Book Review: The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones

cover of The Uninvited GuestsThe Uninvited Guests is one of those books that clearly is speculative fiction but that lands on “literary fiction” shelves instead.  I like the fact that this book can be read many ways – as fantasy, as horror, as magical realism, and as historical fiction.  It’s weird and dark and atmospheric and perfect for October – plus it’s a delight for fans of Downton Abbey, since it’s set in that era and pays much attention to the niceties of upper class country life.  The tone is different, though – this book is very much about the costs of that life and how disproportionally they fall upon some people.

The family in The Uninvited Guests is presented with a conundrum – they want to live an upper class life (the mother, Charlotte, longs for a life of “dignity”) but they have a middle class background and income.  Charlotte, a widow who recently remarried, is devastated at the thought of losing her large house in the country, which the family cannot afford.  Charlotte’s new husband, Edward, goes to London to try to borrow money to save the house while the rest of the family prepare for the oldest daughter’s twentieth birthday (her name is Emerald).

So, the mood is already one of melancholy and desperation cloaked in madcap festivities when a crowd of drab, voiceless people shuffles up to the house out of the fog, like zombies.  Apparently there’s been “a dreadful accident” on the railway and the survivors have been sent to the estate for shelter.  They are all third class passengers.  Charlotte could not be more horrified if they really were zombies, and the rest of the family is almost as unsympathetic.

The remainder of the book spirals into more and more manic combinations of romance, bitterness, grief, cruelty and redemption, and mystery.  Why can’t they reach the railway on the phone?  Who is the one survivor who claims to be a first class passenger, and who claims to know Charlotte?  Why does the number of passengers seem to be growing larger?  And why on Earth is the youngest child trying to get a horse into her room?

Ultimately this book is about a lot of things – clothes and elaborate hairdos, and how incredibly difficult it is to make a fancy dinner for a party of seven, and the high cost of living.  It’s also about the sacrifices we make for family and the things we refuse to give up, the casual cruelties we practice and whether those cruelties can be redeemed by kindness.  It’s about class, and gender, and selfishness and  loss and hope.  Much like Emerald’s party, it appears to be  a light diversion and turns into a complicated mess – but a well-crafted, revealing mess.  This is a book that I suspect benefits by being read again and I’m looking forward to doing so!

 

Kathleen Hale and #GamerGate – A Comparison of Bullies

whale bullies cartoon

There are two things going on in the online world now that overlap in bizarre and, I think, spectacularly misunderstood ways. Kathleen Hale, an author, wrote an essay in which she describes stalking a reviewer, Blythe Harris, who gave her a bad review. Meanwhile users of the #GamerGate hashtag have bullied women who make and comment on video games. For instance, game designer and writer Brianna Wu was forced to flee from her home after her personal information, including her address, was released on Twitter and a commenter threatened to kill her. Rather than rehash the background of these events, which have been written about extensively elsewhere, here’s a few links to get you caught up if you aren’t familiar with the stories. Here’s a link to Katherine Hale’s Guardian article and an article by Dear Author that does some fact checking on Hale’s story. And here’s some background on Gamer Gate. Caught up? Grossed out? Sorry about that.

I was absolutely appalled by Hale’s story of stalking a reviewer. I’m an author and a reviewer and from both perspectives I was horrified by Hale’s behavior. I’m also horrified by Wu’s experiences with harassment, and would like to offer any support that I can. Hale claims to be a victim of bullying who wants to hold her bully accountable. Brianna Wu claims to be a victim of bullying who wants to hold her bully accountable. Why do I condemn Hale and support Wu, given that I have no tolerance for bullies whatsoever? Let’s compare.

Let me start by stating that I’m using Wu as an example of a woman targeted by #GamerGate. Sadly, her case is not an isolated one.   Wu has written extensively about her experience online and remains active on Twitter. I’ll also state that with the exception of the fact-checking I linked to above, I’m basing my opinion of Hale’s actions strictly on her own account of what transpired. Even if Harris did bully Hale to a far greater extent than Hale reveals, Hale’s actions would be unconscionable and unwise. I hope this will be evident when I contrast Hale’s approach to dealing with a “bully” to Wu’s.

