TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- HOME FIRE!!!!!

Hello everyone!!!! I have just finished reading Kamila Shamsie’s 2017 Women’s Fiction Prize Winning novel, Home Fire, and fucking hell IT IS SO AMAZING!!! A story of love VS betrayal, of state VS family, and of East Vs West in the ‘melting-pot’ of modern Britain. It is loneliness- what to do with the unbearableness of it: sink into the comfort of hostility and proclaim that there must be revenge, or to reach out through the pain, be honest with it and fight for what you need to survive?

Based off the ancient Greek myth of Antigone reworked for the modern day climate of Islamophobia- how it causes terrorism, and then even more Islamophobia, like a grim merry-go round of hate- this devastating novel has love and betrayal at its core; how we cope with each emotion, and which one should prevail overall if we are to hold on to one another. I had to keep stopping reading so that I could process all the conflicting passions without losing myself, and it is a book that will tear your heart not into two pieces, but a scattering of a million shards.

Shamsie’s novel is told through narrating the experiences of 5 main characters, all British- Pakistani citizens, all woven to put together a larger narrative that will draw them together whilst tearing them apart. This plot of tragedy and love is condensed into a seemingly anonymous Wembley household; the unseeming characters progressively more and more embroiled into a conclusion that reaches far beyond what they ever could imagine.

It starts with Isma, an intelligent but world-worn woman and elder sister/ mother to her two twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. I think Isma is one of my favourite characters, she is very good at balancing acts, of gently toeing the line between obeying the law to avoid further pain, and standing up for what she really believes in. Love of her family is Isma’s motive for pretty much all she does. Aneeka also is fuelled by love of her family, but without the forgivingness or subtlety of her sister- Aneeka’s love is pretty much all for her brother, not the mothering and hence oppressive Isma. Aneeka and Parvaiz’ twinhood is evoked so beautifully it makes the forces tearing them apart so cruel and callous I could hardly bear it; but whereas Isma’s love aims to bring everyone back together, Aneeka’s love is driven for one purpose only: to bring Parvaiz home from the terrorists he has been groomed into joining.

However, Aneekas love at first solely meant for Parvaiz actually multiplies in another direction. Aneeka falls in love with a man- Eamonn- her sister first met and sent her way- but this is not a tale of sisters fighting over a man ( it does still make me really sad that Isma is so alone in the book, it would have been nice for her to have at least one solace for herself). Eamonn is the son of the Home Secretary, and Aneeka, at first using him as a vessel for escape to bring Parvaiz home, ends up finding another escape for herself, away from the extremes of loyalty demanded by religion and state. Eamonn’s family are rich, integrated and push the piety of Islam to the back of their minds. Aneeka’s family are poor, derided by the general public for their devotion to their home land and religion. The contrasts are striking, which makes their falling in love only more bitter-sweet with the subtext of Parvaiz between them.

Shamsie evokes the character of Parvaiz before and after his defection to ‘the enemy state’ (the book’s main debate is essentially of loyalty to a state: which comes first, the state of law or love?) with a cleverness that doesn’t exempt him from criticism, but goes into detailed explanations of why what has happened has happened. Yes, he switched himself off and is complicit in the horrors of the Caliphate world in which he finds himself- but if that was the only way to survive, wouldn’t you dance for the devil, too? His choice to abandon his sisters, despite one of them literally being his other half, seems selfish and awful to the extremes. But, again, if you constantly felt alienated as the lone boy without a father in a world ran by women, at an age where you want to talk but don’t feel like anyone wants you… what I’m trying to say is that sadness makes people desperate, and desperation makes people do un-explainable things.

I don’t want to say what happens in the last scene, but it is a conclusion at once satisfying in its inevitability of plot tragedy, yet still discordant, gut-wrenchingly sad for all parties involved. It is reconciliation through grief, a reckoning that will make you want to simultaneously punch every bigot in the face (and by bigot, I don’t just mean Tommy Robinson clones, also the unflinchingly wicked men in suits at Westminster, too) and weep, clinging onto whoever love is to you.

