What do you look for in a girl? Are you a chest man? An ass man? Or are you a book-in-her-hands man?
What do you look for in a girl? Are you a chest man? An ass man? Or are you a book-in-her-hands man?
101 short ‘stories’ (or paragraphs, really) each 101 words long, each one more bizarre than the last. I’ve had this book for years and find myself dipping into it whenever I feel like laughing. Each story is narrated by an unnamed man who is experiencing one difficulty or another with a girlfriend. The stories are disturbingly hilarious and undeniably dark with a common thread of absurdity running through them. Here’s a little taster; enjoy!
My girlfriend told me she had been the victim
of nature’s cruellest trick, that although born
male she had always felt female. She said she
had started dressing in women’s clothes at
the age of seventeen, and three years later
had undergone the necessary surgery. I was
stunned, but told her that I loved her first and
foremost as a person, and that I would give her
all the emotional support she needed. She
looked horrified. She had only been joking.
She left me. She said she was going to find a
real man, not some queer little gayboy like me.
I found my girlfriend smashing our two-year-
old’s toes with a rock. I told her to stop. ‘What
are you doing?’ I cried, above the baby’s
‘You wouldn’t understand,’ she said,
winding a bandage tightly around the crushed
digits. ‘It’s a woman thing. It’ll help her get a
‘But darling, don’t you remember what the
doctor told us? It’s a boy baby.’
‘Really?’ She looked surprised. ‘Oh well.
Men look nice with small feet too. I expect
he’ll be gay, anyway. He’s got that look about
him. See?’ I had to agree that she had a point.
My girlfriend started charging me for sex. She
said she had to think of her future, and
anyway her friends did it so why shouldn’t
she? I didn’t mind too much because her basic
rates were very reasonable, although she
always expected tips for extras. Once, as she
was holding the banknotes I’d given her up to
the light to make sure they were real, I asked
her if she ever went with anyone else for
money. She was furious, and asked what kind
of girl I thought she was. I said one with
laughing eyes, and lovely long dark hair.
I often wonder if everyone else is going through their 20s like I am. In a fog of confusion, laced with a hope that one day soon your life will change into one of modern fairy tales: a deliciously quirky, non-traditional happily ever after. The internet is filled with these made up lists of ways to live a happy and fulfilled life, yet I wonder how many of us actually achieve anything close to that. We still feel like we’re waiting for our ‘real’ life to begin. Someone failed to remind us that it had indeed started 27* years ago (*insert your own age as appropriate). What’s funny (or maybe even not so funny) is that we’re not quite able to put a finger onto what it is we do want, all we know is that it isn’t ‘this’.
I stumbled upon Vanessa Jones’s book, ‘Twelve’, in my favourite charity bookstore, and it was the tag line that instantly caught my eye: ‘How should a young woman live now?‘ This is something that’s currently being discussed in the media through the publication of Sheila Heti’s ‘How Should a Person Be?’ and also through that TV show, ‘Girls’. Though the book is over 10 years old and could be described as being no longer relevant, I was curious to see how much life has changed for young women (actually, young people in general) since, if indeed it has at all. I found that it hasn’t.
Lily is the central character of ‘Twelve’, leading a life that she needs ‘constant respite from’. Her cyclical life of weekend-waiting depicts a restlessness that we all have, or at least I think we have. It is insatiable. It’s as though we were promised something, a multi-tasking life where you can have it all; a life that has actually turned out to be unattainable.
I believe this period of unrest in your 20s, where you’re plagued by inaction and a lack of motivation, is called a Quarter Life Crisis. Or just laziness. Whichever term suits you best.
I panic about my age more often than I should or is probably healthy. With the threat of 30 looming over me like a baby buggy armed with a breast pump, at this point in my life, most of my conversations are about this point in my life. In the movie version of my life I’d be immaculately turned out at all times, have all my sh*t sorted out, live in an amazing apartment that I own (despite working in a creative industry where you’re supposed to be grateful to work for a pittance of a ‘salary’), with a wonderfully intelligent boyfriend who just happens to look like a model, and a group of hilarious friends that would make even Carrie Bradshaw squirm with envy. And I’d be played by Kerry Washington. Naturally.