The most obvious difference between Hale and Wu is that Hale didn’t provide any actual evidence of being bullied in her article for the Guardian. She referred to “vitriol” and “ridicule” but she didn’t give any examples. The quotes she provided from Harris’ review are scathing, but not bullying. They refer to problems Harris had with the actual book as opposed to ad hominem attacks on the author. As an example of what I mean, here’s a quote Hale uses from the review:

“Fuck this,” it said. “I think this book is awfully written and offensive; its execution in regards to all aspects is horrible and honestly, nonexistent.”

That’s not bullying. That’s a scathing review. It’s very negative, yes, but it doesn’t attack Hale personally. It attacks the book. It’s framed as an opinion (“I think” and it’s specific in its criticism. As an author, I would be sad and disappointed to get this review, but I wouldn’t feel bullied. Here’s an example of bullying from my own twitter feed, from someone using the #GamerGate hashtag: “You’re dead. Go get murdered”.

The difference between “Fuck This. I think this book is awfully written and offensive” and “Go get murdered” isn’t about vitriol or danger. The difference is about target. Harris, by Hale’s own account, attacks the book. The person who sent me the above tweet attacked me, personally, with an attempt to personally demean me. The tweet didn’t address any particular issue or argument. It was just an attempt to make me feel bad and maybe to scare me, although I wouldn’t say it qualifies as a death threat. It’s more of a death suggestion.

The closest thing that Hale provided that would be evidence of bullying is that Hale claims that Harris criticized the book for making light of rape even though, according to Hale, there’s no rape in her book. This cast Harris as a person who lied just to make an author look bad. However, a quick fact check reveals that there is statutory rape in the book and that Harris specifically described the rape as statutory in her review. Hale also complained that Harris responded to her tweets with “ridicule”, but she didn’t provide any examples. I don’t know anything about Harris. For all I know, she could have sent unconscionable tweets. But based on Hale’s own account, I have no reason to think so, because Harris chose not to provide examples. In fact, since several things Hale said were inaccurate (her claim that the review constitutes trolling, her claim that her book did not include rape, and her use of the word “catfishing”) I have every reason to doubt her entire account.

In contrast, when Brianna Wu fled her home, she provided a screenshot of the tweets that caused her to call the police. I have decided not to embed the tweets in this article because frankly they make me physically ill. But if you’d like to see them, you can find them, as well as some background about the case, at kotaku.com. I don’t have to wonder how mean people are to Brianna – I know. She didn’t make vague allegations. She provided specific examples. So have many other women who have been targeted by #GamerGate. So have journalists who have covered the issue. While some people argue that #GamerGate stands for something other than misogyny, the fact that some people use #GamerGate to bully is an established fact, not a hypothetical possibility.

Another difference between Brianna Wu and Hale is that Hale not only failed to use legal means to protect herself from her perceived bully, but she actually sought out her bully directly. By her own admission, she pursued contact with Blythe long after Blythe blocked her. She was desperate to have a conversation, but she didn’t seem to understand that she’s not entitled to one. She wanted to hold her “bully” accountable – how? By exposing Blythe’s identity? By terrifying her by calling her at home and at work? Hale stalked Blythe online, at her residence, and at her workplace. This is terrifying behavior. It doesn’t expose Blythe as a bully. It exposes Hale as a predator.

Hale claims that Harris was catfishing her. Catfishing is the creation of an online identity with the intent to lure someone into a relationship (usually, but not always, a romantic one). Harris never did that, at least, not according to Hale’s account. Catfishing isn’t just the use of a pseudonym or the creation of an online persona. It’s creation of this persona with predatory intent. Harris blocked Hale from her Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. According to Hale, she responded to Hale’s tweets to and about her up to a point, but she certainly did not pursue any kind of relationship with Hale based on the events as Hale describes them.

Hale tried to hold her bully accountable by exposing her identity to the world and by harassing her at work and at home. Wu has also sought accountability against people who responded to her presence as a game designer and her criticism of sexism in gaming with ad hominem attacks and threats of violence. Wu brings the actions of her attackers to light in the media by citing specifics as opposed to making vague allegations. She does this in a context of highlighting a broader culture of misogyny. She also is working with the police and the FBI to get protection. She is encouraging her local politicians to make and enforce laws that protect people from online bullying, so that victims will have legal recourse. She doesn’t go to the homes of people who bully her to counter-harass them.

