Lidija Haas

Lidija Haas is the New Books columnist at Harper’s magazine and a contributing editor at Bookforum.

At the Currywurst Wagon: Deborah Levy

Lidija Haas, 2 January 2020

Theworld according to Deborah Levy is like an emotionally charged dream or joke. A man accepts soup from an elderly neighbour and retches, catlike, on a mouthful of grey hair. People walk around naked in public. A corpse in a swimming pool is revealed not to be a corpse but a stammering, unstable young woman; a murdered teenage daughter turns out merely to have got her first period and to...

Grace Paley’s people reappear from story to story and their lives usually extend beyond the frame. Her suspicion of ‘the absolute line between two points’ may explain why she was so frequently accused of wisdom. If you were looking for lessons on better living, you might find them in the fiction; especially if you choose to read the fiction through the life and vice versa, as the Reader seems to encourage. ‘I learned from her,’ Nora Paley says of her mother, ‘that precision requires a warm eye, not a cold one.’ But most of the time she didn’t make things too cosy for her characters.

You can’t​ have it both ways and both ways is the only way Ariel Levy wants it. Levy is best known for her portraits, in the New Yorker, of women who test society’s boundaries, or run up hard against them, and she has often hinted at her own stake in these stories. There was Caster Semenya, the South African runner forced to endure hormone testing and endless discussion as to...

Close-up of Amy Winehouse. Not the stylised mask of later years, with its extravagant licks of eyeliner. What you’re seeing is a quite different face, that of, as one record exec recalls her, ‘a classic North London Jewish girl’, large-eyed, fleshy, constantly in motion; it belongs to someone mouthy, beguiling and almost resplendently ordinary. Off-camera, a female interviewer appears to be trying to get Winehouse to join her in pontificating on women musicians.

Fairy tales​ deal in ones, twos and threes, in lone heroines, haunting doubles, sets of wishes and curses: they are patternings, engines for producing extreme and ambiguous effects from simple elements. The title of Helen Oyeyemi’s new novel comes from the storybookish names of its three principal women, Boy, Snow and Bird – ‘a wicked stepmother and her daughters’,...

‘He’s my enemy,’ Jane Auer recalled telling a friend when she first met Paul Bowles. But she immediately followed him to Mexico even so and, though she had been and would always be much more drawn to women, married him less than a year later. The instinct to court an ‘enemy’ rather than an admirer may have been a shrewd one: it seems to have been especially...

On the Sofa: ‘Girls’

Lidija Haas, 8 November 2012

Lena Dunham’s Girls opens on its creator and star eating the way you don’t often see a woman eat on TV: brow furrowed, cheeks full, spaghetti cascading towards the plate, left hand free to catch any strands that might not quite fit in her mouth. Dunham’s character, 24-year-old Hannah Horvath, is having a meal in a restaurant with her parents, but there’s something of...

Wholly Allergic: Georgette Heyer

Lidija Haas, 30 August 2012

When I complained to my mother that I’d run out of Jane Austen novels, she handed me one by Georgette Heyer. ‘It isn’t quite the same,’ she said, and even then – I was 10 – I could see that it was and it wasn’t. The romantic interest and sharp dialogue were similar, though not so nuanced; the supporting cast of aunts and neighbours comic, but not so...

At the height of the ‘warrantless wiretapping’ scandal of 2006 – George W. Bush had authorised the National Security Agency to monitor overseas phone calls involving suspected al-Qaida operatives, but it transpired that the surveillance extended to all electronic communication and web activity, foreign and domestic – Sherry Turkle went to a party celebrating the Webby...

What would it have been like to fall in love with the young Martin Amis, ‘the most fascinating man’ Gully Wells had ever met? ‘Only the most awful clichés,’ she tells us, ‘could possibly do justice to the way I felt.’ He was ‘very funny and very clever’; ‘he made me laugh and told me things I didn’t know.’ She is a bit...

