So I was enjoying my annual appointment with the BBC series North and South (2004), based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel of the same name and starring (oh joy!) Richard Armitage as John Thornton (left) and poor Daniela Denby-Ashe, excised from this version of the DVD cover (because the BBC are nothing if not pragmatic in assessing the greatest attractions of the series), as Margaret Hale. The picture on the left links to the amazon.co.uk page where you can acquire this great treasure for just £5 (at time of writing). That’s just £1.25 an episode! It’s a bargain, for what is without a doubt my favourite BBC adaptation of recent years, and you would be FOOLS to pass it up.*
Anyway … back to the point … so I was watching North and South, yes, again, and this time round I was struck by the subplot involving Margaret’s brother Frederick, who is in the navy. He has been part of a mutiny (against a cruel and tyrannical captain, of course, so it’s all entirely honorable) and in consequence has had to flee England for Spain. Now, I was familiar with the subplot (which intersects with the main plot in some important ways that I won’t describe, for fear of spoiling it for those of you who have just bought your DVD sets), but for some reason I’d never really thought before about the way Frederick’s story fits into the geopoetic framework of the novel: that is, the distinction between North (Mr Thornton and Darkshire / Lancashire) and South (Margaret / Hampshire).
In the BBC adaptation, Fred’s life in the southern Spanish city of Cadiz is mentioned, but we don’t get much detail on it (Rupert Evans plays Fred, right – note how his free Spanish life is reflected in his hair and dress, compared to poor suited-up John, above). In the novel, which I reread over a weekend earlier this month, we learn rather more about his situation. After a period in South America, he is now at Cadiz, working for an English merchant called Mr Barbour (an old friend of his father’s), and is engaged to Barbour’s daughter, the Anglo-Spanish Dolores. In Cadiz, although he must live under an assumed name, he has credit and prospects, which improve immensely with his marriage at the end of the novel. Fred’s relationship with Dolores is played out against the history of Dolores’s own parents’ relationship, in which Barbour, ‘a stiff Presbyterian’ when Mr Hale knew him, has evidently relaxed enough to marry his Roman Catholic wife. Fred, too, has converted to Catholicism (Ch. XXXI), and this transformation is reflected on a more immediate level in his language, as his letters arrive ‘with little turns and inversions of words which proved how far the idioms of his bride’s country were infecting him‘ (Ch.XLI; my emphasis). Continue reading
The research for my current book, The Edwardians and the Making of a Modern Spanish Obsession, has turned up dozens of long-forgotten writers, commentators and artists who in their different ways, shaped the modern British view of Spain. Many of them were of Anglo-Spanish origin or had family connections that placed them at the heart of the international networks through which Anglophone knowledge about Spain was circulated. One of my favourites is Leticia ‘Lily’ Higgin who, under the gender-neutral semi-pseudonym of ‘L Higgin,’ wrote the almost-but-not-quite-forgotten study Spanish Life in Town and Country (left), first published in 1902.*
Higgin’s book was evidently popular in its time – it went through at least three editions (1902, 1904, 1906) and was read in the UK, the US and – as a passing mention in Sofia Casanova’s 1910 lecture La mujer española en el extranjero (The Spanish Woman Abroad) shows – in Spain. However, Higgin herself has remained something of an enigma – indeed, reviews from the time, which assume ‘L Higgin’ to be male, indicate that her identity was not widely known. In addition to Spanish Life, she also authored a number of articles on Spanish themes for the Fortnightly Review between 1904 and 1911, and between these and some genealogical digging, I’ve been able to establish the following skeleton biography:
Remember Spain’s mega-blockbuster El tiempo entre costuras? Of course you do. It’s been inescapable in Spain for the last couple of years. I even reviewed the English translation over at Books4Spain, although I haven’t had the opportunity to watch the TV series yet. And its author, María Dueñas, hasn’t been slacking. Her second novel Misión olvido (Mission: Oblivion) is released today, and various excerpts have been released to tantalise us. It’s definitely worth a look, even if the comments over at El País suggest the inevitable backlash is in full swing. So far, I’ve found:
So, what’s it like? Well, I’ve read both extracts, and I’m intrigued, not least because on the strength of this extract at least, it sounds very autobiographical. Dueñas, of course, is a Professor of English at the Universidad de Murcia, and has been on sabbatical in the US for the last couple of years. All being well, I’ll be off to the US myself next spring for a couple of months, to work on the Edwardians book and visit some Spanish community archives, so I might just pop Misión into my suitcase as inspiration. Or not … depending on how the protagonist’s trip turns out.
