The moment she stepped onto the stage I was filled with the thrill of being in the same room as one of the bravest, most prolific and talented writers of our time – Margaret Atwood. Of course it was a rather large room (a hall in fact, the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre to be precise) and I was sitting with several hundred others, but the thrill was there nevertheless – the frisson of being in the presence of a great mind.
Margaret Atwood was in conversation with Peter Kemp, Literary Editor for The Sunday Times, who was profuse in his praise but who didn’t seem to quite be on the same page as the author when it came to political views – which made for interesting entertainment. At one point, Atwood brought up the recent furor surrounding the absence of female figures on English pound notes (bar the Queen of course!), for instance, the fact that Charles Dickens has featured on the notes, but not Jane Austen. Kemp guffawed and said, ‘So much fuss about something like that’. Atwood rightly reminded him that this recent event recalls the late Sixties and Seventies when ‘much fuss’ was made about lots of things that people would never have imagined people could make a fuss about (equal pay for women and men being one of those things – although, of course, parity of income between the sexes is sadly still an issue that is far from resolved today!). Continue reading →
So I finally got round to reading the winning story of The White Review’s short story competition (2013), ‘The Lady of the House’ by Claire-Louise Bennett and it is so fantastic I simply had to write about it.
‘The Lady of the House’ is a refreshing change from the slew of contemporary short stories out there. Bennett bravely attempts to capture the workings of the mind as it goes along living its life in the moment – and succeeds. The story is securely lodged in the mind of its narrator, tracing an unnamed character’s thoughts in a superbly modernist style and yet the subject matter is firmly contemporary. The way it deals with the humdrum details of the everyday, like cycling to the supermarket, tidying up the kitchen, putting out the rubbish, is simply fantastic. The story is grounded in the everyday, and related in fresh, vivid language that keeps the reader hooked. The banal is juxtaposed with more philosophical musings on the nature of thought itself and the way the mind works.
‘The Lady of the House’ strongly recalls the works of Virginia Woolf (To The Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway) but the modernist mode does not feel stretched or redundant – it feels utterly suited to contemporary times. As Anna Hope, writer and alumnus of the Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck, pointed out when she came to talk at Birkbeck this summer, it is interesting that in our postmodernist age, the mainstream mode of literature is still Realist. The White Review seems to be out to change this – and I will certainly be following their adventures.