The reality is pretty much the opposite of the above. I have kinda funny friends; but that’s about it. So, like Lily and her friends Josh, Edward and Mary, I live in a state of perpetual confusion. Lily points out that we are at that stage of our lives when ‘we have almost completely let go of our dreams into the i-wish abyss. But not quite. Another year perhaps, two? At most five.’ There’s still this tiny window of hope that our dreams may miraculously come true, but it’s a very small window that reduces in size with each passing year.
This book is about nothing. Yet at the same time it’s about everything. About all those seemingly pointless but nevertheless heavy thoughts that are rooted in your mind. Vanessa Jones is very gifted at articulating the things those of us in our late 20s feel but have difficulty vocalising. For example, in the book, after much agonising, Lily and Josh decide to go to a house party, with Lily quickly admitting that ‘Parties and clubs and bars, they’re always incredibly exciting in advance, and such a good idea afterwards. But while you’re actually there? Somehow they make coming home such a relief.’
The truth of this remark is almost blinding. I’ve reached that age where going out clubbing is about as enjoyable as a pap smear yet I convince myself to do it again out of a feeling of obligation because these are things that ‘young people’ do: grind up against strangers in a dark, sweaty room. You allow yourself to briefly forget how tedious it was the last time and get yourself excited about the potential of the evening only to find yourself inevitably sighing with relief when you eventually make it back to your bed. It dawns on Mary that perhaps she’s ‘never been in the mood. Perhaps it has all just been an effort of will.’ Lily rightfully says: ‘It’s so solitary this. It’s not socialising at all.’
A contemplation on life in your 20s would not be complete without a mention of our love lives:
‘I have what most people have, the reason most people wish for love but which is, ironically, love’s biggest barrier: a longing to get, via somebody else, a different life.’
Sorry to be a mood-killer, but this notion of love being a ticket to a different life is what most people secretly hope for, even if they never say it. We place our happiness in someone else’s lap hoping they’ll look after it on our behalf. Feed it, water it when necessary. Take it out for walks on occasion. Maybe even have sex with it.
But before we get to the whole ‘love’ part, there is the self-induced punishment that is called ‘dating’. My God. Is it possible to be this jaded? We just go through the motions, and it’s all about tactics, strategies and risk; a business proposal. Lily’s friend Edward and his girlfriend Anna, take it in turns to chase one another, to be the interested party; reaffirming that old adage: ‘As soon as I haven’t got you, I want you, as soon as I have you, I can no longer desire you’.
Lily goes on a date with a guy called Colin who runs after her in a train station and gives her a piece of paper with his number on it. Initially she’s flattered, but doesn’t want to call him. But then she thinks, what would be the point of this incident if, after being asked what happened next, she replied with ‘Nothing’? Life isn’t simply handed to us, ‘memories are things you have to earn.’ So when Lilly decides to ‘earn’ this memory, she goes on a date with Colin and has a perfectly good time with him. But then two weeks pass by and she doesn’t hear from him at all. In true fashion:
‘for those two weeks I was not worth knowing. If I was pretty, it was only from afar; if I was interesting , it didn’t extend beyond an afternoon; if I was funny, not funny enough; if I was kind, so what? None of these things merited more than just one kiss from Colin.’
It’s funny how someone we don’t even know that well can define the parameters within which we define ourselves. We make them ‘[custodians of our personalities]’. But then Lily, like most people her/our age is an over-thinker. And over-thinking soon turns into negativity. This negativity tends to disappear as soon as the phone rings again, and we tend to start playing our part, again, the role we’ve always played in this plot. We go through the motions, dissatisfied because we realise that what used to keep us content when we were younger, no longer does the trick: ‘Luxury turns right turns given turns necessity. When I was younger I could have moved in with someone who lived in a barrel of water, but I have definite needs now, definite edges.’ We make our excuses and exit the stage, back to looking for another small part in what will likely be the same play. This is romance today.
