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February 2019

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Muslim Women Speak Out in It's Not About the Burqa
21st February 2019 - Mariam Khan

Muslim Women Speak Out in It's Not About the Burqa

It's Not About the Burqa, edited by Mariam Khan

It’s Not About the Burqa is a collection of 18 essays from both British and international women that brings to the fore Muslim women’s voices and allows them to speak for themselves on what it really means to be a Muslim woman in the West today. The essays range widely and expose for a myth the idea of traditionally submissive Muslim women and, vitally, call time on the pervasive oppression, stereotyping, misogyny and Islamophobia in contemporary discourse and attitudes.

Below, Mariam introduces the collection and tells us why she felt compelled to create it.

 


When Muslim women speak out we are told we are playing the victim and if we don’t we are told we are oppressed. We are told we can’t have certain opinions, be empowered or know feminism because of our faith. See, it’s okay to be Muslim in the West, but you have to be a Muslim in a Western manner that is deemed acceptable by everyone who isn’t Muslim. Being a Muslim is difficult enough but being a Muslim woman in today’s society feels like being on public trial. There is an identity allowed for Muslim women in society but as a Muslim woman I’ve never identified with it.

 

In 2015, ex-Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech in which he was reported to have said “Muslim women are traditionally submissive”. There was huge uproar from Muslim women after this statement was made, I specifically remember the Twitter backlash where women held up plaques stating why they were not traditionally submissive, these Muslim women were everything from “war survivor” to “PhD student”, “Mother”, “Doctor” and so much more. I felt angry and I felt like our identity as Muslim women was a space that had been dominated by those who didn’t want to authentically allow Muslim women to represent themselves. We, Muslim women didn’t have a space that was our own, that was driven by us. And even if we did or do those spaces are often curated in a way to show a glossy and acceptable face of who society will accept us to be. All I had ever heard was things about Muslim women. Things about who we were and who we were supposed to be and how we were supposed to act. I won’t give David Cameron all the credit for this as I’m well aware that there are many others involved in having shaped with narrative, but what he said stayed with me.

 

This book is not going to represent every single Muslim woman who exists in this entire world because we are not a monolith and I can’t make that book. These 17 essays are a fraction of the stories Muslim women have to share. The essays in this book are unfinished, a start, a talking point for many conversations that should have started long ago.

 

When was the last time you heard a Muslim woman speak for herself without a filter? Or outside of the white gaze? Or outside of the narrative built around us by the media and Government. This book is a way for Muslim women to reclaim, define and author their own. For the longest time, I waited for someone to empower me as a Muslim woman, to give me a space to voice my opinion and then I realised I could empower myself and in doing so empower others. We, as a collective of Muslim women could create a narrative that is truer to who we are instead of the one made for and about us. Every single writer in this book wants to write outside the one-dimensional portrayal of Muslim women, and now we are. We are more than the victims or oppressed narrative everyone has lazily embraced of Muslim women. I can’t live in a world or society that refuses to acknowledge me for who I am because of pre-conceived notions they’ve concluded without consulting any Muslim women. I am worried about future generation of Muslim women being stigmatised, systematically oppressed, their opinion stifled and autonomy revoked for their “own benefit” when actually it doesn’t benefit them at all. I have often found it difficult to have conversations such as these within the spaces I have existed because I have been frustrated by the binary discussions that have taken place. When it comes to Muslim women, Muslim women know best. In my 26 years of being alive, I’ve listened to a lot about who Muslim women should be and who they are without actually hearing Muslim women speak for themselves. But now, I’m done, now it’s your turn to listen and to hear us. 

 


Mariam Khan author photograph

Mariam Khan (born 1993) is a British writer and activist. She is the editor of It's Not About the Burqa, an anthology of essays by Muslim women. She lives in Birmingham.

 

 

Read an extract from The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú
18th February 2019

Read an extract from The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú

The Line becomes a River by Francisco Cantu

Francisco Cantú was a US Border Patrol agent from 2008 to 2012. He worked the desert along the Mexican border, at the remote crossroads of drug routes and smuggling corridors, tracking humans through blistering days and frigid nights across a vast terrain. 

In his debut memoir, The Line Becomes A River, Cantú writes in spellbinding prose of the landscape of the border, of the trials of its citizens and the horror of its enforcement. Haunted by nightmares, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend is caught on the wrong side of the border, Cantú faces a final confrontation with a world he believed he had escaped.

