Archive for July, 2009

July 29, 2009

I am by no means a biased nixwilliams fangirl…

…but I think everyone should listen to this because it is hilarious.

July 21, 2009

But not Jesus

July 18, 2009

Tender Morsels and loss of innocence (the horror)

When I was first told that I was going to be reviewing something titled Tender Morsels (and before I’d realised it was that Margo Lanagan book that people seemed so impressed with) I wasn’t sure what to expect. But what the title did not make me think of was a “paedophile website”. I wonder what that says about the Daily Mail’s Danuta Kean.

The Daily Mail article is (predictably) the worst, but there’s been quite a bit of horror and clutching of pearls across the British media over Lanagan’s book and the cruel, brutal way in which authors are snatching away children’s innocence. (It’s not like we’ve been through this before or anything anyway).

There’s plenty to criticise about these articles – including the writers’ seeming inability to see a difference between seven year olds and fifteen year olds, as well as the odd belief that children’s books have never been violent before. (Flowers in the Attic? The Chocolate War? How about Watership Down, that scared the life out of me?)

But what fascinates me most about this particular point of view is that it takes for granted that violence is simply not a part of children’s lives unless forcefully introduced by malevolent writers. It’s a world where there’s no schoolyard bullying, and if there is it’s because the bully is insecure and misunderstood and everyone is friends in the end. It’s certainly a world where there is no sexualised violence. No children are abused by members of their family or other adults they know. No one is raped. Homophobic bullying never leads to death. Everything is lovely.

And apart from one big news story every year or so about how all these children are being abused and nobody’s talking about it, nobody talks about it. We’ll still get outraged columns about how teenagers are getting more violent and attacking each other (what is going on? how can this be?) but not where things like the family and the church are concerned. Not enough, considering the sheer enormity of these statistics.

I’m not trying to suggest that Lanagan in any way wrote Tender Morsels for the purpose of educating people about sexual violence, or to raise awareness for young readers (though I believe that if the book does those things too, that is a good thing). But consider a child (or a teenager, since this particular book hasn’t been targeted towards younger readers) for whom sexual violence is already a part of life; and who, like so many people, has been unable to get it out there or talk about it or begin any sort of process that would allow her (or him) to heal. I can’t help feeling that some people need for books like this (that will admit the existence of violence, confront it honestly, allow its full horror to be expressed) to be available. I could write at length on how good Tender Morsels is, and how it both impressed me and gutted me, but for reasons apart from it being a very good book (though the two are clearly interconnected), I’m glad it exists.

July 13, 2009

Creating the ideal marriage

1. Make sure the bride is a virgin:

“I’ve ordered an enquiry,” Neeraj Dubey, Shahdol district collector told HT. But his sympathies were clear. “The test was a precautionary measure,” he added. “Last year one of the brides delivered a baby even as the marriage ceremony was on. Since there is money involved, many women, try to take advantage.”

(The story claims that this scheme marries off women who are divorced or widowed as well. I’m not sure if they too are required to be virgins).

2. Marry a heterosexual to prevent low self-esteem:

Imagine your daughter is getting married to a nice young man who has homosexual feelings. Until a few weeks ago, he never told the world about it for fear of being branded a criminal.
Now, no thanks to the Baba, he feels he is mad. He does not think so. He does not feel so. But he is afraid to tell the world the truth of his desires. So he has firmly entrenched himself in the closet.
He will tell no one, certainly not his mother, or father, or brother, that he has had sex with men. Not one or two, but dozens, secretly, silently, furtive experiences, with men who like him are afraid to disclose their preferences in public lest they be labelled criminals or diseased.
He will marry your daughter. And your daughter will wonder why, in the privacy of the bedroom, this nice man shuns any attempt to be being intimate. Is she the problem? Her self worth will suffer. The marriage will suffer. Children will be conceived in loveless unions. The man will find it difficult to be faithful and seek comfort elsewhere. And your daughter will wonder what is wrong.

3. Watch T.V.

…people will watch TV till late at night and then fall asleep. They won’t get a chance to produce children,” Mr Azad said. “When there is no electricity there is nothing else to do but produce babies.”

July 8, 2009

Various Frankensteins

WHSmith in the Birmingham airport stocks Peter Ackroyd’s The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein in its SFF section. Now that I’ve read it, I’m not entirely convinced that the book belongs there, but I’ll take it. It’s not often that a Serious Respectable author is shelved there.

I’ve probably said this here before, but I love Frankenstein. It is the perfect book for that moment where you’re just discovering how much you can do with literature (which is not the same thing as loving books, though both are great). It is not only easy to read through pretty much every existing theoretical framework, but it’s saturated with other texts as well. You could discuss Frankenstein with a group of reasonably intelligent teenagers for hours and you’d never run out of things to talk about. I’m never sure whether it is a *good* book (partly because I’m never sure what I mean by that in the first place) but it provides practically endless fodder for thinking and talking.

I also love Peter Ackroyd. And I suspect the reasons I enjoyed The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein have a lot to do with the reasons I like Ackroyd in the first place – this is geek porn. Victor Frankenstein hangs out with Percy Bysshe Shelley (portrayed more tolerably than I have ever thought of him) and Mary, as well as Keats, Byron and Polidori.; he sees a stage performance of Melmoth the Wanderer and discusses the hydrologic cycle with William Godwin. At times like this, the book is really fun, even if this is mostly because it’s trying to be clever. And it’s quite as immersed in the literature, and the literary figures of the time, as the original text.

But once you’ve gotten past the clever bits and the (expected) wonderful picture of historical London it all becomes a bit unsatisfactory. Frankenstein has, as I’ve said, been read in a huge number of different ways. Ackroyd’s taking one particular angle and running with it, which perhaps inevitably shuts down a number of the possibilities the original text leaves open. I found myself thinking “but what about…?” a number of times as I read this book.

This probably wouldn’t matter if the historical geekery bits were strong enough to stand up by themselves. But they aren’t all they could be. I enjoyed the presence of the familiar historical characters and ideas, but there was nothing that struck me as particularly clever or brilliant, and this isn’t even my period in history*.

I would apply none of these criticisms to John Kessel’s Pride and Prometheus, which is another Frankenstein-themed work that I’ve read relatively recently. Pride and Prometheus is a pastiche of major characters and themes from Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein, and it’s available (for free!) here. Either because it’s well done or because I’m thrilled to see Mary Bennet in a major role, I think this is excellent. Other people have talked about this (see here) and so (though I may return to it after I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) I will say nothing more. Read it, though.

*Which I suppose could also mean that there were clever bits that I missed out on because I don’t know enough. Anyone?

July 2, 2009

Two open letters

Dear Mr. R.K Sharma

This was what I woke up to this morning. I thank you for giving me such a wonderful beginning to my day.

I’d be interested to hear how you take pride in “being different from Western countries”. There are things about this country I take great pride in. This isn’t one of them. Nor is sharing a nationality with someone who spouts the sort of poisonous bigotry that has him believe that people I love (and their love) is “unnatural” and “hideous”.

So fuck you, Mr. Sharma.

That is all.


Dear Delhi High Court.

Thank you. Seriously, thank you so much for finally seeing sense over this. Thank you for not being R.K Sharma or the commentors on this article (I’m afraid to go over to Rediff)

Also, what took you so long?

With much love and pride in my city


P.S: 105 pages? You really are quite long winded, aren’t you?