And, of course, there’s also work. Stuck in an office job where she clock-watches in anticipation of the weekend, Lily comes to learn that the weekend is equally as disappointing as the week because it never amounts to anything: ‘The weekend becomes the week again. The excitement never manifests.’ Like her, we watch as our general joie de vivre is sucked out of us with each passing minute of the office clock. Discussing budgets and margins we betray the ambition of our youth and without realising, slowly switch from being anti-establishment and referring to the company as ‘they’ to conforming and referring to them as ‘we’ and their actions as ‘our’. They say it’s called growing up.
Tired of this, Lily’s friend Mary decides to spend time outside of the city, at a dead relative’s barn-house, and wonders if we don’t all live in London*(insert NY, LA, Paris or any other major metropolis that is crowdedly lonely) because we don’t have the imagination not to. Eek!, this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of laziness. Perhaps Big City dreams are all cliche and no substance now? Or worse still, we’re too lazy to create that substance; it’s more work than we’d anticipated.
So you’d be forgiven for thinking that those experiencing a Quarter Life Crisis are just miserable, self-absorbed and annoying, so introverted and irritatingly analytical of all life’s disappointments and failings. Josh reprimands Lily, wanting to make her see that she is, perhaps, the biggest obstacle to her own happiness:
‘But you spend your whole time looking for something new to excite you without ever building on what you’ve got. You want answers when you don’t even know what the question is. You’re after an easy fix.’
– Is this what is essentially wrong with us? Are we searching for something that doesn’t exist? Something that has been created through our mindlessly conscious absorption of popular culture, an amalgamation of untruths? There are no answers in ‘Twelve’ in the same way that there are no answers in life. I don’t mean to put an overtly negative spin on things, but maybe these days we’re too distracted to be happy. Or perhaps we have too much information to be happy. The more we know, the less we are satisfied. As they say, ignorance is bliss. If you were to refute this and say that knowledge only fuels our imagination, and that we are only limited by this imagination, well, Josh will tell you: ‘Some people say that the human imagination is limitless, but try conceiving a colour that doesn’t exist and you’ll see how wrong they are.’ (I’ve tried this and, yes, it is indeed impossible). I’m surprised that Vanessa Jones isn’t more of a household name as her articulation of obscure truths is often mesmerising in this book:
So do I recommend you read ‘Twelve’? Yes, if only to know that you are not alone in your constant dissatisfaction and that your obsessive questioning of all this meaninglessness is shared. ‘Then, in the end, all times become ‘that time’, one day this time will be no more important than that time is now.’ – In the end, none of this matters. As with everything, time allows these moments of seeming significance to fade into obscure insignificance: ‘But perhaps that’s what she’s learnt about the end, it’s meaningless until you’ve got there. And sometimes even then.’ And perhaps, like this book suggests, for people like me, it’s a process of elimination. A long process that will eventually result in the right course. So maybe we should all just try to be insanely happy in the mean time. Like this girl:
I know I didn’t post this in time for it to be useful for your Saturday afternoon bookstore visit, but thought I’d post this just in time for your Saturday night out! Some of these are bound to work at a bar. If you’re not married by the end of the weekend, then you’re definitely not saying it right.
I came across this beautiful poem on tumblr about grammar and punctuation and love. It made me smile.
This book can only be described as beautiful. The words heart-breaking, the sentences haunting, the image built washed in sadness, but also with a precise understanding of human emotion. If there’s any book that forces you to think about your place in this world in relation to others, to think of life and death, of grief and loss, of happiness and contentment; it is this one written by Emmanuel Carrère (and translated by Linda Coverdale).
Other Lives But Mine is a creative non-fiction novel, and I’ll let Carrère tell you in his own words what it’s about:
Every day for six months I deliberately spent several hours at the computer writing about what frightens me the most on this earth: the death of a child for her parents and the death of a young woman for her husband and children. Life made me a witness to those two misfortunes, one right after the other, and assigned me – at least that’s how I understood it – to tell that story.
I was instantly drawn in by the first part of the book which takes place in December 2004. Carrère and his girlfriend Hélène are on holiday in Sri Lanka with their respective sons. By sheer chance, on the catastrophic morning of the now infamous tsunami, they decide to remain at their cliff-top hotel instead of going down to the beach. A halfhearted decision that saves their lives. Juliette, the four year old daughter of a young couple they had recently befriended, was playing at the water’s edge when the wave hit.