 


MY MOTHER flew in from Arizona to see me for Christmas. She picked me up from the academy on Christmas Eve and we drove through the straw-colored hills, leaving behind the trembling Chihuahuan grasslands as we climbed into evergreen mountains. We stayed the night in a two-room cabin, warm and bright with pinewood. We sat in chairs around the living room table, decorating a miniature tree with tiny glass bulbs. Then, wrapped in blankets, we laughed and drank eggnog with brandy until the conversation finally descended into a discussion of my impending work.

 

Listen, my mother said, I spent most of my career as a park ranger, so I’ve got nothing against you working for the government. But don’t you think it’s sort of below you, earning a degree just to become a border cop? When people ask about you back home and I tell them you’re in law enforcement, they give me the strangest looks. I realize I don’t know what more to tell them, I don’t really understand what you want from this work.

 

I took a deep breath. Look, I told her, I spent four years in college studying international relations and learning about the border through policy and history. You can tell whoever asks that I’m tired of studying, I’m tired of reading about the border in books. I want to be on the ground, out in the field, I want to see the realities of the border day in and day out. I know it might be ugly, I know it might be dangerous, but I don’t see any better way to truly understand the place.

 

My mother stared at me, blinking rapidly. Are you crazy? she asked. There are a hundred other ways of knowing a place. You grew up near the border, living with me in deserts and national parks. The border is in our blood, for Christ’s sake—our great-grandparents brought my father across from Mexico when he was just a little boy. When I married, I insisted on keeping my maiden name so that you’d always carry something from your grandfather’s family, so you’d never forget your heritage. How’s that for knowing the border?

 

I lowered my voice. I’m grateful for those things, I told her, but having a name isn’t the same as understanding a place. I gestured toward the window. I want to be outside. Not in a classroom, not in an office, not sitting at a computer, not staring at papers. Do you remember, I asked my mother, how you joined the Park Service because you wanted to be outdoors, because you felt you could understand yourself in wild places? My mother narrowed her eyes at me as if I had suddenly changed the subject. It’s not that different, I said. I don’t know if the border is a place for me to understand myself, but I know there’s something here I can’t look away from. Maybe it’s the desert, maybe it’s the closeness of life and death, maybe it’s the tension between the two cultures we carry inside us. Whatever it is, I’ll never understand it unless I’m close to it.

 

My mother shook her head. You make it sound like you’ll be communing with nature and having heartfelt conversations all day. The Border Patrol isn’t the Park Service. It’s a paramilitary police force. I glared at her. You don’t have to tell me that, I said—I’m the one getting my ass kicked at the academy.

 

Listen, I know you don’t want your only son turning into a heartless cop. I know you’re afraid the job will turn me into someone brutal and callous. Those people who look at you funny when you tell them I’m in the Border Patrol probably imagine an agency full of white racists out to kill and deport Mexicans. But that’s not me, and those aren’t the kind of people I see at the academy. Nearly half my classmates are Hispanic—some of them grew up speaking Spanish, some grew up right on the border. Some went to college, like me. Some went to war, some owned businesses, some worked dead-end jobs, some are fresh out of high school. Some are fathers and mothers with their own children. These people aren’t joining the Border Patrol to oppress others. They’re joining because it represents an opportunity for service, stability, financial security

 

My mother interrupted me. But you could work anywhere you want, she said, you graduated with honors.

 

So what? I asked. This isn’t necessarily a lifelong career choice. Think of it as another part of my education. Imagine what I’ll learn—imagine the perspective I’ll gain. Look, I know you’re not an enforcement-minded person, but the reality of the border is one of enforcement. I might not agree with every aspect of U.S. border policy, but there is power in understanding the realities it creates.

 

Maybe after three or four years I’ll go back to school to study law, maybe I’ll work to shape new policies. If I become an immigration lawyer or a policy maker, imagine the unique knowledge I’ll bring, imagine how much better I’ll be at the job because of my time in the Border Patrol.

 

My mother sighed and looked up at the ceiling. There are ways to learn these things that don’t put you at risk, she said, ways that let you help people instead of pitting you against them. But that’s just it, I offered—I can still help people. I speak both languages, I know both cultures. I’ve lived in Mexico and traveled all across the country. I’ve seen towns and villages that were emptied out by people going north for work. Good people will always be crossing the border, and whether I’m in the Border Patrol or not, agents will be out there arresting them. At least if I’m the one apprehending them, I can offer them some small comfort by speaking with them in their own language, by talking to them with knowledge of their home.

 

Fine, my mother said, fine. But you must understand you are stepping into a system, an institution with little regard for people.

