Literary Hub

10 BOOKS ON ECSTATICALLY MAD WOMEN

JESSIE CHAFFEE READS DEEPLY INTO EMPTINESS, FEAR, DESIRE, AND ELATION

July 3, 2017  By Jessie Chaffee

When I was 22, I developed an eating disorder, an experience equal parts horror and euphoria that took me outside of myself, turning me into someone I wasn’t, or perhaps revealing a part of me that had always been there. Intellectually, I recognized that I was negating, erasing, and isolating myself. But my emotional experience was not one of loneliness or loss. On the contrary, I often felt painfully clear, high, satiated, connected to something more than myself. I felt ecstatic.

By the time I sought help, I was whittled down, haunted, and searching for a way to describe those months when I had disappeared from my life. I had always identified as a writer, but anorexia stripped me of words, alienating me from the world as I previously understood it and from the language I used to give shape to that world. In its wake, I was searching for a new language, one that, as a lifelong reader, I hadn’t yet witnessed in literature.

And then a close friend handed me a copy of Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight. Like many people, I had read Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, a retelling of Jane Eyre from the perspective of Bertha (aka, “the madwoman in the attic”), but this novel, published decades earlier, was different. It was unlike anything I’d ever read in its depiction of a woman who is losing herself to the seduction of alcoholism, the ghosts of her past, and the increasingly self-destructive decisions she makes as she tries to survive both. What was new was not the content but the telling. Rhys collapses the distance between the reader and her protagonist. We don’t witness Sasha’s descent; we live it. We feel the too-small dirty hotel room, the jeers and stares of strangers who may or may not actually be there, the grief and weight of memory. And we feel the messy intermingling of emptiness, fear, desire, and elation as reality unravels, and language with it, along the beautiful and horrific knife-edge of addiction.

Good Morning, Midnight gave me not only a mirror for my own experience, but it altered completely the type of work I wanted to produce as a writer. I consumed the slim, used paperback in a single sitting—and consumed is the right word, as it nourished me, became a part of me, and then left me hungry for more writing like it. From Rhys, it was not a far leap to Marguerite Duras and then Elena Ferrante and Claire Messud, all women who write about women on the fringes grappling with the most foundational questions of meaning and identity. These writers deal in contradictions, in the seductive gray areas where the high lives, in the things that might destroy us but that we nevertheless pursue. Their protagonists are complicated, flawed, brilliant, extreme, and, quite often, ecstatic.

I began writing my novel out of a desire to be in conversation with those writers, and to give language, through fiction, to an experience that had left me mute. In the writing I realized that there was another group of women writers whose stories I needed to read—the Catholic mystical saints, women who claimed a direct relationship to God through their ecstatic visions, and who recorded those visions in fiery and sensual language. Their vitae read like the ancestors of Rhys and Ferrante. Their ecstasies were not always celebrated—they were also used as evidence that they were possessed, deceitful, or calculating in their ambition. But like the protagonists of their contemporary counterparts, the saints’ telling leaves no room for doubts as we live the experiences with them.

Below are my favorite works about ecstatic women brought to life by my favorite women writers. These narratives don’t grant us the safety of distance or room for judgment, but place us within the protagonists’ realities, daring us to feel what they feel, and suggesting that if ecstasy is madness, then we the readers are mad too. 

Elena Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment, tr. Ann Goldstein

Written before the uber-popular Neopolitan novels, this slim, visceral work follows a woman’s violent struggle to make meaning in the chaos and isolation that follows the dissolution of her marriage:

I was not the woman who breaks into pieces under the blows of abandonment and absence, who goes mad, who dies. Only a few fragments had splintered off, for the rest I was well. I was whole and whole I would remain. To those who hurt me, I react giving back in kind. I am the queen of spades, I am the wasp that stings, I am the dark serpent. I am the invulnerable animal who passes through the fire and is not burned.

Hello Giggles

Hillary Clinton gave us our summer reading list

Daryl Lindsey

The busier you get, the harder it can be to find time to read. We bet no one knows this more than Hillary Clinton, which is why we were thrilled when Clinton listed all the books she’s been reading since November.

Though we’re positive Hillary would rather be running the country right now, the former democratic presidential nominee has enjoyed herself the last few months. “After this election, one of the things that helped me most, aside from long walks in the woods and the occasional glass of chardonnay, was once again going back to the familiar experience of losing myself in books,” she said during her speech at the American Library Association.

