Literary Bad Girls- Part 2

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Sylvia Plath ( October 27,1932- February 11, 1963

This Boston born bad girl studied at Smith College and won the opportunity to spend the Summer of 1953 as one of the guest editor’s of Mademoiselle magazine. Out of these experiences Plath wrote the modern masterpiece The Bell Jar, where her voice is channelled through the character of the main protagonist Esther Greenwood. This wry, morbid voice explores sexism in American society, modern pop culture, her mental struggles and the psychiatric profession. As a Fulbright scholar in Cambridge this emerging poet met the handsome Ted Hughes at a book launch. The intensity of their meeting makes Sylvia a queen of the Bad Girls, during their initial discourse Sylvia bit him on the cheek so hard, her teeth drew blood. This marked an almost savage and elemental aspect to their relationship, gothic in its inception and tragic in its demise.  As a couple they worked and wrote, travelled to America, taught , returned to England. She had two children after a series of miscarriages and Ted had affairs. He left her for Assia Weevil after a tempestuous five years and she committed suicide by putting her head in a gas oven.  What remains of this girl is her legend and of course her canon of work, her poetry collection Ariel continues to be analyzed and admired decades later.Listen her:

BBC INTERVIEWS WITH SYLVIA AND TED

And Ryan Adams beautiful song about her

 

Jean Rhys(1890-1979)

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Read this biography by the brilliant Lilian Pizzichini to get a measure of this Bad Girl with literary talent and artistic integrity.  Rhys had a dreamy childhood in the lush island heat of Dominica, the daughter of a white Creole mother and a Welsh father. A colourful life included a brief stint as a chorus girl in London, a career as an artist’s model and a vagabond and bohemian existence in Paris.

Rhys had three failed marriages, was often alcoholic and destitude, economically on the edge and abandoned by caddish men. Yet it was all these hardships that made her such a great writer, Rhys distilled her experiences into the beautiful prose of books such as After Leaving Mister Mr Mackenzie(1930) and Good Morning, Midnight (1939) and the unforgettable Wide Saragasso Sea, the story of Bertha Mason, the first wife of Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre.

It is a great consolation that Rhys lived to see her work attain critical acclaim and was made a CBE in 1978. The monde recognised this fragile voice of the demi-monde and bohemia, a life full of flawed humanity and fragile dreams.

 

Literary Bad Girls- Part One

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No one encapsulates the allure of the Bad Girl quite like Lana Del Rey with her haunting lyrics, eyes liquid with longing and lyrics syrupy with nostalgia as she sings her breakthrough hit Video Games. Well Lana since you asked I’ll have to confess that I more than like the bad girls, I love them.  My favourite are the literary ladies who kicked up a storm, lived life on their own terms and have been inspirational for generations of others. On today’s post I’ll cover four such luminaries.

 

Edna St Vincent Millay(1892-1950)

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She was the poet who wrote First Fig which in its few short lines encapsulates her life, where she certainly burnt the candle at both ends. She wrote all sorts of transgressive poetry and plays as well as being a very skilled sonnet writer, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her fourth book, The Ballad of the Harp Weaver. She practiced what she preached and went on to have a life time of bisexual love affairs and was also an outspoken pacifist who sometimes attracted ire. Nancy Milford’s biography entitled Savage Beauty is a great read for anyone who wants to know about the extraordinary life of this poet of the Jazz age.

Dorothy Parker(1893-1967)

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Dorothy Parker famously said that every morning she brushed her teeth and sharpened her tongue. As a novelist,screenwriter, poet and critic , Parker was notorious as the hard-drinking bad girl with a talent for stinging repartee and for her endlessly quotable one liners. Her poems and stories capture the spirit of the decadent Jazz age in New York, often exposing the darkness as well as the dazzle. The philosopher Irwin Edman said of Parker that her talent was the ability to “combine a heartbreak with a wisecrack.” Although married three times, in fact twice to the same man Alan Campbell, Parker’s romantic entanglements were copious and troubled and all this emotional drama surfaces in her stories.  Her vulnerability behind the acerbic manner makes her the ultimate bad girl with a heart. Every book shelf should have a copy of Parker’s collected works, the Portable Dorothy Parker.