 

I looked away from her and a silence hung between us. I glanced down at my hands and weighed my mother’s words. Maybe you’re right, I replied, but stepping into a system doesn’t mean that the system becomes you. As I spoke, doubts flickered through my mind. I smiled at my mother. The first job I ever had was bussing dishes with migrants from Guanajuato, I reminded her. I’m not going to lose sight of that. I’m not going to become someone else.

 

Good, my mother said. I hope you’re right.

 

We hugged, and my mother told me she loved me, that she was happy I’d soon be working back in Arizona, closer to her. Before bed, we each opened a single present, as we had done every Christmas Eve since I could remember.

 

In the morning we ate brunch at the town’s historic hotel, feasting on pot roast by a crackling fire. Afterward we climbed the stairs to a narrow lookout tower where people huddled together in jackets, walking in slow circles to take in the view. Below us, a sunlit basin stretched westward from the base of the mountains. I watched as the landscape shifted under the winter light. Behind me, my mother placed her hand on my shoulder and pointed to a cloud of gypsum sand in the distance, impossibly small, swirling across the desert below.

 


Francisco Cantú served as an agent for the United States Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012, working in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. A former Fulbright fellow, he is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a 2017 Whiting Award. His writing and translations have been featured in The Best American Essays, Harper’s, n+1, Orion, and Guernica, as well as on This American Life. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. The Line Becomes A River is his first book.

 

 

Read an extract from In Our Mad and Furious City
15th February 2019

Read an extract from In Our Mad and Furious City

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

Guy Gunaratne's debut novel is an urgent and authentic account of the less visible but fully-lived London. Hailed as a book that 'everyone should read' by our Head of Buying, read on for an extract from the novel below.

 


There were things that I learned to call fury as a younger. Fury was a fearsome drum, some hungry and hot temper, ill-spirit or madness that never touched us for long but followed our bodies for time. See London. This city taints its young. If you were from here you’d know, ennet. All our faces were pinched sour, even the good few I spent my early way with. We were all born into the menace from day dot. 

 

These were the hidden violences. Day-long deaths that snuffed out our small and limited futures. We grew up around these towers, so struggle was a standard echo in our speech, in thought, in action. But it was only after the release of that one video, clipped from a phone of a witness, that everyone else saw the truth. The image on every news channel and paper, a black boy had killed an off-duty soldier. Soldier-boy we called him. The black younger had stopped soldier-boy and struck him down with a cleaver. Then he wrapped his body in a black cloth and strung him up from a road sign. Stuff was dark. Darkest because it happened in a space so familiar. In our city, on road, and in broad daylight. The sound of the black boy’s voice came next, shouting into the camera about the infidel, the sinful kuffar. It was on radio and television, an endless loop. He called himself the hand of Allah, but to us he looked as if he had just rolled out the same school gates as us. He had the same trainers we wore. Spoke the same road slang we used. The blood was not what shocked us. For us it was his face like a mirror, reflecting our own confused and frightened hearts. 

 

Violence made this city. Those living, born and raised, grow up with it like an older brother. On that final day when flames licked the domes of our painted Mosque, we were all far beyond saving. Fury was like a fever in the air. A corrupt mass of bodies pulsing together in pain and rhetoric. Muhajiroun were herding our people along August Road and had us stand on the burned earth like a testament. There was violence in our brotherhood, that much is clear, though we never knew how much of that violence came from us or the road beneath our feet. 

 

We were London’s scowling youth. As siblings of rage, we were never meant to stray beyond the street. We might not have known it with our eyes so alight, but it was true. Our miseducation is proof, ennet. Those school corridors were like cold chambers, anyone who went to St Mary’s would attest. Our bodies were locked for verbal assaults, our words clipped and surging with our own code and fuck anyone who disagreed-yuno? Violence shadowed our language and our lines tagged the streets. They’d read us on walls, in open seams and dim lamplight. We’d cotch on park benches and waste air, sock-mouthed and bound, stupid to our fates the entire time. 

 

Our tongues were so soaked in our defences, we hoped only to outlast the day. Just look at how we spoke to one another: ennet-tho, myman and pussyo. Our friendships we called bloods and our homes we called our Ends. We revelled in throwing crafted curses at our mothers and receiving hard slaps to heads. Our combs cut lines in our hair and we scarred our eyebrows with blades. We became warrior tribes of mandem, slave-kings and palm-swiping cubs we were. Our parents knew nothing. And most others? Most others only knew us from the noise we made at the back of the buses. 

