What We’ve Been Reading: January 0 Comments

What We’ve Been Reading: January


This month I’ve finished Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke—a must-read for anyone who loves short stories that pack a punch. This book has been in my reading stack for a while, and carousels between the desperation of asylum seekers on a leaky boat to a woman whisked away to Uganda to follow the man she loves. Clarke explores the politics of race, gender, wealth and violence through the lens of convincing, original characters and powerful imagery of landscape and body. Something that stood out for me was how she often writes or has her characters speak in a thick accent or particular dialect: ‘Best ye step away frum de young lady, ye hear mi!’ I like how this challenges you as a reader, encouraging you to pay closer attention to language and the speaking subject.

Also this month I read the January issue of Kill Your Darlings, the Melbourne-based literary journal that specialises in essays, commentary and nonfiction. This edition is packed with gems, but I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy for some really great journalism exploring everything from the fragile future of the Great Barrier Reef to how romantic narratives shape our understanding of domestic violence.


I’d never heard of Ann Quin until this month. It turns out not many people have. Quin received little recognition during her lifetime and faded into obscurity after drowning herself off Brighton’s Palace Pier in 1973 at the age of 37. Her work is experimental, the under-appreciated spirit-baby of Virginia Woolf that everyone overlooked when updating the Modernist canon.

Passages (1969), Quin’s third novella, was the set text for a feminist book club that meets monthly over punch, cucumber sandwiches and a provocation bowl. The ostensible narrative follows a woman and her male lover as they search for her lost brother somewhere in the Mediterranean. It’s split between two voices, which could be distinguished as hers and his, or as multiple reflections of her, or perhaps it’s beside the point. One is poetic and elliptical, constantly shifting between ‘I’, ‘she’ and ‘he’. Dense passages of vivid imagery are interrupted by streams of consciousness, overlapping dreams, fantasies, memories and personalities. The other is written in the form of diary entires, more distant, reflective and self-absorbed, often annotated with references to ancient Greek mythology. The only thing that’s clear is both get off on describing S&M encounters in rich detail.

As is often the case with experimental writing, Passages was a little impenetrable at first. I found myself forgetting almost every sentence the moment it had passed. It was tempting to flip back and re-read the pages in an attempt to eke out a linear narrative. But then there was that moment of submission. I accepted there was nothing to grasp on to and embraced the experience of floating around untethered.



Having had two cats take over my usual reading space (the couch), my books and I have been exiled to the bath. I’m not complaining now that I have mastered the art of not dropping my books in the water. My reading chamber has an adjustable temperature, scented candles, bath bombs and mounds of bubbles. It’s the perfect place to read the sensual books that have filled my last month of holidays.

Anaïs Nin’s Henry and June and Delta of Venus have been filling my bath times for weeks now. They’re the kind of books I almost never want to finish, similar to consuming a box of the best chocolates. Both books are deliciously erotic, with Henry and June taken from Anaïs’ own journals, from the time of her affair with Henry Miller and his wife, June. Anaïs didn’t seem to know how to be shy of sexuality, and records her trysts with Henry with exquisite detail. Alice Walker called it “profoundly liberating,” and it is.

The other seductive book that has filled my bath times is Nikki Gemmell’s The Bride Stripped Bare. Written poetically and fragmentary in the second-person, it follows a newly married woman’s affair with a younger man, and her sexual awakening. The book was originally published anonymously to avoid the possibility of loved one’s hurt feelings; the characterizations of the protagonist’s husband, mother, and best friend are scathing. Though Gemmell states this isn’t the whole reason she published the novel anonymously; it liberated her from caution and shyness surrounding the erotic content.

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