That’s a beautiful feeling, and one we should take more time to experience ourselves. Even post-election, we’re no doubt less busy than Hillary Clinton. 

“I finished Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, I devoured mysteries by Louise Penny, Donna Leon, Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd,” she said, adding, “I reread old favorites like Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, the poetry of Maya Angelou and Mary Oliver. I was riveted by The Jersey Brothers and a new book of essays called The View From Flyover Country, which turned out to be especially relevant in the midst of our current health-care debate.”

We should all aspire to read as she reads, so here’s your Hillary Clinton-approved summer reading list:

1. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels

Hillary Clinton

The Hindu

Around the world in eight books

Mini Kapoor

A reading list in defence of the ‘global novel’

If by chance you are still looking for a summer reading list, Adam Kirsch’s brilliant, and short, inquiry, The Global Novel: Writing the World in the 21st Century, may provide one. Many of these are beloved texts that have been around for years, but his particular line of analysis to defend “the global novel” brings them together in a pattern that makes a reread a relook: Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, Roberto Bolano’s 2666, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island, and Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.

Stripped for export?

Take Murakami, around whom speculation settles as a yearly ritual in the days leading to the announcement of the Nobel Prize, but whose writing is sometimes criticised back home in Japan for Japanese prose that is, as Kirsch puts it, “stripped for export”. It is not that simple. Comparing Murakami’s magnum opus 1Q84 to Pamuk’s Snow, Kirsch notes that while the plot and the characters of the latter are necessarily particular to Turkey, “the urban isolates of 1Q84 could almost as easily be living in New York or London” as in Tokyo. This, he concludes, is not a distortion inflicted by Murakami’s vaulting ambition to be something to everyone, but is perhaps a reflection of the common threads in our lives and curiosities worldwide.

He calls Adichie’s and Hamid’s novels “migrant literature”, different from the immigrant literature of writers such as Jhumpa Lahiri, whereby “America is a stage of life rather than a final destination” in the characters’ lives. As a contrast, there are the novels of Ferrante, whose success as a global writer is intriguing. Her novels are very strongly located in Naples, she uses local dialects in the original Italian, and she refuses to reveal her identity, thereby denying her overseas publishers the big marketing essential, the book tour.

In their particularity, her novels speak to common human emotions, of course, but they also, Kirsch helps us understand, suggest we must “see fates in an international perspective”, just as the other books listed here do. His tour is an invitation to read some of these books, and work out our individual appraisals of the appeal, and importance, of the global novel.

From the Front Porch

Episode 125 || June Reading Recap

It’s hot as something down here in the South, and Chris and Annie are back to talk about what they read in June. It was a light month of the highest quality. Also, Chris Pine: hot or not? And happy anniversary, Harry Potter.

Annie read:
The End We Start From by Megan Hunter (on sale November 7)
Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson (on sale July 11)
Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly (on sale October 10)
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (on sale (on sale September 12)
Theft by Finding by David Sedaris
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Chris read:
Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu

Hey, did you know that we read and recap books in literally every episode of this podcast, not just the ones labeled “Reading Recap”? I just want to make sure that you do because we have so many recommendations for you all the time always and want you to enjoy!

BBC Radio 4

The wonderful thing about being a reader is that even when you’re familiar with the classics of English literature, there are still bookshelves all over the world to explore. These writers, featured in Radio 4’s Reading Europe series, are some of the most famous novelists in their own countries – but the rest of the world has yet to discover them.

Here’s why you should read them.

Italy: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Ferrante fever has been sweeping Europe for the past few years, and reached a fever pitch when journalist Claudio Gatti claimed to have “unmasked” the reclusive author. However, fans remain more interested in her novels than her life stories. In My Brilliant Friend, we’re introduced to Elena and Lila, whose friendship is one of the most believable in fiction – they’re not braiding each other’s hair at sleepovers, they’re jealously competing to escape the neighbourhood of Naples and trying to avoid the attentions of local gangsters.

Look out for: Lila’s wedding – it’s so tense and troubling that it makes the wedding sequence in The Godfather look like it was guest directed by Richard Curtis.

Chicago Tribune

Espejos’ punk sound comes from the heart

by Britt Julious

(…) “It’s kind of just instinct,” Cardoza says about her songwriting process. “I take inspiration from a lot of things like my personal life for sure. It’s definitely a release.” Cardoza writes the lyrics after the music has been composed by her bandmates. On recent tracks she’s drawn inspiration from politics, current events, even Elena Ferrante novels.

