Today I thought I’d stop by and tell you about two very incredible books by two very incredible authors. It’s been a while as I’ve been drowning in a sea of essays. Apologies in advance if this reads like one, all complaints should be directed towards the University of Manchester’s English department…
Lara Williams’ Supper Club and Anna Hope’s Expectation. Both published this year and both utterly dazzling. They both tell wonderful stories of women from a woman’s perspective, exploring a process of growing up, of encountering the self and of entering the world in different ways.
This paired up review is inspired by an event we’re running at Blackwell’s Manchester on 20th November which will see both of these incredible authors in conversation with another exceptional writer: Naomi Booth. I’ll include a link at the end of this post if you’d like to get a ticket and come along to chat about the books—you’ll find me crying at the back of the room most likely. These books belong next to each other on a bookshelf; the themes of womanhood, female friendship and memory are intrinsic to both narratives.
I read both Expectation and Supper Club in the height of this summer’s heatwave. I sat in the garden eating a whole punnet of apricots (always on offer at Sainsbury’s) and scrolled on my phone, looking for my next read. Expectation had been on my radar for a while, and when I realised it had been released, I pretty much ran to the shop to buy it, picking up Supper Club at the same time.
The story follows the lives of three different women, each chapter made up of sections about each of the people within the book. Although set in the present, the narrative is interrupted by italics which detail the timeline of the friendships which connect them. I loved this element of the book and found it similar to Supper Club in this way. Both authors use memory as a way of analysing the past from both negative and positive perspectives and I found it really interesting how the memories physically broke through the text in Expectation. The cover poses a question which stayed with me throughout my reading and suggests why this feature was so prevalent:
‘What happened to the women we were supposed to become?’
Female friendships are a prevalent focus of both novels too. What I found significant about this was the way in which both authors presented relationships between women as complex rather than two-dimensional. The women in these books are multi-layered and the friendships experienced are as much flawed as they are fantastically well-developed. I felt like I too was part of the friendship groups, first as a fourth member of Expectation’s trio, and then as a fully-fledged member of the Supper Club, gorging on caramel cheesecake as I read.
One of Hope’s italicised memories cuts through the text with a philosophical conviction:
‘These are the ones who trouble her. They are slippery, hard to categorize. And Hannah is fond of categorization. This girl sounds posh but does not act it. Hannah has never seen her in the student union. She is beautiful but careless with her beauty- at eleven o’clock seminars, for instance, she often has last night’s make-up crusted around her eyes. The tip of her index finger is stained orange from smoking. She barely seems to brush her hair. But this girl possesses something indefinable, something that, although she cannot name it, Hannah knows she wants desperately for herself.’
There is something really unique about the way Hope writes about female friendship. She captures the admiration, the envy, the love and the simultaneous hatred that is often prevalent between friends and yet often goes unspoken, particularly how these tensions can affect us in deeply emotional ways. Williams captures a similar sentiment in Supper Club:
‘Stevie had elected herself master of ceremonies, hustling all the women into getting more drunk, announcing toasts and speeches. She revelled in the role and we spent a lot of time listening to her stories, to her thoughts on Mary Wollstonecraft. Sometimes I would think— let her perform. Mostly, I felt a deep pride and sororal love. I would throw my arms around her and declare, ‘I adore you!’
Supper Club is an exclusive meeting of women who like to eat. When the narrator Roberta finds herself feeling lost, feeling at a loss for how to articulate her self, she starts the Supper Club. The women who attend are hungry for something, whether its friendship or relief from the reality of life, and they find an answer in the Supper Club. The concept of this book is so clever and witty and so many other words which I just can’t put my finger on. The descriptions of the women gathered in darkness, stuffing their faces with all manner of foods, was both gruesome and elegant. I found a lot of comfort in the ways Williams talked about bodies. Although Roberta was often doing more harm to her body than good, the visceral descriptions of the female body— it’s growth, it’s shrinking, it’s energy and it’s power—served as a very honest and direct way to provoke thought about the way they are policed by ourselves and by society.
I absolutely adored both of these books. Other things I loved: settings in the North, complex and casual sexuality representation, beautiiifully interesting characters. Catch me waiting outside my nearest bookshop (aka Blackwell’s MCR) for the next books from these wonderful women writers.
There’s something very magical when you read two books in and row and they speak both to you and simultaneously to each other. I am so very excited to hear these authors in conversation tomorrow evening and I hope to see you there too!
I’ve been pretty absent from book-blogging of recent but I’m hoping this marks the start of a new chapter. I can’t promise I won’t be spending the next month devouring my way through many a Christmas sandwich though (in true Supper Club style), so until next time!
Tickets for the event: