjoy was Wolitzer’s take on creative people and everyday life. Almost all the characters have very strong and creative drives and they choose to deal with their talents in very different ways. One of them admits that “If creative people stop, they die” and the quote has stayed with me ever since. She also acknowledges the gap between fiction and reality, being fiction what we think our lives will be and reality how they actually turn out. We have problems, we will have even more in the future, but family and everyday life is what keeps us alive. Sex, gender, sexuality and social class will be some of the most important factors that will decide the problems we will face and how we will react to them. But, like Wolitzer put it: “Sometimes you just have to trick yourself a little.” And that is how things work out: by tricking ourselves with routines, jobs, family, art and entertainment. Don’t we?

So, this Millennial does not know what to make of The Interestings. Or maybe it has nothing to do with my generation. I really do not know. What I do know is that I will read more of Wolitzer’s works, because the prose was masterfully written.

The Fever by Megan Abbott

I was kindly sent a review copy of Megan Abbott’s The Fever by Emma Bravo from PanMacMillan along with another book I requested. They say never judge a book by its cover, but the hardback edition of The Fever I was sent was high quality and I rushed to read the description on the back. Here is what I found:

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From Goodreads:

The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.

The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie’s best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.

As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town’s fragile idea of security.

A chilling story about guilt, family secrets and the lethal power of desire, The Fever affirms Megan Abbot’s reputation as “one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation”

First of all, I have to admit that even though the name “Megan Abbot” rang a bell, I had no idea what kind of books she wrote, or even if she was British or American. I found her on Twitter, where she has a verified account, and did some research on the Wikipedia. So, she is an American best-selling writer of crime fiction praised by the very Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl. I knew, then, that I had to read The Fever.

While I was thinking about this book, which I finished some weeks ago, two voices inside me battled for what to say. On the one hand, I read the book in three sittings because I couldn’t put it down. It really felt like a fever you cannot get rid of, something you need to go through. On the other hand, the high school setting and the characters made the read feel very much like YA. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against YA, it is only that it’s not the kind of genre that I enjoy or that I am used to reading. So, I thought that putting that battle into words would help potential readers: The Fever is an addictive book, one you will want to spend more time with, but it is also a quick and easy read.

Another feature that really caught my attention was the style. I am pretty much used to reading contemporary British crime fiction and I noticed the change from British English to American English. This is not meant as a criticism, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I love American TV shows and I am used to the accent – one many are surprised to find in a non-native speaker like me – but in writing, it felt very different. I had read other American novels like Gone Girl and did not feel the need to highlight the differences, but with Abbott’s The Fever, I had to.

The Fever, because it takes place in a high school, posts some very interesting questions about gender identities and gendered sexualities. Most of the characters are aged 16 or 17 and they are battling against their hormones, exams and their parents. Somehow, I found myself feeling nostalgic for my high school years, even though this had barely happened since I started college. The very scheduled lives, the way you have a weekly pattern, everyone has time to eat and you get home every day at the very same time. It felt like bliss. But, all the other things reminded me the awkward experiences your teenager years are.

Abbott also explores the panic surrounding the HPV vaccines. In Europe, the vaccines were obligatory and paid for by the national health care as long as the girls were under 14. Some months into the vaccination campaign, some girls started to have seizures and, if I don’t remember wrong, a few died. Panic, fear and worry began to plague European parents who had consented to their daughters getting the shots before doing research. A research that would have shown them that the vaccines were not as safe as everyone wanted the population to believe. Also, the fact that boys did not get the vaccine when they are most likely to spread the virus called for some revision of gendered sexualities and gendered medicine. Of course, it is the girls who would suffer from cervix cancer if they got a given type of the virus, but still, what about the boys who could carry and spread the virus? I thought it was very clever of Abbott to explore this issue and show that girls were treated like numbers and most parents blindly trusted the national health care.

Sexuality and teenagers’ bodies were also key issues, and Abbott even explores how certain sexual practices are considered desirable for young boys, but not for your girls. It shows that sexual behavior and patterns are constructed while our sexuality is still being constructed itself where there is a double standard and women’s bodies are overlooked. At one point, a girl who had a successful and totally healthy sexual relation with a boy thinks she did something wrong because it was he who performed oral sex on her, and not the way round. She even feels stigmatized and her friends do not really know what to think of this reversal of roles. Related to this stigmatization, some parents even suggest the title’s fever is in the girls’ head, perpetuating one more time the idea that females are much more likely to be mentally ill, in a discriminatory way. Eventually, the main characters’ father concludes that having a boy and a girl are totally different experiences and that a girl is much more likely to suffer structural violence. You nailed it, Abbott.

So, I would recommend The Fever to anyone who is looking for a good, fast-paced mystery where gender roles in high school are deconstructed. I would also recommend it to people who like watching movies about diseases spreading, like the recent Contagion. The Fever is its equivalent in the form a book. Meanwhile, here is my favorite quote from The Fever:

Bad things happen and then they’re over, but where do they go? . . . Are they ours forever, leeching under our skin?