Saturday, 27 January 2018

Review: 'Her Body and Other Parties' by Carmen Maria Machado

Sometimes you come to a book because you have heard so much about it that it becomes impossible to avoid. I often try to do so anyway, until the hype dies down and I can actually enjoy it naturally, without ridiculous expectations. I do the same for movies, which is why I still refuse to watch Easy A. The same was happening with Her Body And Other Parties, only that I was intrigued by its premise that I still went for it. As a consequence I had pretty high expectations of Machado, and she managed to meet each and every single one of them. Thanks to Serpent's Tail and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 14/12/2017
Publisher: Serpent's Tail

SHORTLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FICTION PRIZE 2017 'Brilliantly inventive and blazingly smart' Garth Greenwell 'Impossible, imperfect, unforgettable' Roxane Gay 'A wild thing ... covered in sequins and scales, blazing with the influence of fabulists from Angela Carter to Kelly Link and Helen Oyeyemi' New York Times  
In her provocative debut, Carmen Maria Machado demolishes the borders between magical realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. Startling narratives map the realities of women's lives and the violence visited on their bodies, both in myth and in practice. A wife refuses her husband's entreaties to remove the mysterious green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague spreads across the earth. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery about a store's dresses. One woman's surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted house guest. Bodies become inconsequential, humans become monstrous, and anger becomes erotic. A dark, shimmering slice into womanhood, Her Body and Other Parties is wicked and exquisite.
I adored this collection. There is simply no other way of putting it. What I adore about short story collections is how they allow authors the space to explore different topics, writing styles etc. while uniting them under a single theme or idea. Her Body and Other Parties does this beautifully. From the very first story, Machado turns a sharp eye to the female body and all that affects it. Growing up female often means that you grow up torn, constantly questioning and doubting your body and how it looks. Why is your hair like that? Why are your legs not thinner? How dare you wear a bikini if you're not skinny? What I myself have realised over time is that it takes very long before you actually come to appreciate your body, its strength and power. In Her Body and Other Parties Machado looks at the female body from different angles, at its ability to create life, to feel love and lust, to be used and abused, to house a fragile mind. She truly does something unique here and I will be returning to this collection often.

The stories in Her Body and Other Parties are stunning. From the first tale, 'The Husband Stitch', Machado drags you into the world of women's bodies and the tales these tell. In a sense 'The Husband Stitch' is the best example of that, as the narrator chronicles her life with her husband and the mystery of the ribbon around her neck, while relating tales she has heard of other women. There is a mystical suspense to the story which consistently leaves the reader with a sense of unease and fear, yet also a desperate desire to know, to look into the darkness and confront what you find there. This feeling continues throughout all the stories, whether it's the tragically lyrical 'Mothers' or the horrifying 'Eight Bites'.The collection's last story, 'Difficult at Parties' is a perfect finale for Her Body and Other Parties, combining Machado's clear-eyed observations, a sense of lurking unease, and a revelation that feels like a punch in the throat. 

Carmen Maria Machado weaves magic with her words in Her Body and Other Parties. Usually I don't like it when blurbs draw connections between new authors and well-established "Greats" because it sets unfair and impossible expectations. In this case, however, those comparisons are completely justified. I was struck by how much the spirit of Her Body and Other Parties did indeed remind me of Angela Carter. Not because of its theme or topics, but because of the bravado and inventiveness with which Machado writes. These stories are a tour-de-force, each taking a different approach, working with a different style, and yet bringing home its point with a gentle forcefulness. You have a story like 'The Husband Stitch' which is filled with little asides, instructing readers how to "perform" certain emotions and events in case they're reading the story out loud. There is 'Especially Heinous', one of my personal favourites, which reads like an episode guide for Law & Order: SVU but with completely new and wildly outrageous stories. 'The Resident' feels like a psychological thriller, while 'Inventory' configures itself both as a memoir of relationships as well as a dystopian story. And throughout it all Machado's writing is sharp and precise, ranging between beautifully descriptive and provocatively uncanny. 

Her Body and Other Stories has so much to offer to a reader willing to dive in, no holds barred. Each story will throw up a different question to which there is perhaps no immediate answer. But that is what good books are supposed to do, make you wonder and doubt, reassess and discover. Her Body and Other Stories will make an incredible addition to anyone's bookshelf!

I give this collection...

5 Universes!

I loved Her Body and Other Parties and for once think that the hype is completely justified. There are not enough words to praise this collection and what it tries to do. I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to be surprised and shocked, engaged and horrified, provoked and soothed. GO READ THIS BOOK!


  1. This one sounds like such an interesting read, and I love the cover. I think I'll be checking this one out.

  2. I just started reading this! I'm part way through Mothers. I agree with your comments about the prose - I'm in love with Machado's style.