My Life as an Animal by Laurie Stone

my-life-as-an-animalLaurie Stone’s My Life as an Animal is a joy. It’s been described as a book of linked, comic stories, and it’s that, but not just that. It’s comic when it needs to be, which is often, and the comic effects are produced with an unerringly sure hand, an ear for the absurdity of what we say about ourselves, and of what we believe to be true about our lives, an extraordinary capacity for metaphor that is both startlingly unexpected and immediately right, a use of metaphor that uncovers ‘something familiar you have never seen before’, as the narrator remarks of a yard sale in the first story. But it’s also hard, and brutal, and honest, and bright as new paint, and painful with self-knowledge. It’s a book about the stories people keep ‘because it’s what they have’, about mothers and daughters, and lovers, and how stories are shared and not shared, a source of constant antagonism, about the ‘tender, excited regard’ that people seek, and that is one of the strongest qualities of these stories. They’re filled with an intelligence that no sooner possesses something than it’s distrusted, both the intelligence and the thing possessed. There are numerous references to space, as something that unites two things or people or holds them apart, and as something those people, despite everything, require to live. The space between bodies, the space in which someone is wanted. The space someone fills, or doesn’t fill. The space made by people who relate to your body as if it were ‘a surface to leave drinks on’. It’s about belonging – New York, Arizona, England – and wanting to belong in a world of tenancy agreements and tenure, but also about liking where you don’t belong, and maybe wanting that more. In a story called I Like Talking to You, the narrator remarks: ‘There is something about language that hurts the thing it describes’, and this book is full of that hurt, and the wry courage needed to deal with it, a book where the narrator’s mother can search ‘for a nectarine that won’t break her heart’.

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Rome launch

almost corner

If you’re in Rome on Thursday evening (17 March) around 6.30 pm and you’d like to say hello, have a glass of wine and get your hands on a signed copy of my new novel, The Children’s Home, I’ll be at the Almost Corner Bookshop at Via del Moro 45 (Trastevere).

the-childrens-home-9781501117398_hr

I look forward to seeing you there!

 

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North West Literary Salon 4th March: Spring Awakening

North West Literary Salon

By Shona Jackson

With spring lingering on the horizon, and a long catalogue of alphabetised storms (hopefully) behind us, the grey skies and icy northern winds are beginning to mellow. If you’re still thawing from the winter months, then get your FREE tickets and wander along to the North West Literary Salon on Friday 4th March at 7pm, for a restorative bout of literary sunshine with our esteemed writers. As always, there’ll be music, nibbles and an abundance of engaging conversation.

CharlesLamberNovelist Charles Lambert lives and writes in the central Italian town of Fondi. His debut novel Little Monsters is a bildungsroman, bridging the landscapes of WWII Britain, and post-war Italy. Beautifully written and intensely thrilling, we follow the protagonist’s journey through time, as sinister threads from the past threaten to unfurl once again in the present. His most recent book, The Children’s Home, is a gripping neo-gothic fairy…

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Half a loaf

121742-mdThere’s room for both celebration and exasperation in Italy’s new civil unions legislation. Let’s start with the good stuff. It’s been a long time coming and the fact that it’s arrived, albeit limping and mangled, is worth a raised a glass of Prosecco and a handful of tarallucci. It provides a series of basic rights – inheritance and ‘reversibility’ of pensions, hospital and prison visiting rights, surname-sharing, maintenance, etc. – , that seemed unimaginable a couple of years ago. It recognises for the first time that same-sex couples exist under the law, although there seems to a loophole that will allow the Kim Davises of il Bel Paese to stamp their ugly little feet on the ground and refuse to play with the other children until they get their own way (I hope I’m wrong about this – ‘conscientious objectors’ have already reduced Italy’s abortion provisions to a shambolic lottery). It’s better than nothing, and the risk that we might have ended up with nothing was worryingly present throughout the tortuous parliamentary skirmish that produced it.

But. (Because there is always a but.) In fact, two buts. But One. The original draft of the bill contained a section that guaranteed, in the case of couples with a child, the parental rights of the non-biological partner over the child, a guarantee that protected the child in the event of the biological parent dying. It doesn’t take much thought to see that the aim of this was to provide children with emotional security in the face of loss. However, to get the bill past the group of centrist senators who form part of the majority coalition and whose support was needed for reasons I won’t go into here, this section had to go. Children, these senators said, had to be protected, particularly those children who might be acquired through a surrogate mother (or, as they say so charmingly in Italian, ‘wombs for hire’) at some point in the future (something not contemplated in the law, but let’s not quibble when unconceived, unborn and entirely imaginary babies’ rights to have a mamma and a papà are at stake). It’s pretty clear these people don’t give a dried fig about actual living children, whose fates will now be determined by magistrates and who might find themselves orphaned not once, but twice. What they care about is the shrinking hard core of catholic voters who might otherwise deprive them of the opportunity they now have to dole out power and wealth to their cronies or protectors. By sheer coincidence, their leader, a certain Angelino Alfano, a man whose moral sense is so highly attuned he was once considered Berlusconi’s blue-eyed boy and whose contribution to the whole bunga bunga affair was a respectful silence, is currently under investigation for abusing his power as Interior Minister (with barely 3% of the popular vote). Underlying this superficially pragmatic motive there is also, I suspect, the irrational fear of gay people having anything to do with children at all. Because, you know. Homophobia, in a word, lurking in its usual mendacious way beneath a mask of care.

But Two. The second change required by these senators  was to excise from the criteria defining a civil union the obbligo di fedeltà, or obligation to be faithful to one’s partner. Married couples are obliged to be faithful to each other, to ensure that their sexual relations are conducted within the marriage, as part of the legal definition of their bond; couples in a civil union aren’t. Implicitly, they can carry on doing what they’re best at: fucking anything that moves. This is tantamount to saying that gay couples are intrinsically unstable, something that will help any magistrates to decide against gay parents in cases of adoption, should they so wish, and some magistrates undoubtedly will so wish. That is, of course, its main purpose. But the other thing this excision does is remove any indication from the law that a civil union might actually involve, well, you know, sex, or that gay couples might actually, you know, do it. The law might be a victory for love, as the prime minister Matteo Renzi announced rather hastily as soon as the bill had passed the Senate reading, but it certainly isn’t a victory for bonking within the ‘marital’ bed, something it refuses to contemplate. It’s an excision that manages to define gay individuals as inherently promiscuous, and, implicitly, gay couples as chaste, or as conducting a sex life that is, in legal terms, extra-conjugal, wherever it’s carried out, at home or elsewhere. It’s a judicial, and cultural, sleight of hand that manages to be both prudish and salacious.

So, as EM Forster said about democracy, that’ll be two cheers then.

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And from Lori and Julia…

If you’d like to hear what I said on The Lori & Julia Show you can listen to the interview here. You’ll find me on Wednesday, 17 February, Hour One, 24 minutes into the show. Pedicures and Guillermo del Toro are among the subjects discussed.

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The Nervous Breakdown

This may be my toughest interview ever. I blame the interviewer.

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Correction to previous post. Radio interview brought forward to 3.35pm Central Time!

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