Flesh of the Peach: A dense and intricate dessert by Helen McClory

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler free.

Flesh of the Peach by Helen McClory

@HelenMcClory | Author’s Blog

Published by Freight Books, Glasgow

9781911332251
RD: 20th April 2017

I first discovered McClory’s writing through her debut collection of flash fiction, On the Edges of Vision – which won Saltire’s Debut Award. A prize well-deserved.

This, on the other hand, is the author’s first novel. I approached it rather tentatively. McClory’s writing is dense, detailed and evocative – a natural fit for short stories, snapshots and poetry. I wasn’t sure if I could handle such intensity in a novel-sized narrative. But I gave it a try.

To be frank, even after having awarded the book 4/5 on Goodreads (it’s more of a 3.5/5 for me), I still have mixed feelings about it. Most of these feelings are positive.

The prose is dense and poetic, it conjures up a myriad of feelings and landscapes (both physical and mental), that at times you really want to swat away in order to get to the meat of the plot and character. The barrage of language and imagery is so intense, in fact, that it took me a month to read. There are no fly-away sentences. Every. Single. One. Is. Packed. To. Maximum. Capacity. This is definitely not a ‘light’ book, not a so called ‘beach read’ (whatever that means). Whilst the language and imagery are the strongest aspects of this novel – they are also, often, it’s shortcoming. The language sometimes desensitizes the reader from the leading characters and from the plot, to a point where it becomes difficult to understand not only Sarah (the main character) but the story as a whole.

To draw a comparison: Flesh of the Peach is like an indulgent, rich and complex dessert – a dark chocolate melt in the middle with a ganache center spiced with smoke. You can only eat so much before the taste overwhelms you to the point of becoming bland in its intensity. It is a work to be chipped away, bit by bit, made to be savoured – each and every chapter, paragraph, sentence, phrase, word, syllable…not to be hoovered down in one go.

The characters in this novel are earthy (at times they ground together like sand on your back teeth), the sketches we see of them through Sarah’s eyes are brief but full of texture – there is no single flat surface in this book. Everything and everyone is brimming with detail, colour, depth. Nobody is likeable but you will find yourself slowly but surely relating to their imperfections, they are broken (in familiar ways) and human – just as we all are. “Hell is other people” – the name of a contemporary horror film, but also a fitting description of Sarah’s world. I would go as far as to change that to: “Hell is me, you, us.” Sarah is complex, I was often perplexed by her behaviour (even though, looking back, I feel like we have finally found an understanding). I kept dipping in and out, often losing my connection with her character. She did make a comeback (for me, personally) at the very end, where she felt more lucid and grounded (and so did the prose) because, it seems to me, she connected with her body (and the present tense) – almost like she decided to finally occupy it, for real. Unlike the beginning of the novel, where much of our time was spent in her memories and reminiscences. It felt claustrophobic. Sarah is no simpleton. There is no solution for her kind of trouble and there doesn’t need to be.

I will need to return to this book a second time to understand Sarah’s character better. It will be easier then, since I will not have to deal with the initial shock that the prose had caused me. As I read I kept pulling the novel apart for quotes, at times bookmarking entire chapters. Chipping away – bit by bit.

Good to know that, before making my mind up, I will have to re-read Flesh of the Peach again. The wait for McClory’s next book will be that much less painful when I have a re-read to look forward to!

 

A wee life update.

2016

A lot has happened in the last year.

A dissertation on Digital Spaces and Translated Fiction was written.

A graduation. I am now a proud bearer of an MSc in Publishing from the Edinburgh Napier University.

An engagement.

Moving houses. Moving towns.

First Christmas and New Year away from family.

2017

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Just look at that diffused sunshine…

Then I went and got married to my incredible partner on the most cheesiest, corniest day of the year – 14th of February. We will struggle to book a table at a nice place to celebrate our anniversary but we will always remember the date!

Then I went and launched a publishing press – Knight Errant Press. We are currently busy putting together our first project: F, M or Other: Quarrels with the Gender Binary. I even managed to rope in a talented Editor and a fellow ENU colleague (Rhiannon Tate) to join my wee team. All in all it is going quite well. There is a lot of learning-on-the-go but, so far,  I am enjoying it. Watch this space, or even better – the Press’ website, for more news and updates.