Self-Unhelp: Candia McWilliam

Lidija Haas, 6 January 2011

Candia McWilliam is six feet tall and used to being stared at. She always looked ‘a bit thick’, she says, ‘where thick overlaps with apparently sexy’: a mixed blessing for anyone. Indeed, the looks could be a liability: on her first honeymoon, she was briefly kidnapped in Oaxaca by a gang who’d mistaken her for Jimmy Connors’s new wife, Playboy’s 1977...

Dye the Steak Blue: Shirley Jackson

Lidija Haas, 19 August 2010

In Shirley Jackson’s best-known story, ‘The Lottery’, the residents of a small New England village get together on a summer morning to draw lots. The sun shines, the children play, the villagers chat: it takes a few pages to figure out that they’re deciding who should be stoned to death this year. The New Yorker published the story in 1948, and got more calls and...

From The Blog
10 April 2015

Looking around her apartment in the Dakota above Central Park, Lauren Bacall saw ‘my several lives’ surrounding her. ‘Going from room to room,’ she writes in her 1994 memoir, Now, ‘I am faced with one or more of my collections, my follies: books, pewter, brass, Delft, majolica, tables, chairs, things... how did it happen, the acquiring of all this, the accumulation of it? Now that I have it all, what do I do with it? Who will want it?’ Quite a few people, it turns out: at the auction of Bacall’s belongings at Bonhams last week, every lot sold, from the Henry Moore sculptures to the Louis Vuitton luggage to the Ted Kennedy lithograph of daffodils (the auctioneer joked about the ‘collective gasp’ in the crowd when he announced that this one had ‘lots of pre-sale interest’), to the miniature bronze statue of Bogart in his gumshoe get-up (14 inches high; $16,250).

From The Blog
28 November 2014

Beauty, acting, stardom: we do and don't want to think it all takes work. Jennifer Lawrence is a gift to both points of view: a disciplined pro with a bow and arrow, who really did skin that squirrel for Winter's Bone, and who already at 24 has three Best Actress Oscar nominations (and a win) behind her, she's also the pointedly low-maintenance everygirl who drinks too much and throws up, trips over her dress when accepting her Academy Award, announces on the red carpet that her strapless Dior dress is giving her ‘armpit vaginas’. Stephen Colbert riffed on her reputation for earthy authenticity when he suggested that, like Katniss Everdeen, her character in the Hunger Games movies, she was plucked from obscurity to become an eventual role model, and that Kentucky, where she was born and grew up, is ‘a little District 12-y in places’.

From The Blog
10 October 2014

‘Do you really like movies?’ a weary Lindsay Lohan asks another woman in The Canyons (2013), Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis’s languid micro-budget thriller. ‘Maybe it’s just not my thing any more.’ Widely considered uninsurable, Lohan has had a hard time getting cast in anything for years: the footage of her social life and legal troubles has been far outstripping her film career for a very long time, and she’s still only 28.

From The Blog
20 February 2012

Four months after Amanda Knox was acquitted of murdering Meredith Kercher, HarperCollins has paid her several million dollars for her memoirs. We will soon be able, we're told, to hear ‘her side of the story’ – except that her side, an account of the ‘nightmarish ordeal that placed her at the centre of a media storm’, to be told with the help of a ‘collaborator’, already sounds a little familiar.

From The Blog
26 July 2011

In my favourite picture of Amy Winehouse, she’s holding a hoover. It’s partly the thought that Amy Winehouse did the hoovering, partly that she looked like that – hair aloft, fag askew, lids weighed down with liner – full-time. She always mixed the real and the unreal. Her voice, described in the New Yorker as a kind of ‘aural blackface’, belonged in several decades at once. Her version of ‘Valerie’ made the Zutons’ sound like a cover; the way she sang it, it could almost have been an original Motown song – the reverse of what Phil Collins once did to ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’. Detroit met Southgate somewhere in her voice.

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