 

Anais Nin (1903-1977)

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The author of the erotic short story collection Delta of Venus lived a life that I’ve always found scintillating and fascinating. In an open marriage in 1930’s Paris to an American banker, Nin refused to live a life limited by societal dictates. Forays into the bohemian cafes of Paris led her to Henry Miller with whom she had a very passionate affair. A love triangle developed between Henry, his wife June and Anais, which is the subject of a 1990 film Henry and June, which explores this tangled love story. Her life story is one hell of a read, bigamy, duplicity, affairs and a searing search for self-knowledge make the pages steam with bad girl chutzpah. Noel Riley Fitch’s book is a great read for anyone curious about this most singular literary woman.IMG_1108

 

Zelda Fitzgerald( July 24th 1900-March 10th, 1948)

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Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, born in Montgomery, Alabama was an American novelist and wife of one of my favourite authors F.Scott Fitzgerald. She was a true icon of the 20’s and the original flapper girl who bobbed her hair, drank to excess and was a huge influence on her husband’s work. Her life has enough dramatic material to fill many books and with the re-release of the Great Gatsby last year, there has been a resurgence of interest in Zelda’s life. She was an extremely gifted woman who became torn by the clash between her husband’s career and her own talent, willingly consumed in a marriage marred by alcoholism, mental-health issues and jealousy. When still riding the crest of the Jazz age her exploits included dancing on table tops, diving naked into fountains and riding on the roofs of New York cabs. For me she will always be modern literature’s most famous muse, an iconic woman who was  the original bad girl.IMG_1113

 

This summer I’ve noticed a batch of novels hitting the book shelves featuring modern day Bad Girls. Lena Dunham’s Girls shows the New York twenty- something dating scene with a gritty and unflinching reality, far removed from the manolos and cocktails of Carrie Bradshaw’s Sex and the City. This trend in TV drama is also evident in some of the new books by female authors behaving badly.

Zoe Pilger’s debut Eat My Heart Out is an anti-romance featuring a 23 year old protagonist who has dropped out of university and is
holed up in a fetid Clapham houseshare. Read it and lock up your daughters!
Emma- Jane Unsworth’s second novel Animals is a story shaken and stirred by a litany of disastrous nights out and even more dodgy sexual encounters.

Bryony Gordon’s The Wrong Knickers is her memoir of a decade of decadence as a young journalist in London. As an account of Bad Girl antics it’s amusing and well worth a Summer read.

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O NEILL FOR MAN BOOKER

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I was very interested to see who made the Man Booker Longlist published on July 25th because it’s the first year that American novelists could enter the ring. There had been much concern that the prize would be be hijacked by the American literary giants and leave British, Irish and Commonwealth authors for dust. A quick perusal of the list revealed that Britain has the strongest representation with six authors, including the Indian born Neel Mukherjee, with one Australian(Richard Flanagan) and the very brilliant Irish author Niall Williams who has published no fewer than nine novels.

Both Ireland and America can lay claim to Joseph O’Neill who is a hotly tipped contender for this year’s prize with his upcoming novel “The Dog,”published in September. When I read “Netherland” back in 2008 I was blown away by this writer who is incapable of writing a boring sentence and by the story of family, identity and politics cleverly crafted by O’Neill. When I saw his handsome face beaming from a page in Vogue and read the accompanying piece about his apartment in the Chelsea hotel and his very glamourous lifestyle it is safe to say reader that I was smitten. I brought his name to the attention of the literary committee of Listowel Writer’s Week that year to have it included in the contenders for the Kerry Group Fiction Prize. There was some debate on whether he was Irish and therefore eligible to be considered.

As a great lover of Fiction and no stranger to embellishment and with sheer brass neck I solved all dispute by declaring him to be a second cousin from a very tangled West Cork ancestry. The debate was solved and Joseph O’Neill flew to Ireland that year and collected the Kerry Group Fiction Prize for “Netherland.”
The Listowel Arms was rocking that night with opening night festival celebrations and like all great liars I trawled the bar area in search of the great Joseph so I could fill him in on our fake ancestral lineage. Unfortunately one of the committee was with him and with great Kerry theatricality introduced Joseph to his cousin Anne.
I was in an advanced state of exhaustion at that stage having had an extremely late night the previous night with a friend from London who had travelled to Listowel for the festival and like myself had a great ability to quaff vino and avoid bed.(Marella, you know who you are)
The great novelist ran with the plot, greeted me with a familial hug and even asked about the mythical Cork uncle. At that point a crowd had gathered, buoyed by the emotional story of the long lost cousin’s meeting. With the usual mass hysteria we were declared to be the image of each other, very alike around the eyes, another lady declared that we were like sister and brother. On the night in question my eyes were afflicted with an exhaustive stare which bore no resemblance to the novelist’s intelligent peepers.We had a drink outside with a few of my crew, a photo was taken, literature was discussed, I might even have sung Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel” really badly for him. It was a family affair. O’Neill for the Booker 2014 !