So, back to The Holiday. As I think I might just possibly have mentioned before, the major priorities for the week, other than a touch of sightseeing and a generous sampling of sack, were swimming and reading, reading and swimming, swimming, reading, and swimming some more. And as you can see (left), the conditions were particularly lovely for both. Bliss.
La Catedral del mar had already taken us perilously close to a budget airline baggage limit that was clearly not devised with the holidaying bookworm in mind, and so, in a frenzy of late-night pre-departure downloading, I filled up the Kindle with an eclectic range of classics, obscure-but-out-of-copyright 19th-century novels, and a couple of newly-published things I’d spotted in the Saturday reviews. One of these was Clare Clark’s brand new historical novel Beautiful Lies, set in 1887 London, which had been out barely a month, and whose blurb begins:
It is 1887, and an unsettled London is preparing for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. For Maribel Campbell Lowe, the beautiful, bohemian wife of a maverick politician, it is the year she plans to make her own mark on the world. But her husband’s outspoken views inspire enmity as well as admiration – and the wife of a member of parliament should not be hiding the kind of secrets Maribel has buried in her past…
All very intriguing, and as you can probably imagine, most UK reviewers have responded to the heavy PR nudge, and made the connections between the novel’s setting and our very own Jubilee Year, with its backdrop of social, political and economic chaos. However, what drew me to the novel was the apparently throwaway remark in Lucy Scholes’s review in the Indy, that the novel’s protagonists, Maribel and Edward Campbell-Lowe, are based on ‘the real-life couple, Robert Cunninghame Graham and his wife Gabriela’.
Now, this is where the process of reviewing the novel gets interesting, at least for me. The Cunninghame Grahams are are a fascinating pair, each with a colourful biography that is practically a novel in itself. HOWEVER. The more you know about their life together, the less surprised you will be by Clark’s story of Maribel and Edward Campbell Lowe, and so, in the spirit of fair reviewing, I’m not going to give anything away here.* Instead, for those of you who are wondering what a contemporary British novel set in London is doing on a blog called Books on Spain, here are some (hopefully) unspoilery thoughts on the Cunninghame Grahams and their place in my current book project.
I have just seen the very sad news that the ground-breaking writer and publisher Esther Tusquets has died in Barcelona at the age of 75.
Tusquets was born a month after the start of the Spanish Civil War, and her earliest memories, as recounted in her first volume of autobiography Habíamos ganado la guerra (We had won the war, 2007), were of a comfortable childhood within the cloistered Franco-supporting Catalan bourgeoisie. Leaving the Francoist expectations of women and their role behind, she would become a huge figure in modern Spanish literature, both as director for some forty years of the publishing house Lumen, and as a novelist and memoirist in her own right – although she did not make her debut as a writer until she was in her forties. She became a darling of Anglo-American feminist Hispanism in the 1980s, largely thanks to the lyrical, experimental and hugely challenging trilogy of novels known as La trilogía del mar (The Sea Trilogy, 1978-1980): El mismo mar de todos los veranos (The Same Sea as Every Summer, 1978), El amor es un juego solitario (Love is a Solitary Game, 1979), and Varada tras el último naufragio (Shipwrecked After the Final Storm, 1980).
Every student of contemporary Spanish literature will have their own memories of encountering these wonderful, difficult, frustrating novels, in which – in a dramatic inversion of everything then current in Spanish writing – women’s language, women’s desire, women’s bodies, women’s love for other women – are placed at the centre of the literary universe. In my own case, picking up my dog-eared copy of El mismo mar de todos los veranos, I can see from the frustrated pencil slashes and dots how much I was challenged by Tusquets’s characteristic, flowing language and sentence structure – pages, pages, pages without a full stop or a paragraph break – and how much I struggled to make sense of it on that first reading. But – BUT – when the penny dropped, and I let myself be carried along in the flow, it was a transcendental moment, and I never looked back.
If you haven’t (yet) read Tusquets, do. Seriously, it’s summer, the air is warm, the nights are long, it’s the perfect time. And if you don’t read Spanish, here’s the link to the U Nebraska Press page for Margaret EW Jones’s 1990 translation of El mismo mar… to start you off.
