I’ll describe my insanity through a sudden insight

Dear Christine, Do you know that feeling we have when we know where a book was going, and we know it could have worked – but it simply didn’t? I feel that about your novel Incest (2017) translated by Tess Lewis (L’Incest, 1999). Trying to be experimental while never giving up control over what the experiment…

Oh we can afford very well to laugh at their ideas

Dear Jane, Ok, I confess: I’ve violated your correspondence, and I did it more than once. In my defence, though, I have to say that your letters read almost as if they were begging me to open them. Read me, you seem to be writing. I am here, too. Jane Carlyle: Newly Selected Letters (2004),…

To show our scorn of pretending life’s a safe business

Dear Sylvia, Lolly Willowes (1926) is a satirical comedy of manners centred on an unmarried woman who suddenly decides to escape the claustrophobic domestic role her family tries to force on her. Funnily enough, the means she will use to fight against her family are no less morally equivocal than the life they were trying to…

Virtue can sometimes be a little depressing

Dear Barbara, Excellent Women (1952) is a comedy of manners about a spinster surrounded by people who cannot see why she shouldn’t suffer for being single. She is perfectly fine, though – if anything, the married people in the book are the ones really struggling, or in pain. The narrator, Mildred Lathbury, is an unmarried…

Breaking through memories into desire

Dear Chris, In After Kathy Acker (2017), you are after a woman who was a professed self-mythologizer. Acker liked to play hide-and-seek, and buried herself in a room full of distorting mirrors. All you dispose of to find this woman is a collage of contradictory testimonials, and her own words. You can try to uncover…

Hope is a wound

Dear Marianne, The Weight of Things (2015), translated by Adrian Nathan West (Die Schwerkraft der Verhältnisse, 1978) is this odd thing: something in-between a horror story, a domestic satire and an allegory of the insanity of war – a tale where the only character who does not lack in accountability and personal responsability is the…

A woman with a mission

Dear Margaret, In your novel Miss Marjoribanks (1866), your protagonist seems to have set herself the difficult task of trying to overcome the confines of Victorian views on women. However, at the same time, she does so by remaining dutifully bound to these very narrow confines. Much like your protagonist, you seem to write from…

Don’t ever wait for the swallows,

Dear Larissa, Your short story collection Swallow Summer, translated by Lyn Marven (2016. Originally, Schwalbensommer, 2003) made me think of tracks made of air: we might know they have just been travelled by birds, but we cannot trace back the moment immediately before their departure, or the very first movement of their wings. Your stories felt…

She attacked first

Dear Oriana, You had never wanted your life story to be written. “I have never authorized, nor will I ever authorize, a biography,” you said once. So, it was with some trepidation that I approached “Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend”, by Cristina de Stefano, translated from the Italian by Marina Harss (Other…

Fire burn, and caldron bubble

Dear Ronald, “The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present” is an ambitious and detailed research on a wide variety of beliefs about witches, as well as on the many ways those beliefs may have shaped and given rise to the Western witch trials. The book starts with an outline of…