Review: Catriona Menzies-Pikeon Pip Williams

As Pluck Would Have It 

Barbie was an inescapable presence in July. Remember? There goes Barbie, plastered on the side of the bus. And there she is again, on a billboard, a menu, all over Instagram. In Greta Gerwig’s revisionist Pygmalion, the doll is able to self-actualise without the help of a patriarchal mentor, although she does sort of get to meet her maker. The film has been taken to address what was once called the Female Condition, a condition that still requires lavish costumes and choreography. Talk of selling out is now apparently old-fashioned as artists and studios have to make a living. Of course, an IP-driven film would have to prioritise the corporate interests of Mattel over the collective interests of women. Of course, there would be merchandise. And then, only then, there would be artistic freedom. Under these circumstances, what can the author of a feminist blockbuster ask of her audience? Very little, on the evidence provided by the Barbie movie. The set-pieces are fizzy, the skits are sly, and I suppose the film is aesthetically coherent. Six years on from the #MeToo Women’s Marches and all the pussyhat malarkey, we might expect a little more from our feminist blockbusters. 

The novels of Pip Williams don’t have Barbie-level cultural saturation, but they have been a visible presence in the Australian literary scene since the release of her debut novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words, in 2020. Williams, like Greta Gerwig, seeks to speak to a mass audience about the lives of women, and to stake out an accessible terrain for the discussion of feminist politics and history. In The Dictionary of Lost Words and The Bookbinder of Jericho, released earlier this year, we follow two young women into adulthood. Esme and Peggy are narrators of their own novels and seek to buck the norms of their day in order to author their own lives. Like Barbie, the novels are committed first and last to the emergence of their protagonists as autonomous adults.  

Books about adolescents and young adults are currently extremely prominent in the adult fiction bestseller lists. Should we be worried about this proliferation of ever-budding protagonists? This dog has been chasing its tail for years, in and out of literary festivals, Twitter threads, snarky reviews, opinion pages. Is the market for contemporary fiction dominated by adults who would rather read like children? Is it that the adults have become children – or are novelists to blame, yet again? It’s women who dominate the market for contemporary fiction, as they always have. Are they foolish, as intemperate male critics have always supposed them to be? Perhaps it is the publishers who are at fault for infantilising audiences, for failing to commission and spruik novels that ask more of their readers than the cover price. I suppose the publishers would say that they’re just trying to sell books and right now the books that sell are those that trace the narrative arc of a single character and yield comforting moral conclusions; that happy endings are a kind of refuge in troubled times – and lord, are they troubled right now. Who would deny readers simple pleasures? A recent UK survey found that one in three adults agreed that books offer the best form of escapism when having a bad day. Many readers seek to be neither upset nor afflicted by fiction. No quest, then, but that for the self. No journey but that towards adulthood. 

This is how the journey towards adulthood unfolds in The Dictionary of Lost Words and The Bookbinder of Jericho: their respective protagonists, Esme and Peggy, are a pair of bookish, independent-minded girls, both motherless and childless. They must contend with gendered expectations about marriage, motherhood, and domesticity as they beat a path in the world. They are hard workers and, of course, preternaturally intelligent and quite beautiful. Readers recognise that this combination of virtues and endowments will probably be sufficient for them to prevail. As adolescents, Peggy and Esme become preoccupied with cultural entitlement and access to the institutions that sanction it. Like many a plucky narrator before them, Peggy and Esme are autodidacts, and they tell us often that their aspirations in the world are shaped by books. Yes, these are parables of literary emancipation, threaded with a critique of the exclusion of women and women’s experiences from the institutions of language, literature, and culture. By and large, what Esme and Peggy desire is what women in the early twenty-first century are told they should desire: autonomy, credentials, sexual freedom, and, most of all, social mobility. They want to be bourgeois, in other words; they want to make their own decisions and they want the respect of their peers, no questions asked. These are also the aspirations of both the human and plastic women in Barbie.  