 


I’ve set myself a more realistic reading target this year – 36 books. I’ve read 5 so far, these:

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I’m an avid library user and most of my reviews are on Goodreads.

Currently juggling: 

Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road

J.M Coetzee The Lives of Animals 

Helen McClory’s Flesh of the Peach [eBook received via Netgalley, due for a review in this blog once I am done with it!]

 

Review: Grief is the thing with Feathers by Max Porter

Grief. Obsession. Time.

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A book of madness, of talking symbols and imaginary animals.

One of the more peculiar reads in my TBR pile which I finished this evening.

I picked it up on a book tube recommendation and am very grateful that I did so. It’s very difficult to describe.

A polyphony of voices that interlope swinging back, forwards, sideways, all ways – it reads like being stuck in a flurry of black feathers and suddenly finding yourself in a dream much alike Agent Cooper’s Red Room. You are an outsider, patiently observing a very personal crisis. You can see inside other’s minds and hearts but you have no control of where you’re going; you ache, who is Ted Hughes?. you chuckle, you feel your heart sink and your face grimace. It’s a play, it’s a poem, it’s lore all shaken – not stirred – into 114 pages. Also, the cover designer is Emily CROW.

 

GHAAA-AP: Diabolik Lovers

After a pleasant evening of Ghibli movies (“Spirited Away” ) in the company of the ghost of violet tea (we couldn’t find the tea strainer) and some essential Waitrose Tiramisu complimented by Cheese and Onion crisps – Catriona and I have cornered an important term.

It belongs to a particular form of entertainment: one which a person hates with all their soul but continues – despite the inner cringe, perpetual face-palm and better judgement – to read/watch/listen. It is a masochistic sort of guilty angry pleasure.

Thus GHAP was born.


DIABOLIK LOVERS

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ディアボリックラヴァーズ

 Diabolik Lovers has just released its second season this Autumn.

Genre: Reverse Harem (1F + X number of M), Shoujo (aimed at teenage girls), Vampire.

Episode length: 12 min.

Rating: Car Crash Watching (CCW)

’tis been a horrendous sight for my tired eyes if I should speak plainly

 If you thought Twilight was the bane and poison of decades of feminist achievement – then I recommend you see Diabolik Lovers and you will suddenly find yourself sympathising with Edward and envying Bella’s strength and independence. Although S. Meyer seems to be under the impression that we have all simply misunderstood her character and all that was needed was the magic touch of gender bending. I won’t even speculate on whether the creative directors of Diabolik Lovers ever entertained a critical approach.

Anime may be niche in anglophone society, you may in fact think it’s so niche that there is no point in bothering with it – but it is a huge part of Japanese culture and a huge influence on its neighbours. It spreads widely – like wildfire through Australian plains – thanks to video streaming (piracy) and the ease of translating subtitles (shows are usually translated into several languages ex. English, Spanish, Chinese). The content then becomes available to 100,000’s of viewers, more than it was ever intended for. The original script often  becomes warped as meaning changes with each translation.

And thus quietly but steadily all sorts of frisky and misogynistic stuff are creeping into impressionable young minds under the guise of ‘childish’ entertainment. Sure, I may not have been as critical of things in my teeny-tweens as I am today; I did, after all, read Twilight (with all its sequels) – but I have always turned down those series where lead female characters were exploited or compromised. If it didn’t feel right: hyper sexualised, victimised, victim-blaming etc I dropped it like a hot potato, even then I found it hard to palate. I worry for the youngsters who watch this and who may be less critically astute. I’m a hardy warrior. There are lots of things in mainstream serialised anime that one must blindside in order to even begin to enjoy it. But in my books there are no excuses for such trashy, sexist, eye-candy voyerism when there isn’t even an inkling of plot to support it.

Oh dear, did I hear a sigh? But we haven’t even begun! The history of the vampire genre is a long and winding path that currently finds itself split between two camps: a) horror critters (alongside zombies e.g 30 Days of Night) and b) predominantly romantic (adult) fan fiction which features blood suckers with endless sex appeal pooping sparkles. Screen writers also like to use the vampire trope to spice things up with some classic frankenstein conflict pertaining to the nature of the human soul. They too often fall into the trap of presenting the offender as a slave to their nature – a victim who can’t help himself.

