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…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’!!!!!

Hello and welcome to today’s Tomboy Book club!!!! I am going to be giving my humble opinions about Jeanette Winterson’s new feminist manifesto: ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’ (if you recognize the title- good. It means you are keeping up with your British feminist history).

At only 72 pages this compact but shining gem won’t take you long to read, but it will give you plenty of idea-seeds to plant in your brain for later reflection to keep your brain sap flowing towards gender revolution. Not only is this powerhouse concise, but Winterson has also kept it accessible in the vocabulary she chooses to use. Although it could be more informative in helping introduce people to language used in discussions of trans issues or intersectional feminism addressing race, I think for the size and scope of the book trying to be inspirational and punchy rather than in-depth and educational Winterson has done her best to keep the tone serious yet manageable for people just getting into the feminist spirit. I can’t lie though, I am a little surprised Winterson did not address more the future of transgender rights and gender deviancy away from the binary, considering how huge a topic these issues are ATM and how they will remain important into the near future. I was expecting some acknowledgement of transgender and queer rights, just because Winterson is so known for loving Woolf and the fluidity of gender created in Orlando. Not that loving Orlando makes you an expert on queerness, and Winterson can’t be an expert on everything, it was just a bit of a shame…

BUT- Winterson really does cover many other areas of feminism, and whilst focusing on British history with her celebration of the Suffragettes and Suffragists, her arguments are global in their concern and shouldn’t be limited to the problems faced by one country alone. Politics, domestic violence, social media and business glass-ceilings are all touched upon by Winterson, but her discussions of women in the future of technology, and thus the future of the world as it continues to develop technologically is the most interesting part to me. It made me shiver a bit when she talks of how there are barely any women in charge of making technology, and yet simultaneously many technological advances in the form of AI existing which seek to mimic- or even replace- women. Winterson confronts the issues of sexbots; their male creators’ world views which they program for posterity into non-humans (pretty much the status human women have been given for all of history anyways lol) for their own enjoyment and affirmation of fucked-up gender constructs. Winterson warns how without female input into these technological advances (arguable if sexbots are an advance-but that is another kettle of fish entirely), women will be excluded from the future again before it’s even fully begun. I wish she could go more in depth and quote more studies and people who have thought a lot about this issue of feminism in technology, but again- this isn’t supposed to be a textbook for all the answers, it is supposed to be emotive and punchy to make you wanna get of your arse and do something for humanity.

The only criticism I have is that of criticism, by which I mean Winterson hasn’t really criticised or taken issue with any of the problems internal to mainstream British feminism which it still faces. TBF, Winterson does talk about the problem of difference, criticising the investment many (mostly white) women have with existing governments; in that many feminists want to acquire and yield the same power that the patriarchy uses now to fuel its terrorism- which obviously isn’t gonna do shit. And that women must create new, differing and previously unknown modes of thinking in order to truly defeat the ills of white supremacist heteronormative patriarchy (white men sure have created a world where it is easy to subconsciously hate many people- how wonderful!!!!). However a problem I really do think she should have addressed is that of racism in British feminism, because as much as I adore my foremothers’ fighting and bravery, there can be no mistake who they were fighting for: themselves, not the black and brown women of other occupied colonies who supported white British women in their struggle. For modern feminism to progress, we must not only look for the successes of the past to replicate, but also the failures so we know what weakens us and what to avoid in the future. It really pisses me off that the racism of the suffragettes goes so unnoticed most of the time, because it really should be addressed in order for white women to realise that it’s not a real victory if your victory only serves to continue to hold others down- by ignorance, or wilful cruelty (for the record, ignoring the problems of other people is still cruel). Heck- Sylvia Pankhurst had to eventually abandon the Suffragettes because her mother, the sainted Emmeline (whose speech, ‘Freedom or Death’ is included after Jeanette’s work- pretty sick), said she could never support black people having the vote!!! That is not the sentiment a real revolutionary would have!!! People can revere and celebrate the Suffragettes as much as they want, but no sincere progress will be made until that racism is shown for what it really is: vulgar, with no place in the future of feminism. Especially considering all the racism Britain has been forced to confront recently with Grenfell, Windrush and the ongoing refugee crisis- a manifesto of feminism that doesn’t even mention racism really can’t be said to be that helpful at all.