I’m drawing a deliberately provocative comparison, as Williams has set her novels in a place that is culturally a fair distance from Barbieland: Oxford, at the close of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a novel organised around the compilation of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, telling a story that stretches from 1886 to 1928, with an epilogue in 1989 and a timeline at the end of the novel to help the reader distinguish real events from Williams’ fictions. The printery of the Oxford University Press is the primary setting of The Bookbinder of Jericho, and events unfold there over a more restricted timeframe, during the years of the first world war. Although Esme and Peggy never meet, they are neighbours, and there are many characters who cross from one book to the other. When Esme finishes primary school at St Barnabas’ girls school, set for a disastrous stint in boarding school, she tells the reader that ‘half the girls in my class would be binding books within the year’, which is exactly what Peggy does. 

Imagine, Williams bids the reader of The Dictionary of Lost Words, a suitcase shoved beneath a maid’s bed. In the suitcase, there are slips of paper with words and their definitions written upon them. The suitcase belongs to a maid named Lizzie, who unpacked it just once, on the day that she entered a lifetime of service in the household of Sir James Murray. Murray is the editor in chief of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary – and Lizzie cooks his breakfast. She is also a source of wisdom and kindness for Esme, who, when we first meet her, is a lonely child whose father, a lexicographer, works in a rickety workshop (aka the Scriptorium) located at the bottom of Mr Murray’s garden. When Esme seeks a hiding place for her treasures, Lizzie allows her to use the suitcase, which becomes an effective figure for Esme’s clandestine project of lexicographic recuperation. 

At first Esme collects discarded slips as they flutter from the lexicographers’ work table in the Scriptorium. As she tells Lizzie, ‘some words just don’t make sense and they throw them away’. Sometimes she steals the slips. As she matures, she becomes aware of the gendered contingency of language. Some words, she discovers, are left out of the dictionary altogether; others are simply defined by men. Esme loves and respects her father and Mr Murray, eventually working in the Scriptorium herself. This only heightens her consciousness of the gender bias of lexicography, and so over the course of the novel Esme collects and records lost words – the words used by women when they speak to each other – writing definitions and quotations on little slips of paper, filling the suitcase with them. ‘Knackered’, ‘Shaft’, ‘Cunt’, ‘Quim’, ‘Dollymop’: they all have their slips.  

One of the lost words that does a lot of heavy-lifting in the narrative is ‘bondmaid’, which both Lizzie and Esme recognise as describing a life of domestic service. The word is a catalyst for Esme’s realisation of class and gender difference, and makes her question the authority of the lexicographers. She talks it through with her father at the dinner table and later with Lizzie. When Esme’s Da tells her ‘Service means different things to different people, Essy, depending on their position in society’, the little girl replies, rather precociously, ‘Will all the different meanings be in the Dictionary?’ Esme’s father delivers many lessons on language to his little daughter, and also to the reader: ‘Words change over time, you see. The way they look, the way they sound; sometimes even their meaning changes. They have their own history.’ Lizzie is a little more pithy in her account of the relationship between the world and the printed word: ‘Dictionary or no, bondmaids will always exist.’  

It’s fair enough to assume a readership unfamiliar with the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary – one of the satisfactions of The Dictionary of Lost Words is the abundant lexicographical lore – but it’s hard to imagine a reader so incurious and inexperienced as to have never contemplated the contingency of definitions, who has never wondered whether all the meanings of a word are contained in any dictionary. A kid who has looked up swear words for a dare can draw their own conclusions quickly enough. The secret dictionary is a marvellous device, but too often it carries insights about language that are utterly trite, as when Esme reflects on grief: ‘Of some experiences, the Dictionary would only ever provide an approximation. Sorrow, I already knew, was one of them.’ 