Blame it on the Rosé…

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On holidays in France last month I noticed a flurry of activity in the lobby of our hotel in Juan Les Pins. Red carpet was being rolled out the door and young women clad in designer clobber clicked around the foyer in vertiginous heels having animated discussions in their iPhones and clutching clipboards. I immediately sniffed a party of the private variety and the antithesis of the events I attended in Rathmines in the mid eighties where groups of students sat on bedsit floors puffing ciggies and watching their harp stash.

I’ve perfected the art of walking by door people with an air of possession. Book in hand I strode past the PR beauties muttering to myself a little and ignoring the chorus of madams emanating from the entrance. Once out on the beautiful courtyard over looking the beach I was offered a glass of champagne by a friendly waiter. All attendees were extremely chic and all the beautiful people mingled, air-kissed, laughed and posed for photographs with the confidence of movie stars.

I was beginning to stand out a little, cutting a lone figure centre stage with just a Tim Winton book and a glass of bubbly. I noticed a very dapper man sitting near by talking to a woman. He was clearly american and a little intimidating, but I had to ask someone where Tim Winton was.

” Excuse me, but would you know where Tim Winton is? I’d like him to sign my book?” I asked.

“Tim Winton isn’t here. He didn’t win the prize. Whit Stilmann did.” he replied.
“I’ve never heard of Whit Stilmann.” I said.
“I’m Whit Stilmann.” replied the famous American director.
I began to stutter and splutter and attempt to dig myself out of the crater sized faux pas, much mentioning that I love books and films followed and that I’d adored The Last Days of Disco, never realised that it had been released as a book.

Whit took it all with a sanguine and languid sense of humour and later talked about Gatsby and his love of Paris. I introduced him during the course of the evening to my friend Pauline. It was a combination of the rosé, the champagne, the sheer thrill of meeting a famous director but words failed me as my brain scrambled for his first name.

Whit is not part of the normal vernacular in Ireland and I struggled to remember this first name. My brain strayed into the literary memory and I found myself introducing Whit Stilmann as Walt Whitman. It could have been worse, Walt Disney and Ben Stiller were waiting on the tip of my tongue.Don’t blame it on sunshine, don’t blame it on moonlight, blame it on the rose.

ANNE

 

I won’t take you home again Caitlin Moran

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I am getting very tired of the media attention given to Caitlin Moran since the publication last year of How to Be a Woman, a purported must read for all women and now Moran’s second offering to the canon of feminism texts, the strangely named How to Build a Girl.

I feel slightly at odds with the authors of the glowing media reviews, the twitterati who worship at her doc martened feet, the art’s reviewers who enter into states of mesmerisation when she enters the studio. For me it’s just another case of mass cultural hysteria and further evidence of the blandification of our age.

For any woman to purport that she knows the definitive answer to both becoming a girl and subsequently a woman based on her own experiences hints at a very strong ego, stoked by her adoring media chums. I realise that feminism has developed into two strands, the media phenomenon which Caitlin Moran represents and the academic strand descending from Greer and De Beauvoir. I’d rather The Second Sex or The Female Eunuch any day to any SHOUTY missive rank, with the over telling of an obsessional predilection for self pleasure and built with prose devoid of style.

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Am currently looking forward to reading my latest acquisitions which consist of The Vacationers by Emma Straub, Meatspace by Nikesh Shukla, Arts & Entertainment by Christopher Beha, Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken, My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff and The Stinging Fly Summer 2014 Issue 28/Volume 2. I have also just pre-ordered Alarm Girl by the very brilliant Hannah Vincent who is an old classmate from Kingston.

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Here is some vintage footage of the très formidable Germaine and moi.

Books, Books, Books. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.

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Am currently reading  Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. It’s a great read for any music fan especially one with an interest in the punk scene in London in the seventies. Viv was a guitarist in an all female band called The Slits who were once so reviled by the establishment that hotels refused to let them stay. Her journey from a north London council estate to a guitarist in a trail-blazing all girl band is recounted with blatant honesty. From the shocking opening passage relating to masturbation the reader is left in no doubt that the writer is no Jane Austen. Albertine’s purpose is to grab hold of people and say ” Right, you’re in for one hell of a ride now.” Inspired by Johnny Lydon’s performance in the Sex Pistols for not trying to be anyone else, singing in his own accent, Viv formed a band called Flowers of Romance with Sid Vicious and after its demise she joined the Slits.