 

Close without touch. That was the only love permitted, though it was deeply felt among our own. We smoked weed together, borrowed idioms and shopped American verses. In our caustic speech we threw out platitudes, in our guts our feisty wit. It was like we lived upon jagged teeth in the dark, in this bone-cold London city. A young nation of mongrels. Constantly measuring ourselves against what we were supposed to be, which was what? I couldn’t tell you. 

 

For those of us who had an elsewhere in our blood, some foreign origin, we had richer colours and ancient callings to hear. Fight with, more likely, and fight for, a push-pull of ancestry and meaning. For me that meant Pakistan and its local masks, which in Neasden meant going Mosque and dodging Muhajiroun. For my breddas on Estate, they were from all over. Jamaicans, Irish pikeys, Nigerians, Ghanaians, South Indians, Bengalis. Proper Commonwealth kids, ennet. Even the Arab squaddies from UAE. We’d all spy those private-school boys from Belmont and Mill Hill and we’d wonder, how would it have felt to come from the same story? To have been moulded out of one thing and not of many? There was nothing more foreign to us than that. Nothing more boring and pale to imagine. Ours was a language, a dubbing of noise, while theirs was a one note, void of new feeling and any sense of place. 

 

Place was our own. This place. Whether we heard the whispers of our older roots never mattered. What mattered for us was the present, terse and cold, where we would make our own coarse music. This was where we found our young madnesses after all, on road, or rather between the roads we knew and the world we felt we could never hope to claim. 

 

So it was like watching our own faces made foul when we saw that video. When that soldier-boy was butchered by a homegrown bredda. That’s when we knew we were all lost to the ruin. They called it terrorism but terrorism never felt so close. Even when we saw the madness rise, when the hijab lady was slashed in the car park in Bricky or when Michael was knifed in North, the swell only peaked after that soldier-boy’s killing. 

 

I think about why it had to be a younger that done it. Why it was that when we saw the eyes of the black boy with the dripping blade, we felt closer to him than that soldier-boy slain in the street. But now I know this city and its sickness of violence and mean living. These things come in sharp ruptures that don’t discern. It was the fury. Horror curled into horror. Violence trailing back for centuries, I heard as much in Mosque and from rudeboys on road. So when the riots blew up in the Square, when the Umma came out and the Union Jack burned in the June air, the terror had become unwound and lightweight. Each of us were caught in the same swirl, all held together with our own small furies in this single mad, monstrous and lunatic city.

 


Guy Gunaratne Author Photograph

Guy Gunaratne grew up in North West London and has worked as a designer, documentary filmmaker and video journalist covering post-conflict areas around the world, as well as co-founding two technology companies. He was shortlisted for the 4th Estate/Guardian Books B4ME Short Story Prize.

 

 

 

A first look at Marlon James' new novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf
13th February 2019

A first look at Marlon James' new novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Foyles Signed Exclusive Edition - Black Leopard, Red Wolf

"Imagine if Angela Carter had written a fantasy novel based on African folklore and myth and you'll be half way to imagining the atmospheric world of Marlon James’ Dark Star series. With a narrative that slowly burns its way through your mind, both epic and intimate, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a unique reading experience." 

Matt, Web Team

 

Black Leopard, Red Wolfthe hugely anticipated new novel from Man Booker Prize-winning author Marlon James is almost here. An African fantasy epic telling the story of Tracker, a man with one wolf eye who takes up a mission to find a missing boy and drawing from African history and mythology, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a story of intrigue, of power, and of the flexible nature of truth. It’s an action-packed adventure that turns traditional fantasy on its head and delivers a world and characters that will stay with you for life.

The Foyles signed exclusive edition is strictly limited to a print run of only 1500 first editions signed by the author and numbered. With gold sprayed edges, bespoke endpapers, cherry red board and a purple ribbon marker, this is a truly unique way to own a truly unique book.

Pre-order your signed exclusive edition now - while stock lasts!

 


As for the Leopard, five years passed before I met him at Kulikulo Inn. He was at a table, waiting for me. 

 

“I need you to help me find a fly,” he said.

 

“Then consult the spider,” I said.

 

He laughed. The years had changed him, even if he looked the same. His jaw was still strong, his eyes, light pools where you saw yourself. Whiskers and wild hair that made him look more lion than panther. I wondered if he was still as quick. For long I wondered if he aged as a Leopard or as a man. Malakal was a place of civil butchery, and not a city for werefolk. But Kulikulo Inn never judged men by their form or their dress, even if they wore nothing but dust or red ochre spread with cow fat, as long as their coin was strong and flowed like a river. Still, he pulled skins from a sack and wrapped something coarse and hairy about his lap, then draped shiny leathers over his back. This was new. The animal had learned the shame of men, the same man who once said that the Leopard would have been born with skirts if he was supposed to wear any. He asked for wine and strong drink that would have killed a beast.

