Flesh is a function of enchantment

Dear Angela, While reading your novel The Passion of New Eve (1977), I could not stop thinking to myself: this must be how it feels to go through a reverse out-of-body experience. My mind is there with you, catching the references, the twisted sense of humour, the symbolic spins, the sharp satire, and all that;…

That indefinitely extended requirement that one human being makes upon another

Dear Iris, “I think it’s terrible to be in danger of writing a philosophical novel”, you said in an interview. And I know you have systematically refused to be called a philosophical novelist. However, may I politely disagree? Anatole Broyard attributes to you the idea that good art is philosophy swimming, or philosophy drowning. I could not trace…

We’re ourselves, and what does it signify?

Dear Elizabeth, Your book The Runaway (1872) is a Victorian children’s novel that quietly subverted everything I normally expect from the genre. The story revolves around a pair of children. The fifteen-year-old Clarice is the only daughter of a widowed merchant. One day, while strolling through her garden, she comes across a mysterious girl, Olga (the…

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…

I dig into the heart a well of salt

“I dig into the heart a well of salt, so as to give drink to the traveler I was. I let the wind drag with it the endless caravan of illusions. And I say: let everything drown into the fat of the mornings, let everything hush up… And let a tongue of fire strike the…

I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus

Dear Ottessa, The protagonist of your novel Eileen (2015) is one of the strangest yet most endearing literary misfits who have crossed my reading paths in recent years. The story is told in first-person narration, by the eponymous narrator, Eileen Dunlop, who is telling us, from the point of view of 50 years in the…

For she had a great variety of selves to call upon,

My dear, dearest Ginny, What stroke me the most in Orlando (1928) was the fact that you were once again so unabashedly bold – for having written a fictional novel and called it a biography; for having invented a life around a woman you had an affair with; ultimately, for having played with her body, making its…

There was so much to destroy

Dear Emma, Your fictionalization of the Manson murders, “The Girls” (2016), is a quite strong debut novel about coming of age within a structure of gender exploitation and neglect. The story is told in retrospect by Evie Boyd, now a middle-aged woman who is out of work, living in her friend’s house. When Julian, the…

The pain of the moment, the awful uncontrolled joy, that was innocence

Dear Beryl, I read Harriet said… (written in 1958; published in 1972) during yet another sunny trip by bike, to which your dark coming-of-age novel offered a pleasantly disturbing contrast. At the beginning of the book, we are thrown outside, in the middle of the night, surrounded by screams and very much in the dark,…

The line of light marking the bottom of the locked door

Dear Lori, Your short-story collection The Bigness of the World (2009, 2016) followed me throughout a very pleasant trip by bike I made last May.  I confess it was somewhat strange to be reading about your wandering characters, while I was myself wandering through some small towns in Germany. There is a pervasive melancholy in each…