Only yesterday evening they were like us and we like them, but something happened to them and not us, so now we belong to two separate branches of humanity.
Her death and those of thousands around them is a highly sobering event, causing Carrère to reflect on his own life (the night before the wave, he and Hélène had talked about separating). The cold stare of death and the courage of others through adversity allows them to find a new, deeper appreciation for one another. His description of the chaos that ensued and of the conflicting yet honest human emotions experienced post-disaster is truly mesmerising:
Shortly after their return from Sri Lanka, Carrère is once again witness to death; this time, of his girlfriend’s sister (also Juliette) to cancer. At just 32, she left behind a husband and three small children. Juliette had already suffered from cancer as a teenager, the treatment leaving her with one paralysed leg and the other partially so. Despite this setback she went on to succeed, graduating from law school to become a ‘good’ judge on a defiant pursuit of justice.
Juliette and her family live in a small French town called Rosier, living a life that is stripped back to basics. A life in Rosier was ‘life as it appeared in TV ads, average in all things, devoid not only of style but also of the sense that style might be something to strive for.’ It is a life that Carrère readily admits he does not want but recognises that choosing to live there is to choose love.
It is after her death that Carrère decides to start writing this book, first interviewing her close friend and fellow judge, Étienne (who has also lost a leg to cancer), and then her husband, Patrice. This is the part where I felt the book faltered. We spend a lot of time focusing on Étienne’s life and work and in trying to explain how together they were greats judges, I felt Carrère focused too much on the legal details and duly got bored. That’s the only time that I put the book down.
It’s probably worth mentioning that this book can be classed as metafiction because quite a bit of space is spent discussing the writing process and the actual text itself, almost as if to justify its authenticity or indeed Carrère’s credibility as a narrator. He is incredibly open about bits of the book that he considered leaving out or sought approval from his subjects before publishing. This whole project appears to be almost cathartic.
Juliette’s courage in the face of death and the courage of little Juliette’s parents to go on after the tsunami gives a real insight into human resilience and into the nature of love and acceptance. Carrère always found himself lacking and I suppose what he is ultimately trying to explain to us is that these two deaths have taught him how to love and be loved in return. Seeing Juliette on her death bed in Patrice’s arms is enough for him to know that her life has been a success.
This book is a contemplation on mortality and by extension, the strength of the connections we make with other humans while we are alive. There’s a line that Carrère reads from his hotel magazine in the aftermath of the tsunami that stuck with me: “If we knew how vulnerable it makes us, we’d never dare to be happy”, a sentiment he says does not concern him as he has never dared to be happy. Makes you think…
Although distracting in sections there are parts of this book that are, to quote a reviewer, ‘sheer brilliance’. The writing is unadorned, simple; yet it is searing. Carrère is certainly one to look out for. Will definitely look to reading some of his other titles.
If it hadn’t been for the child then none of this might have happened.
She saw me kissing her father.
She saw her father kissing me.
The fact that a child got mixed up in it all made us feel that it mattered, that there was no going back.
I’m not sure how I feel about Anne Enright. This is the second of her books that I’ve read (technically 1.5 as I couldn’t quite finish the first) and although this book is miles better than her Booker prize winning The Gathering and has given me a glimpse into the reason why she’s rated so highly, there is still something that’s holding me back a little.
The Forgotten Waltz is about adultery; about an affair between two married people, Gina and Sean. Set in Ireland, the entire story is told with hindsight and from Gina’s perspective, so we know from the beginning how this ends. But the story is still charged with us wanting to know how they got there, how this affair started, and how it developed.
Anne Enright writes well, there’s no doubt about that. Some of the passages in here really did take my breath away. She says things that are completely unexpected, but upon reflection, are things so true:
‘…I think how kissing is such an extravagance of nature. Like bird-song; heartfelt and lovely beyond any possible usefulness.’
How beautiful is that? Her depiction of the middle classes is also infuriatingly accurate and brought a smile to my face several times. For example, ‘The room where they slept was white…it was done in horribly similar, crucially different shades of f*cking white.’, and also ‘it was the kind of party where no one ate the chicken skin.’ I laughed at the obscurity of such a remark, but then instantly understood what she meant. These are self-consciously middle class people with middle class concerns, and in truly capturing the nuances of this world, Enright has succeeded.