The Guardian has also published articles about #GamerGate that are sympathetic to #GamerGate’s victims. Among other things, they published an interview with Brianna Wu. I don’t know why they posted Hale’s article, especially since it’s presented so uncritically. I speculate that the Guardian saw both Wu and Hale as victims of bullying. Based on Hale’s account, the bully in her story isn’t the person who gave her a bad review and responded negatively to her tweets. The victim is Harris, who, like Wu, was harassed on and offline by someone who didn’t like her opinion.

 

I oppose bullying in any context. But based on Hale’s words, I’m left unconvinced that she was ever the victim of bullying, although I’ve no doubt that Hale’s feelings of entitlement and victimization are very real to her. I think that Harris equates herself with Wu – she sees herself as a victim. However, quantitatively speaking, the person who was victimized in Hale’s story was Harris. Hale’s actions are terrifying, just as the actions of the bullies using the #GamerGate hashtag are terrifying, and they stem from a similar sense of entitlement and fury in the face of criticism. To see Hale as a victim is not only to confuse the issue but also to demean the efforts of people like Wu to achieve safety on and offline.

 

There are many pressing issues in the world that require our attention. Why care so much about these two stories? These two stories are important because they speak to a greater issue. Women are being chased offline, made afraid to speak, told that we cannot have negative opinions about something. This is unacceptable. I write reviews under my real name (you can find it at Geek Girl in Love if you look under “Books By Me”). People like Hale and the worst users of #GamerGate make me wonder if I’m naïve and reckless. Maybe I should shut up. Maybe I should hide.  Luckily, there are people like Wu who inspire me to stay present and outspoken.  We won’t be leaving.

Between the Lines Book Club: Adam Johnson Round-Up

between the lines book club logoThanks for following along with Between the Lines Book Club, as we’ve studied The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson.  If you are in the Sacramento area, please join us at Arden Dimick Library, at 891 Watt Avenue in Sacramento, CA.  We’ll be meeting at 2PM on October 26th!

One of the fun things about reading this book is that Adam Johnson did so many interviews when the book was published.  I love hearing authors talk about their writing and in Johnson’s case there were dozens of interviews to choose from.

You can find basic background interviews with Adam Johnson here:

NPR

The Paris Review

The link below it to an in-depth interview in which he talks about the genesis of the book, the difficulties faced by North Koreans who escape, the differences between the city and the countryside, and other details of life in north Korea – it’s fascinating!

Entertainment Weekly

Here’s a video in which Adam Johnson does an interview about life inside North Korea:

Guest Post From Sarah Beth Durst: Music and Writing

photo of Sarah Beth DurstToday we have a guest post from Sarah Beth Durst, whose new book, Chasing Power, is out now!  Sarah has written in a variety of genres.  Her books include Vessel, Drink Slay Love, Ice, and my personal favorite, The Lost.  You can find an interview she did with Geek Girl when The Lost was published here.  

I have tried to write in silence. Also on beaches and mountainsides. And in coffee shops, where writers are supposed to sweat over words while guzzling lattes.

Doesn’t work for me.

Wish it did. I like coffee shops. And beaches. And mountains. But there’s too much glare on my laptop screen outside, and as for coffee shops… I’m a terrible eavesdropper.

And as for writing in silence… nope. I can last a little while. Sometimes, I might do a really focused bit of revision that requires it. But most days, if there’s too much silence, the words freeze up. I start listening to the hum of refrigerator or the tick of the clock. Or worse, I start listening to that little critical voice inside every writer’s head that says, “Those words aren’t good enough.”

Sometimes that little voice is useful. You need it in revision. But when you’re still finding the story… you need a way to shut that voice up so you can get some actual words on the page. For me, that way is music. The critical part of my brain is easily distracted by music. Guess it likes to sing along, because once the music is on, then I am free to think and write.

