In 1970s Soho, Muriel still ran the Colony Club, left-wing politicos still met in The Gay Hussar and lunching at L’Escargot with its faded red leather banquettes and elderly waiters was to relive Edwardian London. Once recognised as a ‘local’ the Soho family looked after you.
When an established novelist dips his pen into the satirical inkpot, the result is likely to be interesting. When a writer of Ian McEwan’s calibre takes on the farce and madness that is Brexit, as orchestrated by its chief farceur, Boris Johnson, the outcome is simply exquisite. I read this novella in one sitting and by its end was doubtful that anything better could ever be written on the subject: The Cockroach has to be the political satire of our time.
There should always be room for books which introduce us to different cultures and the backwaters or extremities of history. On occasion it may be that they can be fiction – although in general it must be asked why a documentary account would not serve understanding better; if only on the grounds that truth is in reality stranger than fiction.
There's something quite sculptural about We-Vibe's products – no doubt there are other artistic comparisons to be made – but I was reminded of Niki de Saint Phalle or Babara Hepworth. Like little maquettes of larger pieces, they are beautifully crafted and feel great to the touch. Made of high grade silicone, they are rechargeable, waterproof, silent and powerful.
When at my first advertising agency I worked in Media. Back then weekly women’s magazines sold in tens of thousands and, knitting and cookery apart, majored on short stories and romantic serials. The formulae were predictable: the serial would be a heavy-duty drama (often period) modelled on the Brontës, today's equivalent being Poldark. Short stories would feature some contemporary drama of love, betrayal and redemption. It was chicklit, but not as we know it now.
Radical feminists have historically sometimes characterised marriage as essentially prostitution; wherein a woman sacrifices her autonomy and her sexuality to a man in return for security. In these more enlightened times we might all hope this to be a reduced, if not yet out of date, interpretation. We might hope, but optimism must be based on the increasing power of the female voice in legislatures around the world, rather than a paradigm shift in male attitudes.
The great challenge for most aspiring contemporary authors (aspiring to awards or prizes that is, rather than ‘merely’ publication) is to create meaning and significance.
Saskia Vogel’s debut about a young woman finding closure after the loss of her father seizes you by your tenderest parts and tosses you headlong into the sea. From the first page, the ground beneath Echo, the novel’s main character, is shifting: she ‘knew the landscape would not hold’. And it is this landscape that we must navigate with her, praying that the journey will not prove as treacherous as her father’s.
Throughout Fucking Law, Brooks wants you to fuck. She calls for an ‘orgy of destruction’, for the destruction of ethical and sexual codes ‘that are not our own’ . For too long, she argues, your fucking has been determined not by your body but by someone else’s head. ‘Everything has become a concept,’ she writes, ‘and thus falls within the possibility of being known by philosophers’. But fucking can’t be known; knowledge of fucking can’t be discovered without first-hand experience—without doing it.
The concept of ‘the male gaze’ has become a powerful signifier in the feminist struggle for parity of esteem. It is more than a description of masculine carnality – rather a crucial component of the taxonomy that divides the human species into male and female. It is a conundrum and issue that is unlikely to be resolved easily for many reasons. One of these is to do with the difficulty (for men at least) of identifying ‘the female gaze’.