More: El País Cultura; La Vanguardia; ABC; El Mundo. And here’s Tusquets herself, interviewed on Canal Sur about her 2009 book, Confesiones de una vieja dama indignada (Confessions of an indignant old lady):
This was going to be a review of Tiempo de arena [Time of Sand], by Inma Chacón (above), which I picked up in Tenerife airport a couple of weeks ago and have been gripped by ever since. And then I finished the novel and did a bit of googling and discovered that it’s a sequel! A secret sequel! And so now I have to read the secret prequel…
Tiempo de arena, as I reported back in October, was the runner-up in the Premio Planeta 2011, Spain’s most prestigious prize for fiction. But what none of the publicity, or indeed the book itself, admits is that the story of Tiempo de arena - a family melodrama set against the turbulent geopolitics of the dying days of the Spanish Empire and first faltering steps of the modern 20th century – follows on from Chacón’s 2007 novel Las filipinianas.
I was very sad to hear today that Helen Forrester, author of the wonderful 1993 novel The Liverpool Basque, has died at the age of 92.
One of the perks of researching a new project – in this case, From Cervantes to Sunny Spain – is that until you actually nail down the final structure, pretty much anything can count as research. And so, aided by my newly-beloved Kindle, I’ve been splashing around in the balmy waters of late Victorian and Edwardian novels on all things related to Spain.
I discovered The Far Horizon during a speculative trawl through the Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction, which begins, tantalisingly, ‘Dominic Iglesias, son of a Spanish anarchist, devotes his life to the care of his saintly mother…’ . Fortunately, it looks as if at that point, my green highlighter and I moved on, for the Companion then proceeds to summarise the whole plot in a way that is scrupulously accurate, but – perhaps unsurprisingly in a work of this kind - somewhat lacking in oomph (that’s a technical term, obvs).
So I’m going to be travelling a lot over the next four months – three or four work trips to Spain and two to the US. And as you know, I love to read. I have a long history of schlepping piles of books across international borders (you have to take a lot because you never know what kind of reading mood you’ll be in when you get to wherever you’re going, OBVIOUSLY) and then hitting a bookshop on the first day and leaving my carefully-chosen piles completely unread. It’s a pathology. I’m chronic. And I’m usually very close to my budget airline luggage limit…
And so, after much to-ing and fro-ing, and with enthusiastic encouragement from Mr Booksonspain, who is nothing if not a pragmatist when it comes to the need for books (*because it wasn’t the cats who ordered the 35 mystery novels by a single author that have appeared in our house during the last 6 weeks*), I have finally acquired my first Kindle. And you know what? I *adore* it. I have the 3G version, which means free international web access, which means, yes, I have been able to download stuff on it from here in Spain even when there’s no WiFi available. It also has a rudimentary web browser (currently under development, not sure whether it’s permanent) which has been something of a lifesaver when circumstances have required emergency email access.
First up, thank you everybody for the lovely comments on my blogiversary post! Of course, I wrote it and promptly went off on holiday, hence this belated acknowledgment- but now I’m back and raring to get started on the next 12 months of rants and reviews.
From September, this blog will also be home to updates on my book-in-progress From Cervantes to Sunny Spain, the Making of a Modern Spanish Obsession, 1888-1918 - which means that on top of normal service, I’ll be posting titillating titbits and scintillating snippets about the people, institutions, events, celebrations, exhibitions, tours, performers and – of course! – books that contributed to making Spain public property and a crucial part of British public life during the 30 years between the tercentenary of the Spanish Armada in 1888 and the First World War. That means more trashy Edwardian novels (and some Victorians), more on the Anglo-Spanish royal wedding and the quite spectacular wave of opportunistic literary toadying it provoked, more Hispanophile entrepreneurs, more tourism history (don’t you just love the Booth Line postcard at the top of the post?) and my new obsession, mapblogging. Watch the Cervantes to Sunny Spain tag for more!
Next up, though, will be my promised review of María Dueñas’s El tiempo entre costuras. Watch this space!
Goodness gracious me, but I appear to have let the Very Important Anniversary of my first-ever post here at Books on Spain pass me by. How remiss! So, let’s pretend it’s last Wednesday, and this is my one-year blogiversary post.
A year ago, I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep this up for a month, let alone a year. But here I am! And here, if you’re reading this, are you – in which case, thank you for the support, the comments and the conversations. It’s been wonderful to meet so many new people – friends, writers, colleagues, bloggers – through this space. Notably, one of my reasons for creating Books on Spain was because I’d found very few blogs that talked about books on Spain for an Anglophone audience. And one of the joys of writing here has been to discover some other wonderful blogs that do exactly that. If you enjoy Books on Spain, go and check out By the Firelight, Caravana de Recuerdos, and Liburuak. You won’t regret it!
