Imagined Art History: an interview with Thomasin Sleigh

This review and interview first appeared on The Pantograph Punch on 21 February 2019.

It’s an arresting title. Women in the Field, One and Two: it seems to hint at some sort of report on experience, a dispatch from the frontier. News from the field, for those of us stuck at home. Which field, though, and what are ‘One and Two’?

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Review: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

This review was first published on The Spinoff on 17 December 2018.

New York. Late 2000. Our narrator is 27. She is thin, pretty, tall, blond. White. She works at a Chelsea art gallery, her first job after graduating from Columbia (art history major), though working is optional – she could live entirely off the inheritance from her dead parents, if she chose. That inheritance pays for her Upper East Side apartment and whatever she wants, which is sometimes designer clothes, but mostly second-hand video tapes of Whoopi Goldberg movies. She tries hard not to call her douchebag ex-boyfriend, Trevor, but often fails.

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Fixin’ to Write: An experiment in “found” writing

In July 2017 my writing group started a collective blog on the creative process called Fixin’ to Write. Each week one of us posts about our experiences of finding creativity in everyday life. Here’s my fourth post for the blog, an experiment in “found writing” inspired by Catherine Chidgey’s The Beat of the Pendulum. It was first published on 22 February 2018.

Due to a recent tweak in my insomniac four-year-old’s bedtime routine, I now spend hours each night sitting outside her room waiting for her to fall asleep while answering the questions that run through her head while she winds down: “Mum, what’s a fawn?” “How do you spell poison?”

It’s painful, but at least it affords me some reading time, and as a consequence I’m churning through the books at the moment. One of the latest is The Beat of the Pendulum by Catherine Chidgey.

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Review: Tess by Kirsten McDougall

This review was first published on The Spinoff on 7 September 2017.

Tess

There’s something about the Wairarapa. Big skies. Beautiful old villas. Close-knit communities, with a pointy edge of small town meanness. There’s also something about the dying days of 1999, that strange, tense moment before we ticked over into the 21st century, when just for a moment it felt like the world might end.

Perfect time and place to set a gothic novel. So we’re on a country road just outside of Masterton, in the rain, a few weeks before the end of 1999 when Wellington writer Kirsten McDougall opens Tess, her second book. Tess is 19, on the run from something, living out of a pack, not eating much and about to fall drastically ill. Lewis Rose, the local dentist, picks her up and gives her a ride into town, where she gets hassled by some errant youths on the street. Lewis intervenes and takes her home to one of those beautiful villas under the big sky. Beautiful, yes, but dusty and disheveled and the garden has run wild. There’s something not right about the garage.

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Review: The Suicide Club by Sarah Quigley

This review first appeared on The Spinoff on 11 July 2017.

Image result for The suicide club sarah quigleyLast week’s “Break the Silence” series by Olivia Carville in the New Zealand Herald was intended to start a national conversation about youth suicide. Are we not already having that conversation? From my own high school days, some 20 years ago, I remember much handwringing and hyper-vigilance about peers who were at risk of self-harm; we all talked about it then. These days we have 13 Reasons Why, (everyone’s talking about that) and news media are slowly but surely breaking down the legal wall that prevents them reporting in detail about suicide. Yet suicide is still, according to the blurb on the back of Sarah Quigley’s new novel, the “last taboo”, and in The Suicide Club she is the latest to enter the conversation.

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Interview: Chris Kraus

This interview was first published on The Spinoff on 9 May 2017.

Chris Kraus’s first novel I Love Dick received a lukewarm reception when it was released in 1997, but has attracted a cult following and been hailed as a feminist classic since its re-release in 2006. As much an art project as a novel (in which every reader participates – try reading it on the train) it consists of love letters written by a character named Chris Kraus and her husband Sylvere Lotringer to a cultural critic named Dick. Yes, those are their real names, and there really was a Dick – British art critic Dick Hebdige was so angry about the book that he outed himself as the model for the character when he spoke out to denounce it. For Kraus, the lines between fiction and non-fiction are blurred at best.

The author of three other novels and two books of nonfiction, Kraus continues to collaborate with her now ex-husband Lotringer on Semiotext(e), the publishing company they co-edit with Hedi El Kholti. Though she was born and lives in the US, she spent her teenage years and early adulthood in Wellington, having Marmite smeared in her hair by the kids at Wellington High in the 1970s, and working full-time as a feature writer for the Sunday Times by the age of 17. At 21 she returned to the US to pursue an art career and spent decades making performance art and experimental films on the fringes of the US and LA art scenes. The recent revival of I Love Dick – a television adaption created by Jill Soloway (Transparent) premieres in the US on May 12 – means Kraus is finally enjoying the wide acclaim she deserves. Her 2006 novel Torpor is about to be re-released and she has a new book coming out in August.

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Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

This review first appeared on The Spinoff on 27 April 2017.

Roxane Gay is good at opening sentences. Examples from her first short story collection, Difficult Women: “The stone thrower lives in a glass house with his glass family.” “When I was a young girl, my husband’s father flew an air machine into the sun.” And my favourite: “We are having a heated debate about whether or not yogurt can expire when my husband suggests we stay together but see other people.”

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Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

This review was first published on The Spinoff on 5 December 2016.

It creeps up on you, this novel. It opens in 1964, at a christening party in suburban Los Angeles. Bert Cousins shows up uninvited with a big bottle of gin. The backyard is full of citrus trees groaning with oranges – the mixer. Everyone gets rather loose, and Bert unwisely kisses the hostess, Beverly Keating. Continue reading “Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett”