Novellas in November continues with Nonfiction Week – where we celebrate short works of nonfiction – and given that it is also Nonfiction November this is the perfect opportunity to mix those challenges!
Time lived, without its flow by denise riley
Time Lived, Without Its Flow was written by the poet Denise Riley in response to the death of her adult son Jacob, and defies all conventions of writing about grief, by striking an unsentimental but perfectly pitched emotional tone.
In this slim, but compelling essay, Riley explores the unusual way in which sequential time is arrested after a sudden death. She is unable to conceive of an ‘after’ and instead lives in a permanent present tense, unable to move forward, stopped in the same way her son’s life has stopped. The first half of the book is written in diary-like entries at different points in time following her son’s death and it builds to form a painful portrait of life after loss. The second half of the book is Riley looking back on her experience and exploring literature of consolation and an acceptance of time as a moving thing again.
If time was once flowing, extended, elongated – a river, a road, a ribbon – now the river is dammed, the road blocked, the ribbon slashed. Well-worn metaphors all shot to pieces.
He is not dead to me.
Written in forthright yet emotional prose, Time Lived, Without Its Flow is a clear-eyed and graceful book, which will provide solace to those living in the wake of grief, without pandering to sentimentality. It is a testament to the ongoing power of a parent’s love. I would also highly recommend you read Riley’s stunning poem – A Part Song – also written about the death of son and included in her collection Say Something Back which won the Forward Prize.
king kong theory by virginie despentes, translated by frank wynne
Virginie Despentes is an icon in France, best known for her Vernon Subutex trilogy and for writing and directing Baise-moi, a film that polarised critics and audiences with its graphic scenes of rape, murder and real sex. King Kong Theory is a series of essays that ruminate on the consequences of making that film, how the writer ‘became’ Virginie Despentes and her views on modern day feminism.
If you know anything of Despentes, you won’t be surprised to hear that this collection is angry, unapologetic and expletive-laden. In it she explores pornography, prostitution (by discussing her own experience of being a sex worker) and rape – detailing her own assault in the 1980s. Hers is a punk sensibility, one that wants women to be treated on the same terms as men and it is hard not to admire the verve and articulate passion with which she holds forth.
I write from the realms of the ugly, for the ugly, the frigid, the unfucked and the unfuckable, all those excluded from the great meat market of female flesh… Because this ideal of the seductive white woman constantly being waved under our noses – well, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist.
At times though, Despentes can fall back on the very clichés that she claims to despise, particularly when talking about men and her treatise that marriage is just a socially accepted form of sex-work is one that feels old-fashioned and facetious. She also has a tendency to equate her personal experience with the experience of all women and many interesting counter-arguments go unexplored.
I didn’t agree with a lot of her points in King Kong Theory, but I did enjoy reading it. It is full of righteous passion and anger and is wonderfully translated by Frank Wynne, who perfectly maintains the narrative voice with a light touch. King Kong Theory is a book that will divide opinion, but I’m glad that Despentes wrote it.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!