Overall, this is a great book to fuel a fire for change already burning within, but won’t be the best place to start learning the real facts of ammunition to fight. It is emotive more than informative, and that is great if you’re needing some inspiration to keep fighting this fucked up world. In order to get the best out of it, interrogate each line, each idea, and make the 72 pages grow and grow in potential using your mind! I will stop blabbering on now, but I send my love to all Winterson and feminist enthusiasts out there!!!!! LET HER COURAGE BE YOUR OWN!!!!!

“Graffiti on a loo wall in Camden Town: Behind every great woman is a man who tried to stop her.

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- Astragal!!!!

Hello and welcome to today’s’ post about… Astragal by Albertine Sarrrazin! I had never heard of this book before, but I am sooo glad to have stumbled upon it in my bumbling ways. I was at a feminist book fair (I know you’re jealous) and on a stall were two books- Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles and Astragal. I was really leaning towards Chelsea Girls, but one detail caught my eye on the pink cover of Astragal and fate was sealed. That detail was a name: Patti Smith.

Yes, Astragal is one of the favourite books of none other than New York’s poet punk rock queen. After a tumultuous period with Robert Mapplethorpe ( no details about Robert are in this book, but to anyone interested ‘Just Kids’ reveals loads about that relationship, and is such a beautiful and tender book you will treasure it forever) when Patti was alone and knocking about New York with just her tattered boots and the pennies in her pocket, she had to make a monumental decision. To eat or to read. A cup of coffee, or a paperback of Sarrazin’s novel- both for 99 cents.

I think we know it is clear what path Patti took that day. And reading this story and Patti’s introduction to it- I am so happy she went without coffee that day.

Astragal is sleek, cool and deliciously dangerous in its style and subject. A French book from the 1960s, it narrates the escapades of Anne, but is really a lightly veiled auto-biography of what Albertine herself went through. Anne: the vulnerable yet acrid femme fatale. She is a character of multiple and conflicting selves, on the run from jail, an escaped prisoner returning to the world of freedom.

But is she more free inside or outside the prison walls? In prison, Anne knew the ropes; was contained but mainly free in her desires to manipulate and break the rules. She climbed out the kitchen windows to see her girlfriends, she knew the measures of time in a day and how to whittle the hours. But once out, she is not fully herself. The bravado gone as she is helpless in the road, alone in pyjamas with a broken ankle after jumping the prison wall. Burdened by the tethers of the law always behind her back, constantly on red alert for another police pig to lock her away. But the greatest barrier to Anne’s freedom isn’t her illegal status. It is her heart.

As soon as Anne is out, she falls in love with the man who saves her. I know, a bit OTT and cheesy. At first, I thought the same. Seriously?!? She literally has just escaped, has the whole world to swindle, already is in love with a girl in jail and a man comes by once again, like the cliched prince on horseback, to save Anne from her queerness and cherish her injured ankle, her vulnerability- because without it, she would run away she would run from him like she’s always run from authority. But, remarkably, Sarrazin does not make this one of maudlin and derogatory romance. It is hypnotic, complex and grittily real in its sparsity of hiding places from the human heart.

It is a tale of freedom VS confinement, of power VS submission, of Appearances VS Motives as Anne hankers after her lover and tries to rebuild her sense of independence and rebellion. Sarrazin writes in the first person view point of Anne, and the use of ellipses and general grammatical smoke screens means that sometimes this book can be hard to follow temporally. I had to re-read many a section to determine whether what was going on was in the present, past, predicted future or a dream. But that adds to the beauty of the book. You can read it as slickly or as slowly as you choose, depending on whether you want to be blown away with the drama, or contemplate deeper signals and meanings in the text.

