Book Review: Frieda – a Novel of the Real Lady Chatterley, by Annabel Abbs

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_frieda.jpgThis book tells the moving story of Frieda von Richthofen, wife of D.H. Lawrence – and the real-life inspiration for Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel banned for more than 30 years.

Frieda, daughter of German aristocrat Baron von Richthofen is married to English professor Ernest Weekley and living in Nottingham. A visit from her sister unsettles her and she decides to visit Germany, leaving her three children with Ernest and the nanny. It is 1907 and Munich is a city alive with new ideas and free love so it seems inevitable for Frieda to take a lover. Her experience awakens her sexually and Otto stimulates her intellectual thinking as well so that when she returns to England she continues to write to him and dreams of their time together.

Ernest invites a former student D H Lawrence to lunch , but when Ernest is delayed Frieda finds herself relaxing and warming to the young man who is keen to go to Germany for work. She decided ‘if she was still as dazzled by him, she would take him to the woods and show him who she truely was’. The year is now 1912 and their relationship is volatile and causes great heartache and anxiety in the family.

The book is written in eight parts taking the reader from England to Germany, Italy and back to London while the epilogue is back in Italy in 1927 with Lawrence working on Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Author Annabel Abbs lives in London with her husband and four children. Her debut novel The Joyce Girl has won a number of awards. Her writing style is soft and gentle with a wonderful use of the English language,’She hadn’t intended to lie naked in the open air but as she walked through the woods , a sudden breeze had rushed up her skirt, rattling and pulling at her underclothes as if trying to prise them off.’

Having read Lady Chatterley’s Lover in my final year at high school I was keen to read Frieda and found it added a lot of background to the characters and I will read Lady Chatterley again shortly. The historical notes at the rear of the book added useful information about the characters and DH Lawrence’s books. It is a great read and I am sure will be enjoyed by many people especially those who have read some of DH Lawrence’s novels.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Frieda – A novel of the Real Lady Chatterley
by Annabel Abbs
Published by Hachette
ISBN 9780733640117

WORD: Work / Sex, with Kate Holden, Leigh Hopkinson, Jodi Sh. Doff and Julie Hill

Event_WorkSexIf Ivan E. Coyote did one of the best things a literary festival can do – broke my heart and then put it back together again made better – this session did another: forced me to examine my own unconscious bias and realise I was wrong.

Sex work is something I’ve never really thought much about, which means that most of the ideas I have about sex workers are those I’ve passively absorbed from the society and media around me. And, if there’s one thing feminism has taught me – and as Debbie Stoller said on Friday – it’s that received ideas, particularly about women, need to be carefully rethought. So thank you to Leigh Hopkinson, Jodi Sh. Doff, and especially Kate Holden, for prompting me to do some important rethinking.

They were on a panel chaired by Julie Hill. Conversation was lively, intelligent and stimulating (as per the usual very high standard of WORD), and all three women read from their latest books, which I tried in vain to buy from the bookstall afterwards (they had sold out).

Hodgkinson was working as stripper at the same time as editing student magazine Canta while studying. “I found the unregulated vibe of the industry really alluring … Writing is more difficult, it requires an element of emotional truth in order to succeed. With stripping, you can fake that.” For a long time she kept her stripping life secret. “I regret not having owned that part of myself publicly earlier … It annoyed me that people were making judgements about me based on what I did for a job … I was not personally ashamed, that shame got put on me from outside.”

Doff is a New Yorker who told us tales of working the champagne hustle in strip joints and bars in Times Square in the 70s and 80s: “I always wanted to be a hurly burly girl … I probably qualified as a drunk by the time I was 13 or 14.” She spoke unflinchingly of the danger of those times and the brutal rape she suffered that went practically unpunished: her rapist was just banned from the pub for a couple of weeks. “The mafia owned all the strip clubs and gay bars, the places where people couldn’t complain … Women were very, very replaceable … We formed foxhole friendships [with each other], under fire in the front lines of the war.”

Holden, an Australian author, says she was “such a dork” as a teenager, “really intimidated by other humans”. She had “a grand fantasy of doing something radical … Grunge was the making of me because it didn’t matter what you wore, I could just leap in and fake it … I wanted to do something that scared me … Heroin led me into sex work through force of economics.” Holden spoke eloquently about the custodial side of sex work, and how a lot of it involves caring for men who are lonely – and educating them about sex. She also spoke of the consorority: “In some ways it’s a perfect female society … We had such a range of womanhood on any shift [at the brothel] … It was exciting to see women experimenting with different kinds of boldness.”

I was particularly struck by Holden speaking about “the assumptive public discourse about sex workers … Whenever there’s violence against sex workers, the emphasis is always on their work … If plumber comes to your house they don’t need to bring a bodyguard in case you ravenously sexually attack them. It’s so arse about face that we think a sex worker is in charge of not being raped … Sex work is rated as a separate, exotic category of work. We’re not having panels about writers who have also been sandwich makers!”

