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Saturday, 15 February 2014

Eat My Heart Out by Zoe Pilger: post-novel thoughts

James Walton claimed in his review of this extremely interesting novel: "Not since Martin Amis’s early work can I remember a novel so exhilarated - and made so exhilarating - by its own sense of disgust," and I'd be hugely inclined to agree. Pilger's intense and mostly unlikeable characters all seem to balance their awful behaviour and twisted visions with a spark of something moral. Our narrator, Ann-Marie, appears to be quite seriously insane, however she is but a lost young girl, and her desperation for her old love to return to her and fix everything reminds me endlessly of Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous The Great Gatsby. There is a true sadness, but it seems to be distorted in a sense - a vision of something that doesn't exist. In fact, everyone in the book seems to be grasping for that unreachable feeling, even the crush-turned-stalker Vic in his public bleeding and grotesquely naked state, which is yet another parallel between Pilger's work and The Great Gatsby, "he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them goodbye." His "incorruptible dream" is a symbol that I see in Pilger's novel; each bizarre character might disgust us intensely but also they all believe in something so passionately, be it right or wrong, that it becomes incorruptible. It is the unreachable aspect of it that drives them crazy and I think it is that which appeals to me here.

I'm still trying to figure out if this Virginia Woolf on MDMA style novel is a feminist critique or a feminist critique of feminist critique; in some ways I think it is one, in some I think it is undeniably both. I'm struggling to write like I usually would because I'm still trying to figure out if the character of feminist author Stephanie Haight (you say it 'hate' - a pointed pronunciation reference) is an awesome feminist role model or certifiably insane. What does this say of Pilger's view on feminists? Ah, well, I think this is where it gets clever. I think that this is the strongest argument for the novel being a critique on feminist critique; Pilger wants us as readers to question Stephanie Haight's values and moral stance but she also wants us to draw on the good in Haight. She wants us to understand the 'extracts' from Haight's book in the novel and appreciate them but also to understand how they must be balanced. You cannot enslave another woman and claim it is an attempt to make her understand she does not need men. You cannot surgically castrate an innocent man in a Cambridge University room to prove his unknown-to-him wrongdoings. We draw from this, then, that Haight is not mentally well (to be fair, nobody seems to be. It's an explosion of the out of the ordinary), and yet still her writings on feminism seem to be exciting and truthful. It is obvious through this contorted exploration how well informed Pilger is in writing this novel. While the book appears to be a cacophony of wild relationships, shit on the walls, boiled animals and extremely raw love, it is a well thought out and cleverly structured story. It's made me think more than most other books have in a long time; I feel refreshed and I feel vaguely violated. Violated as in, I didn't know I was going to experience that and now I have, I still have to work out how I feel. In this context, I think it's a good thing. I want to say the novel was punchy, which it was, but I can't help feeling that pinchy describes it better (despite that not really being a word). It's nippy, it catches you when you are at your most involved, it's painful but the sting doesn't last too long before the next. Pinchy, in that it kind of hurt but you kind of enjoyed it... except I definitely enjoyed this book a LOT.

"The birds started singing. They seemed to be shouting their song and it was hateful."

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