Gina is very matter of fact, almost dispassionate when speaking of Sean and of the affair, an affair confined to the space of a hotel room, ‘we were only normal for the twelve foot by fourteen of a hotel room. Outside, in the open air, we would evaporate.’ She speaks as though Sean and the affair were these giant forces that were beyond her control:
But once we begun, how were we supposed to stop? This sounds like a simple question, but I still don’t know the answer to it. I mean that we had started something that could not be ended, except by happening. It could not be stopped, but only finished.
But it was hard for me to believe that someone so seemingly indifferent about something would sacrifice so much in order to attain it. She’s a walking contradiction; one minute repulsed by Sean and the next minute almost stalking him in true bunny-boiler fashion. She ultimately finds that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side: It’s pretty much the same colour, just a different type of blade. But I couldn’t reconcile this supposedly epiphanic realisation with someone as smart and cynical as Gina – surely a previously married woman would know that the romance and excitement of a new relationship soon slips into the ordinary?! All the more so if the other adulterer in question has a child. Come on. This is Adultery and Deciding to Leave Your Spouse 101.
A common thread in Enright’s work is the way in which her stories start off in a fascinating way and then they slowly begin to falter and stagnate. The momentum is not kept up, but the beauty of the actual writing (in this book anyway) keeps you going. And Gina is a very interesting narrator. You might call her unreliable, but she goes out of her way to remind you that what she’s telling you may not be what actually occurred, and that her recollections are doused in a self-interested subjectivity. And you can’t help but be grateful for the extent she goes to to prevent the oversimplification of the motivations behind this affair.
For weeks now I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly it is about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ that has caused all this fuss. I’m still at a complete and utter loss. I bought it on my kindle a few weeks ago (with every intention of returning it quickly for a refund, haha), read about 15% of it, couldn’t bear to carry on and then completely forgot to return the damned thing. So now this atrociously written nonsense still sits on my virtual shelf. Maybe I’ll continue reading it one day when True Boredom eats at my skull.
So when I stumbled across this review on Goodreads, I knew that I wasn’t alone. She is absolutely HILARIOUS! I actually burst out laughing on several occasions. I really urge you to read this, it will literally make your day. It’s the gifs (those moving image things) that really make it. Sooo funny.
And she has kindly gone on to review the other two books in the trilogy, saving us from having to read page after mind-numbing page of these poorly written books. Her review of Fifty Shades Darker is equally as funny.
But at the same time, we know that Fifty Shades isn’t meant to be literary fiction, and doesn’t try to be. So why am I so mad at its success? In my defense, is it wrong to expect a little bit of writing ability in a best-selling novelist?
I’m not a literary snob, far from, but can someone please tell me what it is about this particular book that has captured the world’s attention?? What makes this book different from any of the thousands of the Mills and Boon books published before (which, can I say, I DO read on occasion and are definitely better in quality)?
Understated, subtle, yet precise. That is how I’d describe David Szalay’s novel, Spring. This book will resonate with anyone who’s ever been uncertain about where they stand in a relationship.
‘This presumably being the fact that he was in love with her. Or thought he was. Or said he was. Or said he thought he was…’
Meet James – a many times failed entrepreneur, and meet Katherine – an interim receptionist working at a luxury hotel, recently separated from her husband. It’s 2006 and they meet at a wedding, swap numbers and start seeing each other. Straight forward enough. Except the relationship that ensues never quite makes it off the ground, yet we follow them through the painful repetitiveness of a new relationship, a repetition that many reviewers have said is captured in a beautifully mundane precision.
Szalay is very observant of the little nuances, the tiny details that make you smile because they are unique yet universal. He writes with a precision that elevates the ordinary into something more profound, whatever that ‘something’ may be. James spends most of his time wondering if things are ok with him and Katherine, ‘On that question he is insatiable’. He’s highly attuned to every one of Katherine’s slight shifts in mood and she appears to treat him with an indifference that is down-right embarrassing at times, blowing hot and cold in what I found to be a completely unattractive self-absorbed manner. Yet Szalay’s characters are not two dimensional; there are all these layers of thought and reasoning and experience that makes it difficult to judge them outright (as much as you want to, damn it!)