The Rumpus

The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project #90: Erika Carter

BY

Rumpus: In Lucky You, there are tidbits of information about the characters’ pasts. There are time gaps between sections. There is a lot that goes unspoken. This seems to require you, as the author, to have a lot of trust in the reader. Can you talk a bit about this relationship of trust between author and reader?

Carter: When I was writing this, I had no agent or publisher, and was far from even thinking about having readers. So, that was freeing, because I wasn’t trying to please anyone. It’s interesting now, though, because I’m writing my second book, and I’m still not trying to please anyone—I feel like I’m just writing what has to be said, in the best way I know how to say it.

Lucky You is definitely not for everyone, but I would never want to write a book for everyone. I’d like to quote Elena Ferrante here, from her interview with the Paris Review, on this subject:

I employ all the strategies I know to capture the reader’s attention, stimulate curiosity, make the page as dense as possible and as easy as possible to turn. But once I have the reader’s attention I feel it is my right to pull it in whichever direction I choose. I don’t think the reader should be indulged as a consumer, because he isn’t one. Literature that indulges the tastes of the reader is a degraded literature. My goal is to disappoint the usual expectations and inspire new ones.

New Republic

When will Younger give us the Elena Ferrante plotline we deserve?

The second season of Younger, the TV Land sitcom that follows Liza (Sutton Foster), a 40-year-old recently divorced mother who pretends to be a 26-year-old in order to land a job in publishing, has been … mostly pretty good. But five episodes into the season, there’s been less publishing stuff and more “Liza getting existential about the whole pretending-to-be-a-millennial thing while also being clearly set up for a love triangle (which is also a metaphor for her existential crisis) with her super-hot tattoo-artist boyfriend and her slightly less hot but still pretty hot in a Sears-model-kind-of-way boss.”

Anyway, this season’s publishing storyline is decidedly less delicious than last season’s, which featured Thorbjørn Harr as a more corporate Karl Ove Knausgaard. Instead, the Younger writers have introduced a Cat Marnell stand-in and an imprint run by Hilary Duff’s character aimed at millennials. (It’s called Millennial Press.) This plotline is fine, but not filled with enough publishing world in-jokes. 

Season 2 of Younger should drink from the same well as Season 1 and bring in a pseudonymous, Elena Ferrante-like foreign author who lands a deal with Empirical Press, and Liza is entrusted with protecting her identity. Liza should be great at this, since she’s a pro at hiding her identity—only Liza screws it up due to [millennial stuff]. Younger has given us Knausgaard, and now it must give us Ferrante.

The Strategist

Steal Your Summer Reading List From Hillary Clinton

Yesterday, the Cut reported that during a speech at the American Library Association conference, Hillary Clinton listed all of the books she’s been reading with her unexpected time off since November, saying that besides for going on hikes and drinking white wine (relatable), she’s been consoling herself by “going back to the familiar experience of losing myself in books.” As such, there are lots of novels and mystery stories and some uplifting poetry, all of which we’ve gathered below.

My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One by Elena Ferrante

Electric Lit

Hillary Clinton Is Reading a Lot of Mystery Novels and You Should Probably Join Her

A complete breakdown of the whodunits, sagas & poetry volumes helping the former Secretary of State through this difficult time

Patricja Okuniewska

There are many admirable qualities about former Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and her penchant for reading (not just the news and briefings) is one of them. Now that she a bit more free time on her hands, without having to run an entire campaign and all that, she’s seized the opportunity by revisiting old favorites and and discovering a few new books, too. Yesterday, at the American Library Association conference, Clinton indulged the audience with how she likes to spend her free time these days, giving a very relatable answer of drinking wine, hiking, and reading. Sounds about right. She also listed a number of books that have made their way across her nightstand of late, so keep adding to your summer reading lists because she’s named some good ones, and let’s be honest, you want to form a book club with Hillary Clinton. Two glasses of wine in, think of the stories.

1. My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

Clinton said that she finished all four of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, which revolve around two female friends who grow up in post-war Italy, and which detail the coming-of-age of not only a strong relationship but of a city and a country. Also focusing on themes such as class and power, these books definitely sound right up our former Secretary of State’s alley. And everyone’s, frankly. There’s a reason why they’re an international sensation.