This book is for anyone who seeks romance, drama and intrigue. It doesn’t take too long to read, and should definitely be on the TRL (to read list) for any Smith fan, as its amazingness really can be seen to filter through into some themes and styles of Patti’s own writing later. I will stop blabbering now, and leave you with a quote to tempt you to that bookshelf you know you shouldn’t stalk, just like Patti and her last 99 cents all those years ago… xoxoxoxooxxo

“A life had taken shape, after my arrest: for years, I had let it sprout, joyously absurd, naive and shameless. In that life, you were never carried off, petted, saved; you stood up straight… But in that life, all the same, you could get your kicks in the secret certainty of each day’s routine. My new freedom imprisons and paralyses me…”

 

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!!! Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire!

Hello everyone! With the recent descent of Trump and his white supremacist cronies in the US mid-terms ( may they sink ever lower) and the higgeldy-piggeldy MESS that is Brexit, Windrush and Grenfell swamping the UK with arguments over who is or is not allowed protection under ‘great’ Britannia’, it seems appropriate to talk about this book now. Today’s post is all about Akala’s first novel Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’- I know he has also released graphic novels- i REALLY wanna read them- but I mean in terms of non-fiction hardbacks.

Natives is clever, to say the least. It boasts pages and pages of educational anti-colonial, anti-racist facts and footnotes, and you can tell that it has been a passion long in the making, articulately put together to tackle some great issues of race and class for not only Great Britain, but the entire history of the world: Apartheid and segregation, education and prison systems, white supremacy and imperial history are amongst some of the topics Akala touches upon. His aim with this book is to analyse the way race and class both intersect and feed off each other in conflict with the white state and upper classes, and how these historically institutionalised concepts affect a singular life in the making.

Akala uses the story of his own life to examine the workings of history and politics around him, and how these forces have shaped who he has become. Some people may feel he is boasting by constantly asserting his own past and achievements into the narrative of global history, but I disagree. All the auto-biography included is relevant to the intellectual arguments he makes, his own experiences generating courses of study to analyse the fates of so many working class black boys in the country. Life shown in contrast against the statistical hardship of so many others (not that Akala himself has never known these struggles himself) only makes his achievements more commendable, and indirectly highlights the need to implement what Akala’s book is trying to equip us with and inspire: the knowledge and urgency to ensure that more such rigorous insights can be written by more people who know first hand the effects of state racism and violence onto a child’s future.

It reminded me of another book about race I read earlier this year, ‘Brit(ish)‘ by Afua Hirsch, in which she also recounts the difficulties of forming an identity as a mixed race child in the UK whilst unearthing and lambasting historical racism. However, I will say that though using the same method of analysis of auto-biography these two authors’ early lives could not be any more different. With Hirsch growing up confused, but ultimately sheltered in her posh Wimbledon neighbourhood, whereas Akala’s past is definitely not privileged in any sense of the word as we would expect in the UK; yet he has a surer sense of his identity with close ties to others from the Caribbean and to young boys in similar shoes as his own. Hirsch’s book is also amazing!!!!! It shows a different environment to Akala’s, which actually enforces the point which Akala is trying to make: it doesn’t matter how high up the ladder of capitalist achievement a black person can go or is born into, they will still be ‘Othered’, still be stereotyped somehow.

This definitely isn’t a book you can rush through, it’s one you have to think over before going to the next page; maybe that’s just me, but there’s so many facts and ideas about so many topics that it would seem negligent to simply graze over them without properly trying to understand the point at hand. This is a perfect book to start learning about key concepts and issues underpinning race in Great Britain- but Akala also uses his mixed Jamaican heritage and travels across the globe to give nuanced opinions about how race and class operate differently and arbitrarily for each country depending on it’s history and geography. I think his most powerful writing comes from critiques of the UK education and Prison systems, where argument is always founded on fact and long-meditated analysis fed by numerous theorists (who he references in the back- great for people looking for further reading once they’ve finished this book!).