If like me you are curious about the lives of Vicious, Lydon and Mike Jones of the Clash then you’ll be treated to a sometimes dizzying immersion in their chaotic life styles and regaled with great descriptions of the gear worn on those smoky nights in the Roxy. Punk rock was late to hit an industrial town in North Kerry, in fact years after its inception, a little later than the Kings Road but just as angry and powerful. I remember seeing a local band playing in the town park in Tralee in 1983 and my fourteen year old self fell for the boys with the lips gnarled into a sneer, rangy bodies contorting to the symphony of cacophony, a mass of entropic energy, all ripped jeans and leather jackets.

For excellent anecdotes about Nancy Spungen, McLaren and Westwood, this book is a great read. On a deeper level in the second half of the book Albertine’s story becomes more human as after the demise of the Slits she becomes an aerobics instructor and morphs into a post-punk Jane Fonda teaching at the Pineapple Dance Studios in London, she encounters fertility issues, cancer and divorce. Perhaps there are second acts in life and clearly Viv Albertine is enjoying another time in the sun and a much deserved solo career.

Other books that music lovers will enjoy:

I Play the Drums in a Band Called okay by Toby Litt

Toby Litt is a very fine writer and as a teenager like most of us aspired to be a guitarist in a rock band. His homage to rock and roll is a wry look at the career of a Canadian indie band called okay, who have a meteoric rise from a corrugated-iron shack to join the rock and roll aristocracy with lifetime achievement awards, top 10 singles and the obligatory Japanese stalkers. Narrated by Clap, the drummer, more sensitive than his hedonistic bandmates, this novel is also about growing up and growing older and told in a series of short fragments from the other side of fame.

The Thrill of It All by Joseph O’Connor

The latest novel from Joseph O’Connor is narrated in memoir form by the guitarist Robbie in the fictional band Ships in the Night. As the son of an immigrant Irish family settled in Luton in the Thatcherite 80’s, Robbie bucks tradition by forming a band with the cross-dressing Fran, beautiful Trez and her geezer brother Sean. Much of the humour of the novel arise from the sometimes fraught but always tender exchanges between the staid but loving father, Jim, who works at the local Zoo and is alarmed that education is turning his son into a “Daisy.” The passages where the inebriated Robbie has a late night meeting with Jim are comedy gold for all of us who ever played the role of mouthy teenager in a late night kitchen drama featuring a discombobulated parent.

Robbie is “beckoned to the kitchen” as he tries to creep up the “reversing escalator that drunkenness made of the stairs.” The tirade has a familiar ring to it with mentions by Jim of electricity bills, phone bills, treating the house like a hotel and “ruined tea.” The book is a love story from Joseph to rock and roll bands and is peppered with musical references and song titles so is a most-read for all music nerds. For any fans of Spotify, all the songs referenced in the novel are compiled under The Thrill of it All by Joe O’Connor, compiled by Andrew Basquille. For all lovers of blues, ska, classic showtunes, New Wave and punk the soundtrack is an inspired choice for a Summer’s evening with a chilled glass of wine and a healthy escape into the nostalgia of the soundtrack of O’Connor’s youth.

Click the link below to listen to Andrew Basquille’s playlist The Thrill of it All by Joe O’Connor on Spotify:
http://open.spotify.com/user/1156055282/playlist/6ngOhdMYElcDcsgnbjOiUW

 

 

Holiday reading

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I always love to rediscover an old holiday read on the bookshelf, its pages stained with sun tan lotion, the pages clumped and curling from frequent encounters with my dripping self. I can always remember the holiday where it earned its battered state, the beach or poolside that provided the backdrop to its disfigurement and post- sodden state. Summer reads like destinations should supply just enough entertainment to help the mind unravel. A tome that requires too much concentration as you lie poolside is never a good idea.

I attempted Thomas Piketty’s ” Capital” on day one on the beach and after half an hour was in an advanced state of anxiety about the World, the economy and my own meagre place in all this. I abandoned it for an Autumn night, made immediate peace with the fact that I’ll never have much money, it seems to elude me somehow, like the green light in Gatsby.

I returned to my supply of novels that promised to transport me to other lives and other sensibilites. I can highly recommend the following beach themed books.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub- a deftly observed novel about the secrets,lies and jealousies that bubble to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler- The character Delia Grinstead vanishes without any reason. She sheds her old life for a new and exiting one, which makes it an ideal holiday read as you lie on the deck chair and think of new schemes and reinventions.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf- enter into this landmark novel of high modernism and join the Ramsay family in their summer house off the coast of Scotland, as prepare to be transformed by this moving portrait of family life.