The Cut

Here Are All the Books Hillary Clinton Has Time to Read Now

By

June 27, 2017

Hillary Clinton has some unexpected free time on her hands these days, and as she told the audience at the American Library Association conference on Tuesday, she’s been filling it with things like hikes, white wine, and reading.The former presidential candidate said that after her election loss, one of the ways she found solace was by “going back to the familiar experience of losing myself in books.”

Then she ticked off what she’s read since November: “I finished Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, I devoured mysteries by Louise Penny, Donna Leon, Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd,” she said. She continued, “I reread old favorites like Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, the poetry of Maya Angelou and Mary Oliver. I was riveted by The Jersey Brothers and a new book of essays called The View From Flyover Country, which turned out to be especially relevant in the midst of our current health-care debate.” (The last is a self-published book of essays by Missouri-based journalist Sarah Kendzior.)

Congratulations to Hillary, who now has more time to read than a person who lives in Washington Heights and commutes to Ditmas Park.

Bravo TV

Here’s How Hillary Clinton Likes To Get Lost These Days – Hint: It’s Not In The Woods

She deserves a break after…well, her entire career. 

Variety

French, Italian State Broadcasters Join Forces to Counter U.S. Streaming Giants

International Correspondent@NickVivarelli

ROME – France Televisions and Italy’s RAI have joined forces to co-produce a wide range of high-end English-language content for global distribution – including TV dramas, documentaries, animation series and entertainment formats – in a strategic pact meant to counter the growing force of U.S. streaming services in Europe.

Top executives from the two state broadcasters said at a Rome press conference Wednesday that the growth of Netflix and Amazon brought them together in this wide-ranging co-production partnership. France Televisions managing director Xavier Couture even suggested that the pact could be a possible first step of a broader alliance of European pubcasters to counter SVOD juggernauts from the U.S. and elsewhere.

“These players from the U.S., such as Netflix and Amazon, are very powerful, and they all have stories to tell that are not our own,” Couture said in his prepared remarks.

“But Europe is the most powerful cultural region in the world. We can counter them together,” he added.

The France Televisions exec went on to note that “we are the first [members] of a big family that must be the European family of cultural television,” which could include other pubcasters as partners in the future.

In a similar vein, RAI managing director Mario Orfeo noted that “the world of media and television is coming under very strong competition, especially by global players that have more resources.”

“It’s therefore important that RAI, after its agreements with [Franco-German publicly funded network] Arte and [Swiss pubcaster] RSI, forges this alliance,” he said.

Projects in the pipeline are being rigorously kept under wraps, but Variety understands that they include a drama on the origins and expansion of the Mafia, a high-profile documentary on Pompeii, and an animation series set in France.

The agreement between France Televisions and RAI is unusual if not unprecedented because the two prominent pubcasters will develop content together through an ongoing active collaboration between their respective production departments and also single networks. Details about how much each broadcaster will be investing were not disclosed.

Rai accounts for around 70% of Italian TV drama funding. France Televisions also spends hundreds of millions of euros a year on original drama. But both need to make more high-end product as local audiences become more sophisticated thanks to pay-TV and streaming offerings and international sales become crucial to recoup costs.

Couture said that the high-end content that France and Italy would be producing would be English-language “in order to be able to compete on the global market.”

RAI recently made a foray in the international TV arena as a major co-financer of “Medici” and also has crime show “Suburra” in the works, in an unusual partnership with Netflix, as well as a series based on Elena Ferrante’s bestselling novel “My Brilliant Friend” co-financed with HBO. France Televisions is especially strong in documentaries and animation for the international market.

Entertainment Weekly

12 Novels to Read Before They Head to TV

On Our Minds

Our favorite fictional beaches

 Morgan Baden June 23rd, 2017

I grew up in a beach town; the salt water is in my blood. I like to read “beach reads” (whatever they are) all year round. But now that it’s summer, I feel free to shine some sunlight on all the books I love that take place at the beach!

From board books to wordless picture books, from classic middle grade novels to contemporary YAs, from evocative literary fiction to adult thrillers, there are beachy books for every type of reader. So even if you’re land-locked this summer, you can feel the sand in your toes when you pick up one of these titles.

Here are some of my all-time favorite books that take place at the beach:

(…) And Julia chose Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Much of the second book, The Story of a New Name, takes place in an Italian beach town. (See my note above about Italian beaches!) Julia says, “I love Ferrante’s writing because she can sustain long periods of intense human emotion for hundreds of pages, and it’s riveting and exhausting. There’s no better example of this intensity than during Lenu and Lila’s summer on the beach in The Story of a New Name.”