Ready … get set …. read!
Now I’ve recovered from the marathon that was Julia Navarro’s Dime quien soy, and after a couple of months devoted largely to trashy Edwardian fiction, I’m finally ready to begin the next Project Bestseller marathon read. As promised, my next big Spanish bestseller is María Dueñas’s El tiempo entre costuras (The Time Between Seams).
Since the first edition in June 2009, Dueñas’s novel has barely been out of the bestseller lists. Even in Que Leer’s February 2011 list (the most recent available online at the time of writing), it’s at no. 5 on the overall chart, and no. 3 on the fiction chart, after Javier Sierra’s enthusiastically-promoted El angel perdido (The lost angel, which saw Sierra embark on Spain’s biggest-ever promotional tour) and Federico Moccia’s slightly ickily-promoted Carolina se enamora (Caroline falls in love; original Italian title Amore 14).
Dueñas has been a Professor of English at the Universidad de Murcia in south-east Spain for almost 20 years, which makes her something of a poster-girl for mid-career academic reinvention. In June 2010, she was given two years’ leave to start writing her next novel, which she’s apparently doing at a university in the US. Conveniently, this means she should be on the spot when the English translation appears later this year, as The Time in Between (Simon & Schuster, 8 Nov 2011). Frustratingly, there is no information on the publisher webpage about the translator of the novel, which seems something of a professional diss to whoever’s currently working on it.
And what of the novel itself? I’m only about 50 pages in so far (out of 638), but already I can see that this is going to be a good read. It all begins in 1920s and 1930s Madrid, as the young seamstress Sira Quiroga relates her early life with her single mother, and her meeting with the man who is going to change her life. So far, so formulaic – but the level of writing, the tautness of description, and Sira’s own very likeable narrative voice gives the novel a liveliness and energy which, if it’s sustained, will make this a lively canter rather than a sweaty slog (/marathon metaphors).
Have you read the novel? What did you think of it? And why do you think that of all the historical-memory-civil-war novels currently flooding the Spanish market, it’s this one that has captured Spanish readers’ attention so completely?
So I’m in A Coruña for work, I have a free weekend, and I had this great idea: to figure out what the Edwardian lady travellers I’m currently researching saw while they were here in 1908 (Annette Meakin) and 1910 (Catherine Gasquoine Hartley), and to figure out how many of those things are still recognisable today. Typically, I spent *way* too much time last night designing a Google map to help me achieve this. This is actually the beginning of a small pilot for a bigger project I’m putting together, using geospatial data and visualizations to explore how travellers and tourists have interacted with specific sites through time. It’s a work in progress, and the dynamic version isn’t ready to be shown to the world, but you should be able to get an idea from this screenshot:
What you can see on the right of the screenshot is a map of Coruña’s old and new towns, with the markers I’ve inserted to show places mentioned by Meakin (yellow markers) and Hartley (blue). My route today is marked in green, beginning from the Hotel Riazor on the left of the shot, and proceeding anticlockwise in a large and untidy loop. It took me about 3.5 hours all told, including lunch at the Petite Bretagne on the Rua Riego de Agua (Tudela salad – recommended!), many (many!) photographs, and a stop for meringues at La Gran Antilla (of which more later…). On the left of the screenshot you can see a list of the entries associated with the markers for Hartley and Meakin, which are mostly relevant extracts from the two books I used as my sources, Meakin’s Galicia, the Switzerland of Spain (1909), and Hartley’s Spain Revisited: A Summer Holiday in Galicia (1911). In the dynamic version of the map, you can click on a marker and read what the author had to say about the site you’re looking at.
Spain has been a mainstay of the Anglophone literary imagination for at least two centuries. Most of us are all too familiar with the main co-ordinates of a literary landscape that began (in its modern version at least) with the Romantics and is still in circulation today: Andalusia and the south, Carmen, Don Quixote, bullfighting, sangria, sun, sea, orange blossom, Washington Irving and the Tales of the Alhambra, Dumas’s gateway to Africa, Europe’s exotic, oriental ‘other,’ yadda yadda. But this isn’t the only story, even if it is the most visible one. There’s more to Anglo writing on Spain than the Romantics. Ladies and gentlemen, I present … The Edwardians!*
I talked a couple of posts ago about how the 1906 wedding of the Spanish King Alfonso XIII to the British Princess Ena turned out to be a catalyst for early 20th-century Anglo interest in Spain, and for the last couple of months, I’ve been tracking down some of the gloriously trashy Anglo novels on Spain published as part of the resulting boom.** Many of them, especially the earlier ones, are available on the Internet Archive, thanks to the digitisation efforts of US and Canadian universities and, inevitably (although less helpfully, since their files aren’t as … ahem … saveable) Google. Even so, I’ve been gradually acquiring copies of as many as I can via abebooks, antiqbooks and others,*** which is proving both deeply satisfying, and surprisingly inexpensive (yay!).