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh- From the Ramsays at the turn of the century, you can now join the long-married Jenn and Greg on summer vacation in Mallorca. As you sip your vino be prepared for a very steamy read of lust in the lemon groves. Oh, and it doesn’t involve Greg as the object of this lust..

Alison Moore’s first novel ” The Lighthouse ” brings the reader on a holiday that begins on the deck of a ferry, where we meet Futh who is leaving an unravelling marriage for a walking holiday along the Rhine. What follows is a story of repetition and circularity, which is deliciously unsettling. As a Man Booker contender this book lends a bit of literary cachet to your beach look!

Always good when on foreign shores to hark back to the motherland with that peculiar mixture of smug gratitude at having escaped however temporarily and a sort of nostalgic patriotism for the old isle. These books, recently published by Irish authors are superb.
Eimear McBride’s ” A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” is an experience that needs a little commitment from the reader and this award winning book will teach you more about language and consciousness than a PhD in linguistics. She’s hailed as a Joycean genius, make up your own mind.

Colin Barrett’s ” Young Skins” is probably the best collection of short stories I’ve read in the last few years. These stories are based in a fictional Mayo town, and in both style and scope excavate the gaping holes in lives and loves in post-boom Ireland.

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Memoir- Class A Literature?

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For Freud the notion that he would do anything as crass as write an autobiography was unthinkable. A more mercenary nephew had touted the idea to him but he refused and  wrote that “a psychologically complete and honest confession of life would require so much indiscretion about family, friends and enemies that it is simply out of the question.”  Karl Ove Knausgaard would have repelled Sigmund with his six-volume literary epic based on his family and life titled Min Kamp, or My Struggle which has sold millions of copies in his native Norway and subsequently worldwide. I became aware of his work through a writer friend who had also published a memoir and found his work exceptional and unparalleled. I began it as a tome to induce sleep during the Winter of 2013 and was immediately hooked. The prose was flat and conversational and the Karl could write pages about…

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Memoir- Class A Literature?

For Freud the notion that he would do anything as crass as write an autobiography was unthinkable. A more mercenary nephew had touted the idea to him but he refused and  wrote that “a psychologically complete and honest confession of life would require so much indiscretion about family, friends and enemies that it is simply out of the question.”  Karl Ove Knausgaard would have repelled Sigmund with his six-volume literary epic based on his family and life titled Min Kamp, or My Struggle which has sold millions of copies in his native Norway and subsequently worldwide. I became aware of his work through a writer friend who had also published a memoir and found his work exceptional and unparalleled. I began it as a tome to induce sleep during the Winter of 2013 and was immediately hooked. The prose was flat and conversational and the Karl could write pages about such quotidien realities of nappy changing and cooking dinner or indeed going for a hair cut. He had become nauseous from fiction and as an antidote began his memoir powered by the language of the everyday, plotted from the poetry of the prosaic. I loved his long passages about adolescent crushes and his nerdish recollections of musical obsessions and above all the character of his father, remote, distant, feared and troubled whose presence haunted every page. No subject is deemed too secret to divulge, his parent’s messy divorce, his father’s dismal end, all are revealed in razor sharp prose by Ove Knausgaard. He wanted to write reality and for the reader this truthful selling of his soul is liberating and strangely comforting, as if his baring of his secrets to us frees us from the shame of some of our own. He has been compared to Proust and Mann but as a work, perhaps because of its modern setting I would find much more readable than “A la recherche du temps perdu”.

Knausgaard’s work has lent a respectability to memoir as a genre which for many decades was considered to be an embarrassing relative at the banquet of Literature. The kind who gets drunk and embarrasses the art with her tawdry revelations as she sits leaking the family secrets to anyone who’ll listen, unhinged and needy, clearing the dance floor with her jerky arrival.He has received the seal of approval from Eugenides and Zadie Smith wrote that she waited for his next volume with the all the longings and cravings of a crack addict. And I think she nails perfectly the need to find out more about this writer’s life, to maybe find some of our truths in the tomes. In the age of Oprah and reality TV literature has had to start dealing in truth.  Some gems from the last few years include-

Country Girls by Edna O’Brien.

Giving up the Ghost: A memoir by Hilary Mantel.

Bad Blood by Lorna Sage.

Antonia Fraser: Must You Go?

Candia McWilliam: What to look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness.

Aftermath by Rachel Cusk.

Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion.

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway.

Am eagerly awaiting publication of Lilian Pizzichini’s new memoir “Music Night at the Apollo” later this month.

Go on, you know you want to delve in someone else’s memory banks and sift through their secrets. It might just be “unreal”!IMG_0625