Anna-Marie Fitzgerald and Phoebe Frangoul are the co-editors and co-founders of the London grrrl-zine and literary salon Pamflet. Here they discuss the releases, trends and going’s on in the literary world worth knowing about. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram @Pamflet.
This month’s literary picks include the reissue of a controversial classic and a very modern love story…
Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway (Picador, out now) tells the story of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives in a series of flashbacks and interlocking first person narratives. The macho, huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ Hemingway is depicted by turns as selfish, needy, childish and charming, a man who loved being married, just not always to the same woman. Naomi Wood skilfully creates the conversations that might have played out between Ernest and his wives, making them feel totally authentic. You can feel his first wife Hadley struggling with her jealousy as Ernest becomes involved with her best friend, Pauline ‘Fife’ Pfeiffer, trying to be bohemian and mature (and French!) about the situation. Then chic, sophisticated, wealthy Fife, so confident that she’s different to Hadley, finds to her horror that she loses Ernest to the tough, independent writer Martha Gellhorn. And she in turn loses him to a fellow journalist named Mary Welsh.
Hemingway and contemporaries like F Scott Fitzgerald fictionalised their own lives while they were living them, so it feels totally natural to read this imagined account of Hemingway’s wives. Naomi Wood has given voices to the shadowy figures who played a vital role in helping Hemingway become the titanic figure of twentieth century literature that he was.
2014 sees the reissue of Radclyffe Hall’s controversial lesbian novel, The Well of Loneliness (Hesperus Classics, out now). Subject to a landmark obscenity trial when it was first published in 1928 and banned for twenty years, the Sunday Express said of Hall’s book, “I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel”, which naturally made everyone want to read it. The heroine, Stephen Gordon – so named because her parents longed for a boy – isn’t a particularly sympathetic character. She’s abrasive and self-absorbed, but when you consider the stifling society she was born into and her painful isolation as she discovers her nature as an ‘invert’ (a term used at the time to describe homosexuality), you can see why. Stephen’s wealth allows her a certain amount of freedom – she can indulge her love of masculine attire, travel and live independently – but ultimately because she is attracted to women, she is an outcast.
In the centenary year of the outbreak of World War 1, it seems pertinent to revisit this novel, as it is during her time driving ambulances on the Western Front that Stephen discovers other women like her and falls in love. WWI saw huge social changes in Britain and marked the end of the gilded Edwardian age. As well as the colossal losses that blighted the lives of so many, there were gains for women – the vote and a new freedom to work – that shaped Britain as we know it. The Well of Loneliness might not be a ‘fun’ book, but like The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and The Female Eunuch, it’s a very necessary one. We have three copies of the new edition to give away so visit us at Pamflet to find out how to win one.
Zoe Pilger’s Eat My Heart Out (Serpent’s Tail, out now) is an astonishing debut that gives a frightening insight into the lives of a new lost generation who are facing a bankrupt future. It reads like a drunken late night illegal cab ride, recklessly careering through the London of your early twenties. Everyone’s a poet or a performance artist, there’s lots of bad drugs and nasty sex in squalid flats paid for by indulgent relations. Bleak and brilliant, Pilger ruthlessly flays the social mores of the liberal intelligentsia to the bone. Protagonist Ann-Marie feels like a Holden Caulfield for the twenty-first century and a natural successor to modern literature’s anti-heroes – nihilistic, narcissistic, gloriously deranged, bleak and bright by turns. This is an anti-love story, brutal and brilliant.
Helen Walsh is one of Pamflet’s favourite literary bad girls. She writes about complex women in difficult circumstances, giving a voice to characters who we might only ever get a brief glimpse of in contemporary literature otherwise: a single mother cursed with postnatal depression in Go to Sleep, a Sri Lankan-Irish girl coming of age to an acid house soundtrack in Once Upon a Time in England and Liverpudlian prostitutes in the notorious Brass. In her new book The Lemon Grove (Tinder Press, out now) forty-something Jenn is on a doomed family holiday in intoxicating surroundings and it’s Walsh’s most fearless, tense and tightly written work yet. After gulping this down, I was pretty sure that she’s the kind of lady I’d like to put the world to rights with over several glasses of red wine (Tinder Press).
Two debut short story collections to look out for this month are Molly Antapol’sThe UnAmericans (Fourth Estate, out now) and The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales (Salt Publishing, 15 March) by Kirsty Logan. For me the most satisfying short stories should take the bigger picture and shrink it into a perfect miniature or snapshot and both of these do just that. Logan’s occasionally surreal and gorgeous tales defy categorisation and Antapol’s stories of fathers and daughters and distant homelands offer many thought-provoking reading pleasures.
Our glossy book of the month is Fashion Africa (Jacaranda Books, out now) by designer and Director of the Africa Fashion Guide Jacqueline Shaw. An overview of where the continent’s industry is right now, it provides a dazzlingly illustrated portfolio of African textiles, footwear and clothing through practitioner profiles and interviews.