Leila Slimani: Sex and Freedom

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Leila Slimani’s novel Lullaby not only won the Prix Goncourt in 2016, making her the first Moroccan-born winner of the prize, but it also was the most read book in France for that year. Emmanuel Macron, who is known to consider himself a man of letters, asked to meet her during his presidential campaign and she publicly supported him as a candidate.

French media subsequently reported that he offered her a job as a culture minister once he was elected but she has since accepted a less demanding role reporting to him on Francophone literature and culture; traditionally, a post for a career politician.

This feels a long way from 2010 when she was arrested by the Tunisian Army whilst working as a journalist during the Arab Spring. When I meet her in a central London hotel, she describes feeling like “it was 20 years ago.” 

 

The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer

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The fascinating details of Lee Miller’s life have been pored over multiple times by biographers. Historical novelists must now be kicking themselves as Whitney Scharer has written an evocative and impressive novel, The Age of Light, out of the raw material of Miller’s extraordinary life. Miller was one of the most beautiful and photographed women of the twentieth century. Scharer brilliantly evokes how different artists divided up Miller’s physical self, painting her lips, photographing her wrists or her ribcage. It is even said that a French glassware company modelled their champagne coupe on the shape of her breasts.

 

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

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The gingerbread at the heart of Helen Oyeyemi’s sixth novel has a startling impact on those who eat it, not least the three generations of women from one family who make it. Harriet Lee, whose mother Margot and daughter Perdita also follow the recipe, “ate a piece of gingerbread and tingled all over. It was a square meal and a good night’s sleep and a long, blood-spattered howl at the moon rolled into one.”

Readers of Oyeyemi’s previous novel Boy, Snow, Bird (2014) will remember it was based loosely on Snow White and when a character called Gretel turns up alongside the gingerbread this time round, the stage seems to be set for a warped fairytale. 

 

Educated by Tara Westover

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Tara Westover already numbers among her fans former US President Barack Obama, who called the writer to discuss her book.  He praised Westover’s first book as a “remarkable memoir of a young woman raised in a survivalist family in Idaho who strives for education while still showing great understanding and love for the world she leaves behind”. The last point is significant – whilst Educated can be seen as a clarion call for education, Westover’s motivation (perhaps surprisingly) does not seem to be sheer rage. 

The first half of the book deals with Westover’s childhood as the youngest of five children in a radical survivalist Mormon family and is full of warm memories.

 

Celebrating Lee Miller

A habitué of the smoky cabarets, opium dens and Surrealist parties of 1930s Paris, Lee Miller was one of the most beautiful and fascinating women of the twentieth century. 

Whitney Scharer has brought Miller’s story to life in her electric debut novel, The Age of Light. After starting her career as a fashion model, Lee Miller came to occupy a unique position in the avant-garde of the inter-war years. She worked, and had an affair, with the photographer Man Ray before becoming an acclaimed war photographer and one of the first people to photograph the concentration camp at Dachau when it was liberated.

I will be joining Whitney Scharer to discuss her dazzling new novel about Miller as well as the fascination she continues to exert, and her role in the often-macho Surrealist movement

 

Blood by Maggie Gee

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Maggie Gee has written 14 novels including The White Family, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize (now the Women’s Prize). Blood, her latest, is a bizarrely misfiring black comedy. The setting is Thanet, which was the only Ukip-held council in Britain until March last year, when almost half of its councillors resigned and formed a breakaway group. The choice of Thanet is not accidental, and one’s initial hope was that this might be the first great Brexit novel.

Brexit is mentioned, but the narrative is dominated by 38-year-old ‘buxom bruiser’ Monica Ludd, an unconventional deputy head at a local secondary school, who we are repeatedly told is six foot.