Big Little News

I am sure you may have noticed that I have been blogging on and off for the past weeks. There is no other reason that… I’m finally moving to the UK! As many of you know I live in Spain, but this blog is a testament of my love for British art and culture. As part of my PhD I have been offered to develop part of thesis in my favourite country in the world. And I’m in awe.

So that is the reason why I have not had much time for reading and writing. A trip like this takes some planning (type A personality anyone?), and one of those plans is to buy some books at Waterstones and second-hand bookshops. Sadly I’m not allowed to join a public library, although I will visit my city’s largest one and beg them to please please please give me some kind of card. Meanwhile, I will post as much as I can, but please bear me with me as I settle down and find the time and space to read and write. And if you have any bookish recommendations please leave them on the comments below. I was planning on not buying any books, but who am I kidding?

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

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.