Review: The Baby by Marie Darrieusscq

This review first appeared on The Spinoff on 9 April 2019

Before the current bumper crop of radically honest books about motherhood, there was Marie Darrieussecq. Eighteen years ago in Paris, she sat at her desk, notebook open, her baby resting face down on her lap. She let him suckle on the fingers of her left hand; in this position she could hold a pen in her right hand.

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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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Review: Casting Off by Elspeth Sandys

This review was first published in Landfall Review Online on 1 March 2018.

Elspeth Sandys has had many names. Born Frances Hilton James in 1948, she became Elspeth Sandilands Somerville on the occasion of her adoption into the prominent Dunedin Somerville clan at the age of nine months. The circumstances of her birth and adoption, and their impact on her childhood, were the subject of the first volume of her memoir, What Lies Beneath, published in 2014. 

The second volume, Casting Off, starts with another name change. With her first marriage in late 1960, Elspeth inexplicably took on not only her husband’s surname, but a new first name as well – Susan. ‘Till recently,’ she writes, ‘I believed this new Christian name was given to me by my young sisters-in-law, Elspeth being too much of a mouthful, but they have assured me they had nothing to do with it. So the question of who bestowed the name on me, and why, remains unanswered. As does the question of why I agreed to it …’

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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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