The lens isn’t just focused on the effect of racism and classism on black and brown people though, Akala also turns arguments back on whiteness itself. Deconstructing what is the ‘default’ identity for governments and culture to build around, and showing its true nature: not ‘default’ at all, but a highly constructed, conceptualised and insidious weapon of Capitalism to pit man against man (or woman)  despite their similar material circumstances. This is a scathing attack, and a brilliant one. As the title may suggest, it isn’t the thugs or hooligans who we should be most worried about (still, fuck the bigoted scum bags) but the ‘powers that be’,  that create the ideas and conditions in which racism can grow unchecked. From teachers defending the KKK as America’s crime fighting vigilantes (the part where he talks about his teacher arguing that the KKK stopped crime by killing black people is horrendous, but when out against the backdrop drawn from history sadly not that surprising), Nelson Mandela as an upholder rather than complete destroyer of apartheid in South Africa, to the police who end up asking him for advice on how to tackle ‘black crime’ (his critique of ‘the idea of ‘black-on’black’ crime is unquestionably good) after trying to arrest him- no authority figure is safe from Akala’s most effective weapon: his brain.

To conclude, I am going to quote a section of the book where Akala is highlighting the double edged sword that is white supremacy; at once giving it’s wielders a sense of superiority, yet completely negating any sense of individual strength of mind they could have by centring superiority on the assumed, and false, inferiority of others.

If you care about ending inequality, this book is for you xoxoxoxoxoxox

“…The long and short of it is that the master makes himself a slave to his slave by needing that domination to define him… We talk about white privilege but we rarely talk about the white burden, the burden of being tethered to a false identity, a parasitic self-definition that can only define itself in relation to blacks’ or others’ inferiority…”

TOMBOY PRESS BOOK LAUNCH!!!!!!

Hello!!! Today is a very special post and I am excited for you to be reading it, BECAUSE TOMBOY PRESS CAN HAPPILY ANNOUNCE THE LAUNCH OF IT’S LATEST TOME!!!!!

‘I Try To Love’ (which is still for sale, so if you haven’t had a chance to read it please try to get a copy, I make and print them as cheaply as I can!) came out earlier this year, and is a meditation on the ways that private love and intimacy blurs with the social and shared emotions fuelling protest- the ways we publically love and support each other being a branch grown from what we sow in our secret lives. What I have to offer now is a slight departure away from my main interest of political and love poetry, but not much. This time round less focus is given to the societal and non-romantic forms of love, in favour of a more pinpointed, emotional free-for-all fall into the mechanisms of rapture and passion.

And so, DRUM ROLL PLEASE…….. I PROUDLY PRESENT TO YOU…….. ‘We Live In Hope: A Collection of Love Poems’!!!!!  ‘We Live in Hope’ is split into three sections: Unrequited, Halycon and Complicated- exploring the big L-word in all its complexities, joys and tragedies. To complement each section, it also features original full colour art work created by the one and only Ned Beale, @NetBdesign on Instagram- my little brother! He has patiently helped me bring this Frankenstein Dream to life, listening as I vaguely described ideas out to him in hopes that he would ‘get what I’m saying- you know what I mean?’ I wanted this collection to be something you could read any time- whether you’re tired after a long day studying at the library and want to snuggle down in solitary peace, or on a crowded train home still buzzing with the day, and I thought a great way to complement the poetry and help ease mental strain was to have some pretty pictures!

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!!! My deepest love in creative writing has up till now and will always be poetry, but I wanted to try explore other avenues of communication too (the joys of self-publishing). So, ‘We Live In Hope’ also offers miniature essays and meditations framing the sections of poetry I’ve lain out, hopefully to elucidate and introduce the themes and ideas I wanted each part of the book to confront. This book has poetry, pictures and prose all about the most elusive and ever-popular of emotions- WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK FOR?!?!?!?!

This project has been close to my heart (quite literally, it is not easy constantly reading your heart breaks and past happinesses over and over) and I think quite a while in the making. Ever since my ears first became attuned to the lilt and lusciousness of language in poetry, I have had quite an irrational bias towards the genre I thought would kaleidoscope the world into the beauty it truly deserves to be: love poetry (even when I had nobody myself ‘to love’, but I discuss this issue of who and how you should love in the book). I hope this isn’t the last book on the topic that I’ll make (not that I’m an expert or anything), but it does feel wonderful to finally have achieved part of my dream! My own book of Love Poetry!

ANYWAYS! I would love to be able to share this lil’ book o’ love with as many of you as possible- spreading the luvvvv and all that- so please let me know if you would be interested in getting a copy! The more books I sell, the cheaper I can give them to you for! AND ALSO, because it makes no sense writing about love whilst doing nothing to actually show it to the world, I want to donate £2.50 from every book ( both Tomboy titles) towards helping people suffering right now in the Yemen. Millions of adults and too, too many children right now are suffering, starving to death because of the vainglorious pride and capitalist bloat exempt of any compassion manufactured by those who are supposed to love us – our ‘leaders’. Love shouldn’t be a luxury you can write about and luxuriate in in reflection. People deserve a right to live, and that is what makes love possible.

PLEASE!!!!! SUPPORT INDEPENDENT ARTISTS AND THE CAUSE OF POETRY AND LOVE!!!!! My email address is mollybeale@hotmail.com so please drop me an email if you’re interested in a copy- or collaborating on further books in the future!!! Tomboy Press Instagram @tomboypress is always happy to answer messages on there too (We also have twitter, and I will check it more regularly but insta is a safer bet)

THANK YOU FOR READING THIS SELF-PROMO!!!! PLEASE SHARE THE WORD!!!!! TELL UR SISTERS AND MISTERS, MOTHERS AND FATHERS, QUEENS AND KINGS!!!!! THIS SHALL NOT BE THE LAST YOU HEAR OF THIS!!!!!

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB-The Daylight Gate!!!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN MY WITCHES AND BITCHES, MY GHOULS AND GIRLS!!!! Welcome to today’s Tomboy book club on this SPOOKY OOKY KOOKY SLAM DUKEY HALLOWEEN!!!

The book I’ve chosen today seems appropriate in its evil doings and filthy ways: its full of witches digging up graves and fucking Satan, but we’ll get to more of that later. I’d never heard of Jeanette Winterson’s ‘The Daylight Gate‘ before I was crouching down hurting my knees at the bottom shelf of a charity shop bookcase with grandma looming over me (rifling through the DVD’s trying to find more films with her fave actor she loves to gush over- sorry for spoiling the secret, Chrissy), when I saw the name of beloved Jeanette and instantly reached for the spine.

The book is based off the true history (don’t worry, it still has the magical flare and fictional spell that Jeanette has made perfection) of the Lancashire Pendle Witch Trials in 1612- the home county of Winterson, too. Using details from the first ever witch trial in England to be documented, a narrative grown around the bones cast aside by history- like a reincarnation of spells- to flesh out a deliciously sordid and luscious tale of love, hatred, superstition and injustice.

Alice Nutter is the main character in the novel (it is really easy and addictive to get through though, I managed to get through it in 2 days and it would be great for a long journey!), a suspiciously aloof woman who has the audacity to live and control her own wealth without the direction of a husband’s hand. This book is full of contradictions and paradoxes, and whilst sometimes it can be a bit confusing trying to balance all the time, I think the way Winterson has created her characters to be so multiple and contradictory just adds further to mystery of the plot and hexes murmured. Alice is at once old and young, a mature woman with the face of a younger self; she is rich and supposedly got there by learning to be a merchant cloth dye trader- but how, and who taught her? Then there’s Old Demdike, the pustule ridden hag locked away in Lancaster Castle facing death, seemingly devoid of all tenderness and romance, but who actually has a past much more wild than I thought could pan out.