I recommend this book very highly. It makes your brain think hard about the climate of xenophobia, islamophobia and prejudice that seems to govern politics today, and gives your heart a work out- that is never a bad thing!

“The language of violence, spoken by the powerful of all nations, erased distinctions beneath the surface. Two girls walked past, laughing, uninhibited. The sound- continuing on, burrowing down from the girls’ throats to their bellies- was more remarkable than bracelets or wrists. Perhaps surface was all there was to fight for. He remembered how it felt to float on a surface of freedom and safety, to feel himself buoyed up by it, and longing tugged at his heart…”

higgedly piggedly but alive

“I understood how stingy and cheap and arrogant and ungracious I had been. Because it easy to love and sing one’s love. That is something I am extremely good at doing. Indeed, that is my art. But to be loved, that is true greatness. Being loved, letting oneself be loved, entering the magic and dreadful circle of generosity, receiving gifts, finding the right thank-yous, that is love’s real work.”- Helene Cixous, The Book of Promethea

I apologise for my lack of writing on here recently; it isn’t a lack of passion or lostness that’s the cause of no keyboard clicks, just higgedly pigggedly feelings that make me choose wine in the late afternoon over routine. I don’t drink because I hate my life- I drink to unlock an oozy lump at the core, like a communion with this unknown animal with claws and feathers which governs the human.

I was walking my dogs today and concluded it is no whimsy or flaw that ‘God’ shown in a mirror is ‘Dog’. In fact, I would be so heretical as to add that sometimes Dogs are much much better than bookish Gods- Dogs lick you and jump at your knees when you tell them your’e sad; God sometimes just sits there, and the point they’re trying to make is that only through suffering can you learn. But dogs just don’t see suffering like that. They see it and act because it is kind to help when you can.

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I looked at the sky and it was a comfort. I wish I could describe it as I know Virginia Woolf could, but I’ll just use my own words now. I used to think that Jacob Ladders smouldering water in air as cotton-gold warmths was heaven claiming us; that the light was the congregation of wing and the push-up from soil thrown on coffins reverberating upwards.

I think I’m wrong. That light was power because it is giving, bathing us constantly but we only care when it’s beautiful and we see it. I don’t believe in the finality of give and take anymore- we give and get then give away what we got again. Nothing stays but nothing ends either.

 

 

This entry is a bit directionless (not pointless, mind). But we must go with the flow. I managed to work the till by myself at the charity shop. I no longer wring my hands in worry or pluck my hair from the scalp when boys I talk to don’t reply; no longer do I contemplate all the reasons I am wrong and not worth a 30 second reply. I sit. I read my books and dream of “A Life! A Lover!” not A Life! A Husband!”  (ily so much Virginia)

Today’s poem isn’t my own, but by Caroline Bird. It made me smile today and that sometimes is enough (thank goodness)

Megan Married Herself

She arrived at the country mansion in a silver limousine.
She’d sent out invitations and everything:
her name written twice with “&” in the middle,
the calligraphy of coupling.
She strode down the aisle to “At Last” by Etta James,
faced the celebrant like a keen soldier reporting for duty,
her voice shaky yet sure. I do. I do.
“You may now kiss the mirror.” Applause. Confetti.
Every single one of the hundred and forty guests
deemed the service “unimprovable.”
Especially the vows. So “from the heart.”
Her wedding gown was ivory; pointedly off-white,
“After all, we’ve shared a bed for thirty-two years,”
she quipped in her first speech,
“I’m hardly virginal if you know what I mean.”
(No one knew exactly what she meant.)
Not a soul questioned their devotion.
You only had to look at them. Hand cupped in hand.
Smiling out of the same eyes. You could sense
their secret language, bone-deep, blended blood.
Toasts were frequent, tearful. One guest
eyed his wife — hovering harmlessly at the bar — and
imagined what his life might’ve been if
he’d responded, years ago, to that offer in his head:
“I’m the only one who will ever truly understand you.
Marry me, Derek. I love you. Marry me.”
At the time, he hadn’t taken his proposal seriously.
He recharged his champagne flute, watched
the newlywed cut her five-tiered cake, both hands
on the knife. “Is it too late for us to try?” Derek whispered
to no one, as the bride glided herself onto the dance floor,
taking turns first to lead then follow.
-By Caroline Bird