I felt that tingle in my brain when you hear something and agree with it, but believing that new thing requires you to let go of a pre-existing idea you weren’t even aware you were holding. I felt some old ideas dissolve. I will be tracking down Holden’s book for sure.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Work / Sex
with Kate Holden, Leigh Hopkinson, Jodi Sh. Doff, chaired by Julie Hill

Under My Skin: A Memoir of Addiction
by Kate Holden
Published by Skyhorse Publishing
ISBN 9781611457988

Two Decades Naked
by Leigh Hopkinson
Published by Hachette Australia
ISBN 9780733634833

Book Review: Breathing Under Water, by Sophie Hardcastle

Available today in bookshops nationwide.

cv_breathing_under_waterBreathing Under Water is a beautifully written, lyrically told tale that takes a tragic and heartbreaking turn. The language is rich and poetic, immersing the reader until they too, drown in the story. I was with Grace as she began her dark, downward spiral, dealing with her grief in a manner that was both destructive to her and the relationships and lives of those she cared for. I was her conscience, wishing she would see what she was doing to herself, wishing that someone would step in and say, “Enough!”

Grace was born 12 minutes after her brother and for her whole life she has felt to be living in his shadow. He was always the golden child, the poster boy surfer, the glint of pride in his father’s eye. But not only that, he was also the spirit, the heart of the family, the spark that kept them all together. So, when tragedy strikes, everything begins to fall apart, starting with Grace…

With its strong Australian vibes, and the passion the prose shows for the ocean, this is sure to strike a chord with teenagers down under. It is emotionally powerful, eloquently written and deeply immersive. For teenagers, I believe, it is important to see how shattered one’s life can become – but how it is still possible to begin to pick up the pieces, mend the cracks and seek renewal. It is a story of grief, and how we deal with it. It is a story of love, and what challenges it. And it is a story of humanity.

It is at times wild, and does feature drugs and sexual references (although those are fairly subtle), as well as some pretty dark themes. As such it is more fitting to a somewhat-mature teen audience – but fans of John Green and Melina Marchetta should devour it greedily. The writing style, likewise, takes a little getting used to – at times it is more poetry than prose – but I found it an evocative and compelling read.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Breathing Under Water
by Sophie Hardcastle
Published by Hachette Australia
ISBN 9780733634857

The talented Maxine Beneba Clarke, Slam Poet, bit of a genius

As I walked in, Maxine Beneba Clarke launched into her first performance of her poetry: “Black kids don’t do Hans Christian Anderson. We were the hunted wolves, crouched down in Grandma’s room… I am the Match Girl, left out in the cold. If I don’t burn this fiction down, it’s not for lack of trying.”

maxine_clarkeThis was performed with such force, such wonderful intonation, that the entire crowd of teenagers were silent. You could have heard a pin drop. They were spellbound. To see Maxine perform, is to be transported.

Today’s group was the year 9 – 13 crowd, older teens, those who are just now trying to work out what is relevant to them and how to make things work within their world view. They had much to learn from Maxine. She says, “Even if you don’t see the value in what you are being asked to study, there is value in working out why it is you don’t. In working out where you fit in relation to it.”

Maxine, like Tusiata Avia whom we saw yesterday, began without realising that she was allowed to do the type of poetry she does. She started being inspired by music, then later, making mix-tapes of her own voices, trying out new characters as she created. “I wasn’t taught that poetry was to be performed, that you could stand in front of somebody and give them your work.” Her next performance was all about ‘real poetry’ – by “people with PhD’s, bushmen and working class heroes.”

Foreign_soilMaxine fell into short fiction thanks to the characters she created in her poetry. Her book Foreign Soil comprises short stories about different people from different places – from Jamaica where her parents are from, from the USA, England, Australia. It wasn’t until her book picked up the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript award that she was finally published. And just yesterday, her poetry collection Carrying the World was published in Australia and New Zealand.

I can’t wait to see Maxine’s memoir, about growing up black in middle-class white Australia – called The Hate Race, due late in 2016. She loves this work, because it brings her experience full circle – and inspires others. She says, “Make yourselves the heroes of your own stories.”

An incredibly important aspect of her talk for teens was focused on the ways in which you can write what you know. Don’t be restrained by medium – a story expressed via a Facebook message is no less a story than one written in pretty, poetic language. “There’s something very interesting on short-form social media: you get many different voices, and stories, intertwining in one place. I found this fascinating in my work, finding new ways to deliver stories.”

The teenagers in this group were awestruck, and asked pertinent questions – including for a poem about her experience of racial discrimination. This poem was called ‘Marley,’ and moved me to tears. She was also asked whether she felt empowered when she performed. “Yes, because sometimes the poem doesn’t do what you want it to do. I sometimes take friends to open mike nights, to get their honest opinions.”

The takeaway quote for me, and for the students: “Think about the things you love doing, and write it.”

Go and see Maxine Beneba Clarke in action, with Tusiata Avia this weekend at the Auckland Writer’s Festival. Don’t worry if you haven’t read her, you will experience her and be blown away. And I guarantee you will be buying her – and Tusiata’s books from the fine folks the festival bookstall on your way out of the Aotea Centre.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Maxine Beneba Clarke will be part of the event: Spirit House, Foreign Soil: Maxine Beneba Clarke and Tusiata Avia at 1.30pm on Saturday 14 May, in the Lower NZI Room at the Aotea Centre, as part of the Auckland Writer’s Festival. Go to this, it is unmissable.

Foreign Soil, published by Hachette Australia, ISBN 9780733632426
Carrying the World, published by Hachette Australia, ISBN 978073363640