The male characters in this book on the whole are dicks- they are the powers that be spreading the atmosphere of fear and hatred which sent so many to death for simply choosing to live a little wilder. This book is set during the reign of King James, who is famous for writing ‘Daemonologie‘- an extensive study of witchcraft, and the ‘Dark Prince’ for whom they sell their souls. And also famous for being the target of the failed gunpowder plot, when Guy Fawkes and his lot wanted to blow up Parliament- it’s a pity they failed. But the book makes very stark the simultaneous persecution of Catholics and alleged Witches espoused under King James, making one wonder if its really witches who were the targets, or if witchcraft was merely a scapegoat for Catholics to be pinned with (“Witchery Popery, Popery Witchery“) as a justification to make those in power feel less guilty?

Using the rich men in charge to harass and essentially bully old homeless women and their families puts starkly in the foreground how class and gender were a big role in why people were really executed. It sort of makes the book more scary, as it’s not the witches who are the monsters- desperately trying any vile thing they can concoct to try to save their grandmother. The true Satan-spawn are the emotionless, and money-minded authorities- not giving a toss who they kill or why, so long as it advances their careers. They do say the real monsters aren’t the ones hiding under your bed…

Though I will give a warning to the faint hearted, this is a gristly book. Within the first ten pages a woman is raped (the book also features paedophilia and incest- but that is way to horrifying to go into here), and Winterson does not stop these relentless punches against ones morality. There are beatings, grave-diggings, torturings and orgies. Some of my highlights include when a head is severed from its rotting corpse, has a tongue ripped out of a boys mouth stitched inside its toothless jaw, is boiled in a pot and left on the side to speak. Or there’s the time teeth fall from the sky into Alice’s lap, or the time there’s a party for Satan and he literally starts shagging someone in the middle of the room with everyone watching- or the time a door knocker turns into human flesh… this book is weird, but a good weird I think. Not that I endorse any of the above acts, but the gore and fantastical gruesomeness is  one of the reasons I love Winterson, she writes the most far-fetched things, but always manages to make it seem plausible in a way we dream of.

Winterson also always manages to put my favourite part of any story in amongst this bleakness: love. That may be the most devilishly strange thing after all, that love could survive in such a place. But it does, and whilst weird, the love stories conjured in this book are wild and soaring.

I won’t write anymore, most of you either want to go trick’o’treating or partying with one of those awful plastic clown masks- I hate those. But I hope you give this frightful tale a go, and it says that it was in production to be made a film so maybe there is a film too?!? Anyways, I hope you have a lovely Halloween and don’t piss off any ghosts or anything XOXOXO

“…’Do I believe in witches? He did not like that question. The question that followed he liked less: If Alice is a witch, how can I love her? He would love her if she were a wolf that tore out his heart. And he wondered what that said about love…”

 

Tomboy Bookclub!!!- Telling Tales!!!

I first heard of Chaucer from my mum. When she studied one of her favourite parts of literature were the mysterious and boisterous lyrics from the dark ages; whether it be Old Norse Vikings or the Green Knight and Sir Gawain in Arthurian lands. I had never read any old medieval literature myself until university, but I must admit I was dreading it. I thought it would be gobbedly gook; too hard to read with ease, old, musty and gruesomely boring. But I was wrong, marvellously so. Perhaps it’s because I had a teacher who really, really loved what she taught, but reading Chaucer’s Canterbury tales really did grip me. They were profound, bawdy, hilarious and sad- sometimes all at once. I found myself seeing so many parallels between the dung heaped and bejewelled carnage of middle England, against the fibre-optic entangled and petrol dowsed world of today. Who knew that a good fart gag would be funny for people who lived hundreds of years ago the same as it is now?