If you are tired of such nonsense and want to see some unapologetic monsters who are not made out to be good or likeable I suggest you watch “Let the Right one In” –  it is wonderful. Not the American remake. It will always be one of the first movies I recommend whenever anyone mentions ‘vampires’.


HULK ANGRY because: 

  • Yui – a completely powerless and helpless heroine (an orphan to boot) is delivered by her male relative to a creepy mansion populated by six weird young men who have a people problem. Oh, and they are also vampires, who haven’t been fed in awhile.
  • She soon finds out she is their ‘blood bride’ i.e ‘blood bag’
  • Yui is fed on continuously without her permission (tricky to obtain surely) – the feeding is sexualised and of the ‘she is actually enjoying it even though she don’t tell’ kind. No, honestly, every girl would like to be stuck in a dark and damp house with six sadistic bloodsucking narcissists. A dream come true, for sure. SEXY VAMPIRE RAPING TIME
  • She becomes a pawn in a family feud whose body is literally invaded by another.
  • she is repeatedly told and is given proof that running is futile.
  • There is no escape.
  • the violence and threats to which Yui is submit are always followed by heightened sexual tension (audio and visual cues)
  • we are made to believe that Yui develops, although reluctantly, some sort of vague emotional and romantic attachment to those bloodsucking delinquents
  • Yui is continuously referred to as a ‘cow’, ‘stupid woman’, ‘feeding patch’, ‘boring’, ‘nothing to look at’, ‘Miss Bitch’, ‘blood bag’ and ‘sow’.
  • sympathy is shown for the vampire shonen with emphasis on their messed up and tragic childhood stories
  • shows and glorifies an attempt of rape
  • each episode focuses at length on the background of a male character yet we know next to nothing about Yui
  • Psychosis litmus: male characters alternate between indifferent and seemingly kind attitudes making Yui feel safe to then justify assaulting her both physically and verbally
  • Yui is almost always threatened with corporal punishment (for misbehaviour)
  • Yui is always made to feel that this is her fate and that whatever comes her way: she deserves it
  • the fact that this is made out to be a harem i.e romantic undertones showing ‘look how lucky she is she’s got all the boys’
  • a clear victim-blaming pattern. The only female character is deemed unworthy, not good enough, and therefore is taken advantage of and abused

When I was done with the 4th episode of the second season I wanted nothing more than to wipe my eyes clean and my mind blank of this gunk. I was disturbed and still feel uncomfortable thinking about it.

Having finished the bullet points above I do not feel the need to reiterate why exactly this show left me raving mad. The trend for submissive and cornered heroines in anime is nothing new, but gosh does that room need a breath of fresh air.


“Redeeming qualities” as follows:

1) A half-decent soundtrack.

2) Interesting seiyu.

3) Attractive albeit not original character design.

4) All the colours! Reminiscent of last year’s anime AMNESIA – where the complexities of colour outweighed the plot.

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 LIES-LIES-LIES: the moment Yui enters the manor her life becomes utter MISERY filled with PAIN and ABUSE. These young men are psychotic monsters: anyone with eyes and a bit of common sense can see that, no matter how the creators try to justify them through their childhood trauma. 

 

A stream of digressions #1: mainly On Monsters and Other Humans


It has been a strange week. Some days were incredibly fast and filling, other days felt like time could not have possibly moved slower.

Today is one of those slow days.

I look at the clock and it’s almost 8pm, yet I could have sworn I just came back from my morning walk on the hills.

On these days I revert to my hibernation mode, I lock everyone out and am left one on one with myself, my thoughts and the to-do list. This may surprise many who know me personally but there are genuinely days when I don’t want to have a conversation or even physically contact other humans and that’s OK. It’s completely normal and something that I call (thanks to a suggestion from a kind friend) – ” battery low 1% remaining” i.e when your social, physical or emotional reserves are depleted. Take a rest, have a day off, go for a walk if you can handle it, snuggle with a cup of tea – take care of yourself.