Williams provides readers of The Bookbinder of Jericho with another memorable metaphor for the gendered and classed transmission of cultural authority: the book-lined barge that is home to Peggy and her twin sister, Maude. Peggy’s library spills over with unbound sections of books that have been marked as defective; it’s made up of pages that didn’t pass quality control in the printery:  

unbound manuscripts, parts of books, single sections. Pages with no clue to the title or author … There were beginnings with no endings and endings with no beginnings, and I stored them wherever they would fit and in plenty of places they didn’t. They were tucked between bound volumes and piled under the table. A few sewn manuscripts with no boards rested in the plate rack above the galley bench.  

These discarded books are the basis of Peggy’s education. Like her mother, she works in the bindery at Jericho, and the theme of matrilineal inheritance is marked early in the piece: 

Maude returned to the galley and came back with a mug of coffee. She handed it to Oberon just as Rosie appeared on the towpath, wearing her heavy pleated skirt, high-laced boots and a boatwoman’s black bonnet. It’s what she’d worn when she and Oberon had worked the waterways together. It’s what her mother had worn and her grandmother. 

Oberon and Rosie are neighbours in loco parentis on the canal, and they are living reminders of the working-class history Peggy fears she is doomed to repeat. What she really wants to do is study at Oxford University; she wants to read the books rather than bind them.  

Each day she passes Somerville College, which admits women, and its very presence taunts her. ‘I know I have a scholar’s mind’, she explains to her friend Gwen, whose class and family connections opened the college door for her. But while Peggy knows she is rich in cultural capital, her lack of social capital renders her possession of the former ‘a character flaw. A hazard. Unattractive.’ Peggy’s quest is to pass the Somerville entrance exams, but the obstacles in this town-and-gown story are many. Maude is neurodivergent and works alongside her at the bindery; Peggy is convinced that Maude needs a carer, and that that role falls to her. And the entrance exams, which include an examination in Ancient Greek, are daunting. ‘I’m from Jericho … not Oxford,’ she responds bitterly to the encouragements of her boyfriend, Bastiaan, a Belgian refugee. ‘I left school at twelve, and Homer was not on the curriculum at St Barnabas – not in English and certainly not in Ancient Greek.’ Many doors require quite a shove to be opened to a girl from Jericho. For all her doubts and reluctance, Peggy refuses to be put in her place. She first pauses when a gatekeeper at Somerville questions her right to visit the library and reflects on the way women perpetuate divisions of class and gender as readily as men do:  

We were two women in a crowd of men, and I suddenly realised she wanted nothing more than to humiliate me, remind me of my place. I was asking for something I shouldn’t be, and she thought she had the right to deny it. 

She then takes a breath, delivers a quip, ‘it’s the oddest thing, but I want to read the books’, and steps towards her intentions.  

Themes familiar to readers of The Dictionary of Lost Words are recapitulated in The Bookbinder of Jericho. The Somerville librarian, Miss Garnell, becomes an ally as Peggy struggles with her Greek lessons. This is not a case of Greek being, as Virginia Woolf would have it, unknowable, of the neophyte wondering where to laugh; it is a matter of cramming sufficient conjugations and definitions to pass the entrance examinations. The librarian offers Peggy the following counsel as they discuss Homeric translations: 

‘The words used to describe us define our value to society and determine our capacity to contribute. They also’ – and again she poked at the translations – ‘tell others how to feel about us, how to judge us.’ 

The classics do not ultimately defeat Peggy as she wriggles herself out of the category of bindery girl. Our heroine prevails but she never quite abandons the register of thwarted ambition, even at the novel’s close, where she protests, ‘I was sick of pretending to be content. I wanted so much more and I felt like I’d been swindled.’ 

Their circumstances differ, but Peggy and Esme are quite similar characters. Their virtue lies in their curiosity, independence, and capacity for hard work. Each has a tendency to speak out of turn and to break a few rules, specifically those relating to access to literature and language. The young women are scolded for these minor transgressions but never by the reader, who is cued to recognise Esme’s indignant filching of discarded slips as a sign of her good character, and so too Peggy’s talking back to her boss. Esme’s wage negotiations are so smooth as to invite incredulity: 

I was dismissed, but I didn’t leave. I chewed my lip and wrung my hands. I spoke in a rush before I could censor myself. 
‘Dr Murray?’ 
‘Yes.’ He didn’t look up. 
‘If I am to do more, will that be reflected in my wage?’ 