This brings me to today’s Tomboy recommendation… a 21st century reworking of the world famous Canterbury Tales: ‘Telling Tales’ by Patience Agbabi. It is ambitious, riotous and enchanting in what it seeks to do. Taking Chaucer’s tried and tested lyrics, and exploding them outwards to give old stories new life in a variety of forms, from sonnet sequences to long skinny poems ricocheting their rhymes page after page.

Chaucer wrote for the sound and performance of language. Not many people could read back in day- what a surprise– and Chaucer wrote in English at a time when most ‘upper-class’ writers would have written in French; he was a proto-slam poet rebel me thinks, endorsing a language which normal people could hear and enjoy, instead of keeping all the literature in a language exclusive to nobility. And this attention to pleasing crowds with the tonal beauty of language is a tradition that Agbabi has mastered perfectly. Whether you’re reading in muted breaths on the train, or muttering the words to yourself in bed each poem has a different cadence that not only entertains, but helps reflect the story of the tale she is reworking. The lewd hilarity of the Miller’s Tale comes out with a freshness that nods to the past whilst still being perfect in reflecting how we speak and keep ourselves amused today: ‘Get me a pint of Southwark piss!/ It all took place in a pub like this.

Not only has Agbabi reworked The Canterbury Tales in a whole host of different forms to access different paces of rhyme (not all carry ordered meter, some poems use looser arrangements, fractured and sparse, more tender handlings), she has also given the pilgrims themselves a make-over. No longer are they travelling to pray at Canterbury Cathedral, competing with each other for a meal with their stories. Agbabi has them touring a poetry show, performing their poetries for each other on the way to their final destination. The characters are poets, writers- all unique, and often Kooky. The wife of Bath is now Mrs Alice Ebi Bafa, a Nigerian business woman out for money, men and laughs. The Reeve is no longer Oswald- entrepreneurial landowning sour-puss- but ‘Ozymandia’: ‘expelled from school before she learnt to hate poetry. Taught herself Anglo-Saxon… now lives in Leeds.’

One of my favourite re-tellings is that of Ozymandia Reeves’, ‘Tit for Tat’. In the original (to summarize very briefly), two clerks try to get revenge against a dastardly miller, Sympkin who lets loose the clerks’ horse and steals their grain. Vengeance is had by fucking Sympkin’s daughter and his wife, then stealing back their bread and running away after Sympkin’s wife hits him on the head with a pan (bit mad, but that’s why Chaucer is great). In Agbabi’s version, the clerks are not Cambridge scholars, but Butch Al and Fem Gen- two dykes in need of weed with a pet dog instead of a horse. The poem is told through the view of the dog (named Little Weed) and it is hilarious: ‘me, sniffer dog/ laid off, Bad dog, for sniffing drugs’. Sympkin is Psycho, a dodgy dealer who tries to sell Butch Al and Fem Jen dried lawn as purple haze. Their retaliation is based of Chaucer, and I don’t want to spoil the funniness of the poem, but I shall say this- it’s a tale of two dykes and their dog swindling a dealer with the end result of ‘free food, free dope, free cakes, free love’ (what’s not to get gassed about there?).

Ultimately, I think Chaucer would be proud of Agbabi. She takes universal themes, concerns like farting and death and fidelity and love, that were all as important back then as they are today, but re-energizes them in a way so that it doesn’t matter whether you’ve read the original (though I do recommend). She gives our multi-cultural society today a glimpse of itself through time, showing that we don’t just progress and leave what’s past behind. Humans are humans, we will always be heroic and gross and romantic- and united. I like to imagine Patience and Geoffrey together: a bi-black woman of the 21st century and a middle aged white male scholar from a time where the world was flat, both believing in the power of language to entertain and inspire, to reflect and celebrate the chaos we will always live in.

Chaucer Tales, track by track, here’s the remix
from below-the-belt base to the topnotch;
I wont stop all the clocks with a stopwatch
when the tales overrun, run offensive,
or run clean out of steam, they’re authentic
cos we’re keeping it real, reminisce this:
Chaucer Tales were an unfinished business…”