I have quite a lot going on these days and it was silly of me to think that vlogging would take up less of my time than blogging, so I would like to let everyone whom I’ve promised or told of my channel to know that things are being put together, it’s just taking a lot more time and resources than I thought it would.

I’ve planned out my introduction video, tested my camera, am generally prepared for my first video book review and have penned down the first essay in my 3-part series titled “Scandalous”. What’s left to do? RECORDING AND EDITING IT ALL. Please bear with me as I plough through my course-work, personal business, work, life and, of course, extra curricular reading.

The vlog is going to happen eventually.

I’m only half-way through but I can already feel the surge of thoughts I’d like to tell overwhelm me, making my mind ‘quit unexpectedly’ like a Chrome window with too many tabs open.

*drumroll*

ON MONSTERS, CHILDREN AND OTHER HUMANS

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Emerald Fennell’s “Monsters” caught my eye during a scouting mission to Princess Street’s Waterstones. The aim of the mission was to assess current bestsellers, the shop layout and bookshelf politics. I rarely venture into the YA section, if only to grope Garth Nix’s novels, curse the internet and lament how I should have spent more wisely the little free time I had during school-years.

A tentative glance around the YA shelves leaves me barely warm, my inner snob is huffing and puffing and my inner voice-over is wondering why exactly are teenagers (I used to be one too!) attracted to some of these books.*

“Monsters” made me pick it up twice. I am a hardy combination of a book addict (an impulse buyer when I’m having a bad day) and student with a small allowance. A book has got to be real special for me to want to buy it at Waterstones. I circled the general fiction floor a dozen times (half of them in search of my mother whom I found clutching at a ‘I<3 Darcy’ tote and refusing to leave the shop without it) – during those tours I kept coming back to the YA corner.

Although ‘one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover’ – today this saying is more apt for people than books. Books have long become products; and product presentation is key to success. Many an established publisher have published Nobel Prize winners, classics and cultural milestones alongside what most of the reading world has unanimosly labelled a crime against the written word, books, the noble calling of a writer etc. This, unfortunately, is how the capitalist pie rolls. To use a gardening metaphor: crops grow best on natural manure, especially strawberries. In a world where content growth is exponential consumers are fickle and abstinent with their finances. A publisher must do everything possible to promote and establish their product among thousands of others.

Sorry folk.

This particular book, in my opinion, is like the seashore it depicts on the cover. Its appearance, far from neutral, leaves enough room for both childish nonchalance and adult gra(depra)vity that so many grown-ups refuse to attribute to children. All monsters were once men and children. One simply needs to mention Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” or King’s “Children of the Corn” to get some heads nodding. I believe it’s all part of a  new cross-over trend that Penguin started with John Green’s “The Fault in our Stars”.

I am a tactile person and I like to savour books. With my hands: feeling the texture of the cover, the corners (I once encountered (and purchased) a book where the corners were rounded off – pure bookish ecstasy), the thickness and the quality of the paper and the threading of the spine. With my eyes: taking in the cover, the text layout, type, spacing, guttering and the little illustrated sections (or chapter) markers.

I don’t like my food pre-packaged just like I don’t like my books catered to ‘a particular audience’. There is a certain quality I will expect from them all, of course, but none of that flamboyant gimmick that often takes over YA.

Anyhow –

 Fast-forward this Thursday: I decided to explore the inside of the “Edinburgh Bookshop” – having walked past it almost every single day for at least a month now – and guess what? “Monsters” was waiting for me there! I found a slip inside the book with a note scribbled on with a bic pen: be  warned this book is definitely for those young readers 16+ and above (approx. citation).

I guess that’s enough writing about a book I haven’t read yet! It’s time to go purchase a copy and see what it’s really like inside – ’cause in the end that’s what matters most.

* adults are children who’ve grown tall, grey and cautious. 🙂

 ** I am not about to wander into a polemic rant on gender politics in the sales campaigns of YA fiction and it’s overbearing, guru like manner of asserting the idea that at this particular age all girls want some glitter, feelings, slice-of-life and romance no matter how unpalatable and all boys will prefer adventures, thrillers, inventions and scares – to which I say ‘NAY! However, this is a digression for another time.