And thus was the gender pay-gap overcome! It’s straight out of an HR roleplay. Our heroines are level-headed and good-humoured; if they are angry, the clouds pass. Their libidinal objects are appropriate and their desires well-regulated. Neurotic? Hardly. As for character development, it’s more a matter of the scenery around them changing. 

Like any author of historical fiction, Williams is caught between the demands of a compelling narrative and historical accuracy. There’s a tension between character development and the elaboration of a thesis, especially in a coming-of-age narrative that invites us to reflect on the exceptionalism of the protagonist. Esme and Peggy are able to rise above the obstacles to their thriving described in the novels and fulfil the destiny of every genre heroine, and in so doing they reaffirm the fantasy of the trailblazing heroine as the agent of social change – thereby undermining the novel’s cautious account of collective experiences of class and gender. Hilary Mantel resolved the tension between character and chronicle in her Wolf Hall trilogy by means of a vigorous and captivating narrative voice, whose energy propelled the reader through the intrigues of her milieu. The bloodless first person of Williams’ novels, by contrast, yields impoverished subjectivities who are not well equipped to deliver main character energy. 

Mark McGurl, in an essay on contemporary epic fantasy, refers to the ‘painlessly consumable sentences’ such books are built of, and the designation is appropriate here. Early in The Dictionary of Lost Words, Esme tries to retrieve a slip of paper from the fire: 

I reached in to rescue it, even as the brown paper charred and the letters written on it turned to shadows. I thought I might hold it like an oak leaf, faded and winter-crisp, but when I wrapped my fingers around the word, it shattered. 

Esme is a child-narrator at this point and may be forgiven a little clumsiness, but even so, what happens to that paper defies the laws of physics and poetics. Syntax is often wooden: ‘I might have stayed in that moment forever, but Da yanked me away with a force that winded’, Esme tells us after losing the slip in the fire. Later, as Esme contemplates her burned hand, she observes that ‘the blackened shards of the word were stuck to my melted skin’. It’s a curious and frustrating irony that two books – and two narrators – so concerned with the materiality of literature and language should so thoroughly evade style. 

Put side by side, the pages of The Dictionary of Lost Words and The Bookbinder of Jericho can be difficult to tell one from the other: reported speech abounds and so too digressions explaining how the narrator had come to one conclusion or another. ‘I couldn’t help but ponder the question as we walked home’, Peggy tells us, and then proceeds to ponder another question entirely. Sometimes the effect is of a leaden inner monologue, as in this passage:  

My trunk is like the Dictionary, I thought. Except it’s full of words that have been lost or neglected. I had an idea. I wanted to ask Lizzie for a pencil but knew she wouldn’t disobey Da. I looked around her room, wondering where she would keep them. 

The novels are narrated in a manner that draws little attention to itself and yet is abundant in superfluous head-turning. Here’s Esme on a walk, for example – ‘When we crossed the quad, it struck me for the first time just how quiet it really was’ – and Peggy killing time as she starts a new paragraph, ‘I anticipated the bells of St Barnabas and woke before they sounded.’ Such redundancies might appear to give us access to the sluggish inner lives of our narrators, but the effect is to leach urgency from the narration. Williams asks little of her reader in terms of attention either, opting for thematic consolidation via repetition. As with Barbie, it’s not a case of blink and you’ll miss it.  