The last four novels to arrive have been (in order of publication, tho’ I actually read them in reverse of that): A Castle in Spain by Bernard Capes (1903), in which Provencal-English Robin de Lois must travel from Sussex to Napoleonic Spain on a secret mission from his mother; The Spanish Jade, by Maurice Hewlett (1906), in which the jade in question is not a jewel, but a young lady called Manuela, who is saved from assault by stuffy English curate Osmund Manvers, plunging him into a drama of passion that rivals anything described in his beloved Quijote; The Spanish Necklace, by BM (Bithia) Croker (1908), in which repressed Hester Forde comes into a large fortune and learns to take control of her own destiny (and to buy some really impressive jewellery), and finally, Constance Holme‘s The Old Road from Spain (1916). The first three of these have enough in common that we can draw some tentative hypotheses from them about Spain’s place in the Edwardian literary imagination. Holme’s novel - a Mills & Boon, no less – is of a different ilk for a number of reasons, not least in the role played in both plot and setting by the Sheep of Doom (apologies for banging on with the ovine-related buildup, but it’s just too irresistible), and so it’s going to get a review all of its own at some point in the not too distant future.
So I finished it. A couple of weeks ago now, actually. I made it through all 1097 pages of Julia Navarro’s epic bestselling novel Dime quién soy (Tell me who I am; Plaza y Janés, 2010) and ever since I have been trying to figure out what to write in this review. See, it’s not that I didn’t like the book. In fact, I loved it. Loved so much that I carried it around the house, up and down stairs, read it on the sofa, in the conservatory, in the garden, in bed at night. I think I might even have taken it home to my parents for the weekend.
Basically, the novel was the centre of my life for more than a fortnight, although if I hadn’t had, y’know, work things to do, I’d probably just have sat down and read it over a (long) weekend. I was smitten by the story of the 30-something internet journalist Guillermo who is tasked by his aunt to investigate the life of his elusive great-grandmother, Amelia Garayoa. When I announced that I was making a start on the novel, I still hadn’t quite grasped its scope. Navarro herself has described it as a portrait of ‘la memoria del siglo XX y la identidad de esas personas anónimas que lo protagonizaron ‘ (the memory of the 20th century and the anonymous people who lived it), and the story does indeed range widely, from 1930s Spain to Buenos Aires, Berlin, Moscow, London, Milan, Lisbon, Warsaw, Cairo and Paris. If Amelia witnesses and even participates in many of the 20th century’s most significant events at first hand, Guillermo – as he follows her trail through archives, experts, and the ordinary people whose lives Amelia touched – is able to explore how these events have been witnessed, memorialized, and in many cases, of course, forgotten.
It’s true! After buying Julia Navarro’s bestselling monster novel Dime quién soy (Tell me who I am) on my last trip to Spain, and lugging all 1100 pages of the giant hardback across Spain and through the Pennines on my unscheduled diversion via Doncaster (blame the December snows), I have *finally* cracked it open today over a glass of wine in the spring sunshine. [N.B. wine = essential element in acquiring necessary Californian courage to take on this bicep-building project]. 1100 pages! In hardback!
Published in February 2010, Dime has stayed in Spain’s top ten of bestselling books ever since – Qué Leer‘s January bestseller list has it at no. 7 in fiction, and no. 8 overall, just edged out by Mario Conde’s autobiography Los días de gloria. It’s received lots of popular acclaim, but as I moaned just a couple of weeks ago, literary critics have been reluctant to acknowledge its success. As I noted then, given that this is a book we can be pretty sure People Are Reading in Spain, it didn’t get even a mention in an article on What People Are Reading in Spain, probably through a combination of having a female author and being (whisper it) *popular*.