We spend as much time observing their dates as we do witnessing their attempts to actually try and arrange them and this is where Szalay’s gift for dialogue really comes through, because we have all had these awkward phone conversations in our time.
You can’t help but wonder what the point of the whole thing is. Why bother?
The ending is hideously ambiguous, but the novel resonates more as a result. I never fully understood whether or not they actually did love one another. My instinct would be to say of course not, but then maybe this is what love is about in a city like London. You trudge on through and grasp at little pockets of companionship that bring you out of the vapidity, the crowded solitude. I don’t know…Maybe this also touches on that feeling a lot of people have in their late twenties/early thirties where you’re a little bit jaded and happy to settle into something rather than aimlessly try and reach for that elusive something else: ‘No more magnificence. Now he just wants to be okay.’
Gosh, this is depressing. But then, this is not chick lit, it’s real. No tint of rose. And if you’re able to look beyond the cyclical nature of their relationship (James calling, Katherine not picking up) the writing is effortless.
But this book is not without its flaws. There are characters brought into the storyline for what feels like fairly weak reasons. The frequency with which these characters enter the plot is inconsistent and the subplot of betting and race horses (James’s most recent entrepreneurial endeavour) seems completely unnecessary, adding very little to the book.
If you like stories that are character rather than plot based, you’ll really enjoy this. Whereas if you like your books to have a distinct narrative arc, I probably wouldn’t bother.
If you’ve read this, what did you think of Katherine? Was I the only one who really didn’t like her? And though I liked James did anyone else hope he would eventually develop a backbone? Do you think there was any kind of genuine love in this relationship as opposed to simply wanting to feel? Or is Katherine simply just not that into James?
If you’re the type who gets easily offended I’d stay clear of this book, you will only get mad. The cover warns you that this book has sexually explicit content, and indeed it does. Really does. There isn’t a single paragraph that deviates from the subject of sex. I, personally, don’t offend easily and can see humour in almost anything, but even I was tested at times.
Chad Kultgen is the guy who wrote this book, The Average American Male. In the ‘About the author’ section it says he studied at USC, that he lives in California and that this is his first book. We know nothing else about Chad before reading this book (unless of course you decide to Google him or something). Although after reading, I had come to the conclusion that this was a very sick and perverted man, albeit a very funny, sick and perverted man.
But then, if I’m to believe what he’s telling me, this is precisely how the average American male thinks and behaves, how their minds operate. And due to globalisation, the term ‘American’ can be extended to describe all men residing in the Western World.
The unnamed narrator has a girlfriend, Casey, whom he cannot stand; too clingy, physically not up to scratch and isn’t up for sex all the time. She manages to rope him into planning a wedding for a marriage that he doesn’t want and did not ask for and has no intention of going through with. After finding his way out of this situation he goes on to find every guy’s Dream Girl, Alyna, one with an insatiable appetite for sex and a love of video games. Naturally. And so we follow him through his sexual exploits in a world that revolves around him and the constant need to be sexually gratified.
It would be too obvious to say this book was written for guys. Although I might be trying to read too much into this narcissistic drivel and this is precisely what it is: bedtime reading for teenage boys.
*SPOILER* The closing scene describes the narrator resignedly asking Alyna to marry him: ‘Her lack of hesitation as she accepts disgusts me.’ I honestly burst out laughing when I read that. Though the message may be bleak, there is a sliver of truth here with regards to this notion of the purpose of human life and what it means. Kultgen appears to be touching on the idea that we search for meaning through these milestones borne of tradition. One cannot simply be and instead looks for meaning through the ‘next step’, whether that be further education, marriage, children; whatever. We’re all haunted by the question, ‘What more is there in life?’, and this unending search for the intangible continues.
Underneath the sex, the kink, and all the vulgarity, and maybe even despite of all this, you can’t deny that he’s darkly amusing. Ok, very darkly amusing. He may be one of the most narcissistic fictional (?) characters you’ll ever have the displeasure of meeting, but you certainly won’t forget him.
Maybe it’s just me.