 

“No embrace for the man who saved your life more times than a fly blinks?” 

 

“Does the fly blink?”

 

He laughed again and jumped from his stool. I took his hands, but he pulled away and grabbed me, pulling in tight. I was ready to say this feels like something from boy lovers in the east until I felt myself go soft in his arms, weak, so weak I barely hugged back. I felt like crying, like a boy, and I nodded the feeling out of me. I pulled away first.

 

“You have changed, Leopard,” I said. “Since I sat down?” 

 

“Since I saw you last.”


“Ay, Tracker, wicked times have left their mark. Are your days not wicked?” 

 

“My days are fattening.”


He laughed. “But look at you, talking to the cat of change.” His mouth was quivering, as if he would say more.

 

“What?” I asked.

 

He pointed. “Your eye, you fool. What kind of enchantment is that? Will you not speak of it?”

 

“I have forgotten,” I said.

 

“You have forgotten there is a jackal’s eye in your face.”

 

“Wolf.”

 

He moved in closer and I smelled beer. Now I was looking at him as deep as he was looking at me.

 

“I am already waiting for the day you finally tell this one to me—lusting for it, I am. Or dreading it.”

 

I missed that laugh.

 

“Now, Tracker. I found no boys for sport in your city. How do you make do with night hunger?”

 

“I quench my thirst instead,” I said, and he laughed.

 

It was true that in those years I lived as monks do. Other than when travels took me far and there were comely boys, or not as comely eunuchs, who though not pretty were more skilled in love play. And even women would sometimes do. 

 

“What have you been doing the last few years, Tracker?”


“Too much and too little,” I said.


“Tell me.”


These are the stories I told the Leopard as I drank wine and he drank masuku beer at Kulikulo Inn.

 


Marlon James was born in Jamaica in 1970. His novel A Brief History of Seven Killings won the 2015 Man Booker Prize. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature for fiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction, and the Minnesota Book Award. It was also a New York Times Notable Book. James is also the author of The Book of Night Women, which won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Minnesota Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction and an NAACP Image Award. His first novel, John Crow’s Devil, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice. James divides his time between Minnesota and New York.

 

 

Discover what climate change will mean for us all in The Uninhabitable Earth
12th February 2019

Discover what climate change will mean for us all in The Uninhabitable Earth

The Uninhabitable Earth

The Uninhabitable Earth is a wake-up call to the reality of climate change and the immediacy of the threat to the planet. Delving deep into the evidence, David Wallace-Wells takes a clear-eyed look at where we are now and what our potential futures look like. It’s an unsettling and uncomfortable but highly necessary read, and one that urges action. In the extract below, Wallace-Wells introduces the scale of the issue.

 We have a limited number of signed copies of  The Uninhabitable Earth available - order yours while stock lasts!

 


For centuries we have looked to nature as a mirror onto which to first project, then observe, ourselves. But what is the moral? There is nothing to learn from global warming, because we do not have the time, or the distance, to contemplate its lessons; we are after all not merely telling the story but living it. That is, trying to; the threat is immense. How immense? One 2018 paper sketches the math in horrifying detail. In the journal Nature Climate Change, a team led by Drew Shindell tried to quantify the suffering that would be avoided if warming was kept to 1.5 degrees, rather than 2 degrees— in other words, how much additional suffering would result from just that additional half-degree of warming. Their answer: 150 million more people would die from air pollution alone in a 2- degree warmer world than in a 1.5-degree warmer one. Later that year, the IPCC raised the stakes further: in the gap between 1.5 degrees and 2, it said, hundreds of millions of lives were at stake.

 

Numbers that large can be hard to grasp, but 150 million is the equivalent of twenty-five Holocausts. It is three times the size of the death toll of the Great Leap Forward — the largest non-military death toll humanity has ever produced. It is more than twice the greatest death toll of any kind, World War II. The numbers don’t begin to climb only when we hit 1.5 degrees, of course. As should not surprise you, they are already accumulating, at a rate of at least seven million deaths, from air pollution alone, each year — an annual Holocaust, pursued and prosecuted by what brand of nihilism?

