Pamflet x Twin: Books of the Year 2014

05.12.2014 | Literature | BY:

These are the books we’ve loved, recommended, given and definitely won’t forget this year.

The reliably magnificent Siri Hustvedt’s sixth novel The Blazing World (Sceptre) is a dazzling book of ideas about gender, the contemporary art world and New York. The novel’s heroine is Harriet ‘Harry’ Burden, a frustrated, eccentric and talented woman who revives her abandoned artistic career after the death of her husband. Rather than making a traditional comeback, she instead engineers an ambitious experiment and hides her identity behind a revolving cast of male fronts to see whether they affect how her work is received. The story is told through Harry’s journals and is supplemented by accounts from her collaborators, family, lover and friends, an effective device which adds authenticity to what’s a high-concept novel about a high-concept world and made me ask ‘What if someone actually tried to do this?’ While I was reading it I got completely obsessed and all I wanted to do was finish it – but for it not to end at the same time: a good thing.

‘Have you heard of Elena Ferrante?’ Well, I hadn’t until earlier this year when a friend recommended her series of fictionalised memoirs, The Neapolitan Novels, to me, describing the mysterious Italian author as ‘the female Knausgaard’ which made me want to get the first book right away. The perfect summer (or winter) read, this is an incredibly vivid, sensuous portrait of childhood in grim poverty in 1950s Naples. At its centre is the obsessive, devoted friendship between Elena and Lila who we follow through adolescence, their academic successes and failures, jobs and boyfriends. Their two intertwined stories ask how much an individual can do to change the course of the life that her opportunities and circumstances have offered her. Three books have been published in the series so far, with the most recent released in September and the fourth and final installment expected in Italy next year. I had about 2 weeks in September when I felt like I had Elena all to myself, but I don’t mind that the secret’s already out because she’s too good to miss.

by Viv Albertine (Faber) that lengthy and chanty title is just the beginning of the uncompromising life story that Viv Albertine shares in her memoir. Guitarist in The Slits, Laura Ashley model, musician, director, actor, artist, mother – she has had a fascinating fifty-nine years and there’s a lot more to talk about than being a girl in the punk world (but that’s a good place to start).

In CCCMMMBBB she scrapbooks her vividly recalled memories together and adds a helpful appendix at the end detailing the most crucial bits of her biography – what she was wearing, listening to and who she was seeing during each of her eras. Her unconventional life story makes for compelling reading and her story illuminates some of life’s joyous feminist contradictions. It’s also worth mentioning that I haven’t read a book which so unashamedly and refreshingly reveals the secrets of the female bedroom since Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, bedsheets, wardrobe, dressing table and all.

Albertine laments the fact that she had no female role models as a would-be guitarist in the late seventies, but luckily for us with this book she’s shown why she should be a heroine to every music-loving, clothes-obsessed, odd-one-out-girl out there.

I knew nothing about the original kickass comic book heroine Wonder Woman’s back story so Professor Jill Lepore’s astonishingly thorough and readable book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Scribe) was a total revelation. It tells the story of the pop culture icon who was brought to life by Lynda Carter in the TV series, while also giving the reader a fascinating account of the evolution of the women’s movement throughout the twentieth century, from the Suffragettes and birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger to the issues facing feminists today.

The Amazonian superheroine’s creator, William Moulton Marston, was a charismatic, complicated man who invented the lie detector test and was a passionate believer in free love and feminism. The intelligent, emancipated women in his life were immortalised in the pen and ink adventures of Wonder Woman – a character who has commanded devotion from millions of fans over seven decades. Comic books are more popular than ever today and with new characters like Ms Marvel (the first female Muslim superhero) bringing the genre kicking and screaming into the 21st century, now’s the perfect time to learn about where it all began. The Secret History of Wonder Woman is the perfect Christmas gift for: sullen teenagers of both sexes, comic book geeks and kickass feminists.

If you loved Stef Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, you will adore The Miniaturist (Picador). Jessie Burton’s impressive debut follows the fortunes of 18 year old Nella Oortman as she enters the home of her enigmatic merchant husband in 17th century Amsterdam. As Nella tries to navigate a new world of commerce, secrets and a society as opaque as the city’s murky canals, she starts to receive disconcerting, perfectly beautiful miniatures that tell her more about her own precarious situation than she understands herself. This is an eerie, absorbing novel populated with characters who are totally vivid and compelling, despite the five hundred years between us and them.

We’ve been eagerly anticipating Vivienne Westwood (Picador) as much as Morrissey’s autobiography and it doesn’t disappoint. Told both in the High Priestess of Punk’s own words and through uber-biographer Ian Kelly’s evocative prose, it brings together the multicoloured threads of Dame Viv’s life, from her early days safety-pinning binbags in her shop on the King’s Road, to the glamour and high-octane drama of her 2014 Gold Label show in Paris. The narrative zooms in and out, part told by Kelly – a detached but fascinated visitor to planet fashion – and part intimate memoir as Vivienne recalls her childhood and intense relationship with Malcolm Mclaren, as well as the passion for climate revolution which drives her today. Whether you’ve worn one of Vivienne Westwood’s designs or not, her influence is undeniable. From her punk origins to her massive fame in the Far East, this sharp-as-a-tack, soft-voiced Derbyshire woman has played a part in creating the world we live in today.

Anna-Marie Fitzgerald and Phoebe Frangoul are the co-editors and co-founders of the London grrrl-zine and literary salon Pamflet. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram @Pamflet. 

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