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It could be me

Joanna Biggs: Sheila Heti

24 January 2013
How Should a Person Be? 
by Sheila Heti.
Harvill Secker, 306 pp., £16.99, January 2013, 978 1 84655 754 5
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... in it. The pleasure of watching young rich people being authentically ridiculous was matched by the satisfaction of spotting the shaping hand. I was watching a reality show for the art of it. SheilaHeti’s second novel, How Should a Person Be?, has a lot of the same anxious pleasures. The ‘novel from life’ – a marketing tag, not a manifesto – caused a stir when it was published in the US in ...

Get a Lobotomy

Sally Rooney: ‘Motherhood’

30 August 2018
Motherhood 
by Sheila Heti.
Harvill Secker, 277 pp., £16.99, May 2018, 978 1 84655 837 5
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... I feel terrified. Such women do deserve congratulations, for having survived. But having 19 children doesn’t strike me as a better or more important achievement than having one – or none. SheilaHeti’s new book, Motherhood, confronts the philosophical questions raised by childbearing and womanhood in a narrative both fictional and non-fictional. ‘I know a woman who refuses to mother ...

Short Cuts

Joanna Biggs: Transcendental Wardrobes

18 December 2014
... and a grey cardigan I wanted to lose. Did I think I was building a style or was I just refusing one? Everything I put on reflected something bad about me. There are several collections of clothes in SheilaHeti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton’s book about the problem of dressing, Women in Clothes (Particular Books, £24): from the impossibly glamorous 16 fur coats in teddy-bear shades belonging to ...

She wore Isabel Marant

Joanna Biggs: Literary London

2 August 2018
Crudo 
by Olivia Laing.
Picador, 140 pp., £12.99, June 2018, 978 1 5098 9283 9
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... or the subject matter alien: it is rather that Crudo sits somewhere between a roman à clef and autofiction, the hip blend of fiction and memoir associated with writers like Knausgaard, Ben Lerner or SheilaHeti. If most of Crudo is true, then what does the novel gain by being a novel at all? At the back of the book, all the quotations are identified, providing a key of sorts. But Laing’s own Twitter ...

So Frank

Sheila Heti: Meeting Knausgaard

9 January 2014
My Struggle: Book 2. A Man in Love 
by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Don Bartlett.
Vintage, 544 pp., £8.99, October 2013, 978 0 09 955517 9
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... Last year, I happened to meet the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard. I had just read part of Book 1 of My Struggle, his six-volume autobiographical series, and in a scene that imprinted itself on my memory – a scene from his childhood, set on New Year’s Eve before he heads out with his friends – he steps into the family kitchen: I got up, grabbed the orange peel, went into the kitchen, where ...
30 August 2012
Leaving the Atocha Station 
by Ben Lerner.
Granta, 181 pp., £14.99, July 2012, 978 1 84708 689 1
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... At the start of Leaving the Atocha Station, Adam Gordon, a young American in Spain for a year on a fellowship, purportedly to write ‘a long, research-driven poem’ about the Spanish Civil War’s ‘literary legacy’, goes into the Prado and heads for Rogier Van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross. He has been standing in front of it every morning since he arrived in Madrid, but today he finds ...

But I invested in you!

Sheila Heti: How to Be an Asshole

16 July 2014
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. 
by Adelle Waldman.
Windmill, 244 pp., £8.99, April 2014, 978 0 09 955899 6
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... There​ was a time when artists and writers flocked to inexpensive cities to allow themselves the trials of making art over the trials of making a living. In North America today, the main site of literary activity or literary business – which more and more amount to the same thing – is Brooklyn. Yet it’s probably one of the toughest places for a writer to live cheaply and noodle about, wearing ...

I dive under the covers

Sheila Heti: Mad Wives

6 June 2013
Heroines 
by Kate Zambreno.
Semiotext(e), 309 pp., £12.95, November 2012, 978 1 58435 114 6
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... In 2009 Kate Zambreno went to live in Akron, Ohio, the sort of place you only choose if the situation is desperate. She was there because her husband had been hired to ‘curate and organise a small collection of rare books at the university … the gift of a rubber industrialist’. Friends asked why they’d made this uninspiring move. ‘The economy, you know. I mumble. A great job. (I really want ...

Didn’t we agree to share?

Sheila Heti: ‘The First Wife’

12 July 2017
The First Wife 
by Paulina Chiziane, translated by David Brookshaw.
Archipelago, 250 pp., £14.99, August 2016, 978 0 914671 48 0
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... In​ 1990, when she was 35 years old, Paulina Chiziane became the first woman in Mozambique to publish a novel. She has since published six more books, writing in Portuguese, and is one of Mozambique’s most culturally significant writers. In interviews, Chiziane has explained that she has received a lot of criticism for her books from people who think that the women’s lives she depicts aren’t ...

Thanks for being called Dick

Jenny Turner: ‘I Love Dick’

17 December 2015
I Love Dick 
by Chris Kraus.
Tuskar Rock, 261 pp., £12.99, November 2015, 978 1 78125 647 3
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... book about men and women written in the last century’, Emily Gould claimed a couple of weeks ago in the Guardian. ‘Deeply feminist, formally both out of control and expertly in control,’ SheilaHeti wrote in the Believer in 2013. ‘Once it came into my hands it didn’t leave them until the book was done.’ So back to the basic setup: 3 December 1994 is the date of the primal sushi dinner ...

Whomph!

Joanna Biggs: Zadie Smith

1 December 2016
Swing Time 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 453 pp., £18.99, November 2016, 978 0 241 14415 2
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... by a zanier, Nabokovian narrator, although the neutral tone leaves the way open to another sort of writing Smith tries out here, the seemingly non-fictional sort seen in the novels of Ben Lerner and SheilaHeti, and in Smith’s own essays. As the title On Beauty had been already used by Elaine Scarry, so Swing Time has been borrowed from the title of the 1936 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers vehicle, a ...

Excessive Weeping

Lauren Oyler: Nicole Flattery’s Stories

10 October 2019
Show Them a Good Time 
by Nicole Flattery.
Bloomsbury, 238 pp., £14.99, March, 978 1 5266 1190 1
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... vacant, they go through the motions, weirding out the ‘normal’ people around them, most frequently their boyfriends, with non sequiturs, odd questions and unexpected barbs, like a Miranda July or SheilaHeti character but meaner. The writing is only unmemorable because the existence Flattery depicts is too. The clipped quirkiness of her prose relieves the text of the burden of narrative, which to ...

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