First up, I have to give all credit to Moya for writing the novel directly in English rather than Catalan or Spanish. She explains on her website that this was because she is based in London, and had the opportunity to workshop her writing with a writers’ group, so English became a natural medium. As somebody who works with and sometimes in foreign languages, I know the profound effort it takes to find one’s own voice in a new language – quite apart from worrying over grammatical accuracy or whether you’ve quite understood the nuance of a particular combination of words, it’s a question of finding a new rhythm and with it, inevitably, a new perspective. I won’t lie, there were parts of the writing where the rhythms and combinations felt … unfamiliar … to me, so that towards the beginning, especially, I found myself straining for the echoes of what I imagined to be Moya’s suppressed Catalan voice. Of course, the absence of complete domestication is no bad thing at all, and in fact, it’s this unfamilarity of expression that creates the slightly dislocated atmosphere that I think is fundamental to our belief in the transformation of the novel’s central character, Maria.
I’m still here! Just been reading some great reviews of Belén Gopegui’s first novel, from 1993: La escala de los mapas / The Scale of Maps, in its new English translation by Mark Schafer, published by City Lights (I was at college with a Mark Schafer; I wonder if it’s the same one? He was studying Japanese back then…). Here’s Janet Potter’s take on it, and here’s Christopher Merkel’s, both at Bookslut - Potter reads it alongside Max Frisch, and Merkel reads it alongside Merce Rodoreda. Mythili G Rao writes on it too, over at Words Without Borders, comparing it with Nabokov and Borges, something which is picked up over at at By the Firelight.
I’ve never read any Gopegui myself, because she’s somewhat idiosyncratic, a committed Communist, extremely politically literate, and since I’m … um … none of those things, I’ve always been a bit afraid I won’t quite get her. These reviews, though, have convinced me to give it a go – although a bit of Googling has turned up that this Mark Schafer is definitely *not* the one who made fabulous sushi and let me watch Polish tv via his satellite back in the day!
And so, to follow up on the previous post and take up Vida’s challenge to do something about the fact that ‘the numbers of articles and reviews simply don’t reflect how many women are actually writing‘, here are my suggestions for 10 contemporary Spanish women fiction writers to watch. I’m not claiming they’re the ‘best’ or ‘most important’ (cf: Stothard, quoted in the Guardian), but they’re writers I enjoy, and I think have something to say. Some are younger, some are older, some are well known and others not, and one or two of them are even sometimes translated into English. So … in alphabetical order by first name, here goes (links are to official homepages where available):
Anybody who reads here regularly will know that one of my biggest issues with the Hispanic literary world is the regular erasure of women’s works and women’s voices from the general literary conversation (for examples, see here, here or here). But guess what? It’s not just Spain! There’s an almighty rumpus kicking off in the blogosphere and in the real world too, in response to ‘The Count 2010,’ recently published by VIDA: women in literary arts.
‘The Count’ surveys book reviews published in 14 English-language (mostly UK and US) literary publications, presenting pie charts that show the relative proportions of male and female authors reviewed, and male and female authors of book reviews, and the results make uncomfortable reading, to say the least. In every case but one (Poetry magazine’s ‘authors reviewed’), female contributions were way under 50% and in many, many cases, way under 33%. A lot of the comments on the report are expressing shock at the imbalance, but I guess I’m not shocked. I’m certainly not surprised. Disappointed, yes. And angry. More and more angry.
There’s a lot of comment going up all over the place, so here’s just a quick flavour: a revealing and self-reflexive exchange between Jessica Crispin and Michael Schaub over at Bookslut on their own practices as commissioning editors and book reviewers; a great roundup of posts and correspondence on the topic going back to December, from Poethead; and the Guardian’s article on the topic from 4th Feb, which including TLS editor Peter Stothard’s unbelievable statement that, and I quote, ‘while women are heavy readers, we know they are heavy readers of the kind of fiction that is not likely to be reviewed in the pages of the TLS … The TLS is only interested in getting the best reviews of the most important books.’
The comments on the Guardian piece pretty much sum up what I would have said in response to this kind of crass and patronising guff. Forty-plus years of feminist, black, and queer literary scholarship have showed us clearly that ‘best’ and ‘most important’ are subjective judgements that tend to be ingenuously invoked to naturalise a particular kind of taste. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use those words, but we should be clear that when we do, it’s sneaky to suggest we’re speaking for everyone, when actually we’re talking about a relatively small sector of the population. I used to feel a bit guilty about finding the TLS so … well … dull, but you know what? It’s not me, it’s them.