Perils of hope

“I’ve been a romantic for so long
All I’ve ever heard are love songs
Singing oh-oh-oh, go on, I dare you…”    – The XX, I Dare You (from ‘I See You’)

I’ve fucked to this song, it seemed romantic at the time, but now the thought of being in such close proximities is frightening- a fluttering kind of fear. In fact, when I was in that ill-timed romance, I would listen to this whole album on repeat. Now all I can stomach is ‘Lips’, with its echoes and cloistered hopes. It makes me feel beautiful in my hurt at what’s past and my hope of repetition: that I am not a mayfly. I still haven’t brought myself to play ‘Say Something Loving’- the melody is too cruel for now. All I remember is what I thought young love was meant to be and then how disparaging realities cut our short known thread: first slow dancing to Eric Clapton and kissing his eyelashes when dawn scattered filigree patterns across our bodies in bed, then stood alone on the pavement- denied one final hug.

I keep thinking what I did wrong, because it seems ridiculous but so predictable to me that despite all the love songs I listen to, and all the sonnets and ballads I memorise the first boy to buy me pink roses should end it all with “fuck you”. I feel like a scribble of rose. I feel so sad and confused that it passes for my feeling alive.

I am being dramatic I guess. Too open and slutty with my foul desires- but I miss hugging; I miss feeling secure not with words but with touch. It was beautiful and primal, and absurd and pathetic. But it’s better than this, not that I didn’t partake in such sordid pastimes when we were together- I think that’s why he dumped me. I get sad and then I get drunk and then I get sad again; the cycle of life.

I know I have to be hopeful; but it’s the beautiful things that are hardest to hold. Loneliness has put up a barrier between the world and my heart. I wan’t to love it, like I wanted to grow to love him- but my lungs are filled with pesticide and the body is already compost. All I wanted was inflorescence, to see spectrum in bus windows and each millions of pores in my wrists dancing. The world as it is but seen; seen and felt to the ledge of infinity.

I don’t know what to think, relying so much on the whimsies of strangers; I am floating with motes and negative space and it must mould my home. To observe and take nothing.

Today’s poem I wrote when I still had florets of spring under my fingernails and pulsing flush through heartlines. I value my life to the stretch of my limbs, but it is so hard with this green light of Gatsby’s- the belief I can craft dreamings flesh.

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Morning poem

I did not see the iris move,
I did not feel the unfurling of my love…” –Anne Ridler, A Matter of Life and Death

Eyelids petalvein a light crafted birdsong in this morning unhampered by curtains-
His arms drawing closer, new details culling sleep.
I nudge old night sand into focus; no
dreams to report;
he kisses my angelsprout
bones.

That’s what lovers do-
fuck before breakfast, outwake the alarm and
be late for responsibilities.

I don’t care about grades.

Two mugs;
sunder statuesque sun in their infancy; unhunkering
corporeal heat, held in by shut windows
towards pale blonde slightness.
We both fold awake before the buses
will come-
we render primal intimacy;
he blows raspberries all over me.
I notice light motes small as
our toast crumbs painting his room
this day’s air daffodil.

I am learning softness-
“Farfalle”.
If dawn could undulate down in the body-
where would I feel it first?

Instincts recalibrate, reconcile those
hours spent dumb to news reels. He put
peanut butter first; then
strawberry jam like our duvet covers
on top- he is growing into
my small mercies.

Two mugs,
not one to wash up,
later on- we
tasted the same
sugar dropped,
silverspooned tea.

I’ll clean them whilst he coos
in protest.