 

This is what is meant when climate change is called an “existential crisis” — a drama we are now haphazardly improvising between two hellish poles, in which our best-case outcome is death and suffering at the scale of twenty- five Holocausts, and the worst-case outcome puts us on the brink of extinction. Rhetoric often fails us on climate because the only factually appropriate language is of a kind we’ve been trained, by a buoyant culture of sunny-side-up optimism, to dismiss, categorically, as hyperbole.

 

Here, the facts are hysterical, and the dimensions of the drama that will play out between those poles incomprehensibly large — large enough to enclose not just all of present-day humanity but all of our possible futures, as well. Global warming has improbably compressed into two generations the entire story of human civilization. First, the project of remaking the planet so that it is undeniably ours, a project whose exhaust, the poison of emissions, now casually works its way through millennia of ice so quickly you can see the melt with a naked eye, destroying the environmental conditions that have held stable and steadily governed for literally all of human history. That has been the work of a single generation.

 


David Wallace-Wells Author Photo

David Wallace-Wells is deputy editor of New York magazine, where he also writes frequently about climate change and the near future of science and technology. In July 2017 he published a cover story surveying the landscape of worst-case scenarios for global warming that became an immediate sensation, reaching millions of readers on its first day and, in less than a week, becoming the most-read story the magazine had ever published - and sparking an unprecedented debate, ongoing still today among scientists and journalists, about just how we should be thinking, and talking, about the planetary threat from climate change.

 

 

Read an extract from Deborah Levy's The Cost of Living
11th February 2019

Read an extract from Deborah Levy's The Cost of Living

The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy

'A wonderful and kind meditation on change and the best book I've read all year, in parts eye-wateringly moving and others, snort-inducingly funny. In a world that is uncertain and vulnerable, there is wisdom, and Her name is Deborah Levy.'

Drew, Buying Team

 

Deborah Levy is one of our most accomplished and important writers, beloved by readers and critics alike. The Cost of Living is her brand new memoir, and a follow-on to the first instalment of her 'living autobiography' Things I Don't Want to Know. Depicting the life of a writer in flux, of a woman in transformation, this is audacious, witty and wise writing about breaking apart and coming back together — about the interior life of a writer, and about the family and friends that surround her and the writers and thinkers that inspire her. Read an extract from The Cost of Living, below.

 


We could see that people had started to dance inside the house.

 

The man who cried at the funeral pushed me towards the door. ‘Come on, your dress is so lovely, let’s dance, let’s dance, let’s dance.’

 

We danced as if it was our very last night on earth – and to celebrate his new love and my new freedom and to celebrate my having been nominated for a big literary prize and to a thousand and one nights without pain, and because, as he put it, ‘life is as fragile as a glass slipper’. I didn’t quite get that, but he said he’d had too much champagne so maybe he meant a glass coffin – which was even more bewildering, but then he was The Man Who Cried at the Funeral.

 

We kicked off our shoes just like the song that was being played told us to do. Three luscious red velvet sofas had been pushed against the walls. We whirled and leapt around and sweated and then a striped kitten slunk on to the dance floor, like a tiny leopard, its tail raised. I gently lifted it up from the feet of the crowd and placed it on top of my new friend’s head.

 

‘I can feel it purring through my fingers,’ he said. At that moment I thought the tempest was over. I was ready to do something I had never done before – like write a manifesto on the toilet wall in a pub.

 

I believe in people who are nervous and whose hands shake a little

 

The kitten had now escaped and was making its way towards the red velvet sofas, just as Bowie sang about falling and trembling and about a flower. I followed it and sat next to a woman with long black hair who was perched on the edge of one of the sofas. She was wearing a white shirt and was engrossed in sewing a small pearl button on to the left cuff. She was saying something to me, but I couldn’t hear her that well because she had a needle in her mouth. The man who cried at the funeral made his way towards us, very slowly and lightly, as if he were walking on a glass coffin.

 

‘Hello Clara,’ he said to the woman on the sofa, ‘I would like you to meet my friend. Do you know she can put her hair up with just one pin?’

 

‘Yes, I know how to do that too,’ she said.

 


Deborah Levy Author Photograph

Deborah Levy is a British playwright, novelist and poet. Her 2011 novel Swimming Home was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize. Hot Milk, her sixth novel, was also shortlisted for the  Man Booker Prize, in 2016. Deborah is also the author of a collection of short stories, Black Vodka (2013), which was shortlisted for the BBC International Short Story Award and the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. She has written for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC.

 

Author photo © Sheila Burnett

 

 

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