I often choose music that matches the mood of my stories. For my epic desert fantasy, VESSEL, I listened to a lot of Native American flute music. To write DRINK, SLAY, LOVE (my vampire girl and were-unicorn novel), I had a whole playlist that included “People Are Strange” by The Doors, “They” by Jem, “Ramalama Bang Bang” by Roisin Murphy, and “Walkin On the Sun” by Smash Mouth.

For my newest YA novel, CHASING POWER, I didn’t use a specific playlist. CHASING POWER is an Indiana-Jones kind of adventure about a girl with telekinesis. Kayla is sixteen years old, uses humor as a defense mechanism, and has a loose grasp on the concept of personal property (in other words, she uses her telekinesis to pick pockets and shoplift). She listens to whatever music is on the radio. So that’s what I did.

A few of Kayla’s favorites:

“Best Day of My Life” by American Authors

“Cups” by Anna Kendrick

“Another Postcard” by Barenaked Ladies

“Bad Day” by Daniel Powter

“Carry On” by Fun

“La La La” by Naughty Boy, featuring Sam Smith

And here’s what I wrote while listening: http://www.sarahbethdurst.com/ChasingPowerexcerpt.htm

Thanks so much for listening/reading!

cover of Chasing Power

 

 

The Bay Area: A Suburbanite Dreams of the Big City

San Francisco at nightI live about two hours from The Bay Area, that is to say, the area around San Francisco. I live in the suburbs. I get my writing done while I help my child with her homework and I get my reading done in the parking lot during field trips. If my life were Orphan Black, I’d be Alison, without the substance abuse. If my life were Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’d be Joyce. I’ve always said I was Tara, but it’s a lie. I’m clearly Joyce. So although I live a life of great privilege, it’s not surprising that I sometimes long for a little escape – some adventure, something fresh and hip, something like…Life in the Bay Area.

We all idealize cities. Paris is where poets drink café au lait and eat croissants. The entire population of Paris consists of poets who are eating croissants as we speak. New York is full of women in their twenties who worry about clothes and who can’t pay their rent. Also, there are taxis. But the Bay Area – oh, my dear readers, the Bay Area is Where It’s At. Here’s my version of the Bay Area. I know it’s not real, don’t worry. But it’s my version, nonetheless:

Everyone in the Bay Area is either a genius or a poor, misguided soul who thinks he is a genius. Everyone is some kind of artist or some kind of scientist, or both. Literally every single author in the world except me (*sobs*) is at the same party in San Francisco right now, drinking wine and saying sparkling witty things. Even the poets from Paris fly in from time to time.

Everyone in the Bay Area has a day job that is glamorous. They usually work in publishing or for Google or a science start up that is developing faster than light travel. Of course some people work in restaurants but only to finance their artistic careers – spend 4 years as a waiter and you are guaranteed a book deal or a starring role on stage. It’s in your contract when you sign on.

No one in the Bay Area has children. This is the land of arts and sciences. It is not the land of cleaning up the bodily fluids of small loud humanoids. They are present in the daytime of course, at parks and museums, but they are bussed in. Likewise, there are a few park benches around the city at which loving elderly couples sit, holding hands. They are also bussed in for the day, to provide ambiance. You can rent a black Labrador Retriever to play with on the beach but other than that no one has pets, although many people have modern, sleek lots with improbably large aquariums that clean themselves. Supervillans (and there are a few – they live in the Transamerica building) are allowed to own sharks and white cats.

At night, everyone goes to a party or other group event. EVERYONE. It’s mandatory. The nature of the party is optional. It could be a grungy rave, a dinner party, posh cocktails and canapés at a loft, a poetry reading in a basement, or a fight at a bar, but no one is at home eating leftover pizza and watching Oprah, unless they are doing it ironically as part of a living art installation.

Everything in The Bay Area is within a 20-minute radius. No one drives. They teleport. Or take BART, which is always clean and convenient unless it’s being used for a music video about the sordidness of urban life.

In the daytime, the weather is sunny. At night, the skies are clear. At dusk and dawn, there is cinematic fog and it is cool enough to wear trench coats and nifty hats. At regularly scheduled intervals, there is a downpour of rain in which people passionately declare their love for one another and kiss on the sidewalk. It can be inconvenient if you’re just trying to walk down the street, but hey. That’s the price you pay for living in The Bay Area.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.