The final scene of The Dictionary of Lost Words takes place in 1989, at a convention of the Australian Lexicography Society held in Adelaide. A man opens the convention with the words Naa Manni, which he tells his audience is the ‘Kaurna way of saying hello to more than one person’. The man, pointedly not named, reflects on the lexicographical work undertaken by nineteenth-century missionaries in South Australia: ‘If not for their efforts, the linguistic world of the Kaurna people would be lost to us, and so too our understanding of what was meaningful to them, what is meaningful to them.’ His recapitulation of the white saviour trope here appears to be guileless. I appreciate that with this scene Williams is seeking to broaden her account of what lexicographers miss by acknowledging the loss of Indigenous languages as one of the many catastrophic consequences of colonisation. But the gesture is a shallow one given the novel’s diligent avoidance, up to this point, of any questions involving race and empire, aside from one reference in a letter to an Indian bicycle troop stationed in wartime France (‘Have you ever met an Indian? I hadn’t. They ride around the village in pairs and are quite a magnificent sight with their turbans and their elaborate moustaches.’). As blinkered and unjust as the pervasive sexism governing the selection of words and their definitions for the Oxford English Dictionary may have been, to make available a comparison to the violent dispossession of First Nations people strikes me as careless and opportunistic.  

The man introduces Megan Brooks, an eminent lexicographer who, he says, ‘has read between the lines of the great dictionaries of the English language’. She will deliver the opening address to the convention, a talk titled ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’. I won’t spoil the plot by revealing how Megan Brooks came to hold one of Esme’s slips in her hand, but it is the word ‘bondmaid’ that initiates her talk. As she takes to the podium, she spies a young woman in the audience, ‘surely no more than an undergraduate student. She is at the beginning of her journey with words, and there is a curiosity in her face that satisfies the old woman. She smiles. It is a reason to start.’ And here we close, with a scene of matrilineal transmission of knowledge, as a wise older middle-class white woman recognises her successor within the institutions of knowledge. It’s a comforting, colonial fantasy – and all the more remarkable because a similar scene closes The Bookbinder of Jericho. This time, it’s 1920, and Peggy and her friends have gathered to watch the ceremony as a group of women graduate with degrees from Oxford for the first time. Beneath the busts of philosophers, Peggy retorts, ‘Those stony men were the gatekeepers, and the gates had been closed to the likes of us.’ She’s misty and maudlin, though, when she sees the women gathered to graduate: ‘They are the survivors, I thought, of war and influenza. And now they have triumphed over tradition. They are smiling; excited for a future they have earned, and know they deserve.’ No one need be alarmed by this triumph over tradition. This is a vision of social change without upheaval, a future that looks very much like the past, only with a few more women on the dais. 

The Dictionary of Lost Words was published as book stores shut down in the first half of 2020. Williams, unable to talk about her book at public events, embraced online promotion and connected quickly with huge numbers of readers. This prompted no little editorialising about the unlikelihood of readers enjoying a book about a topic as dry as lexicography, presumably by reviewers unfamiliar with the success of Simon Winchester’s 1998 work of non-fiction, The Surgeon of Crowthorne. As Winchester’s book did, The Dictionary of Lost Words sold like hotcakes, a deal was signed for the TV rights, and last year the novel was selected for Reese Witherspoon’s book club, something of an incubator for the feminist literary blockbuster which boosts books with a woman at the heart of the story.  

These are bookish books for bookish readers and their commercial success occurs at a time when the flight of cultural capital from literature to other media continues unabated. Williams’ tales of literary self-emancipation are reassuringly out of sync with the contemporary crisis talk about literacy, literature, and the humanistic disciplines that Peggy and Esme venerate. The Dictionary of Lost Words Extended Universe is now a literary brand built around an escapist and nostalgic fantasy about what books can do, especially for women. On my copy of The Bookbinder of Jericho, Williams is presented as the ‘New York Times Bestselling Author’ and a prominent badge positions the book as ‘the companion novel to the international bestseller’. The blurb promises ‘another little-known slice of history seen through women’s eyes’ and in her back-cover endorsement Toni Jordan declares that she ‘longed to return to Williams’ distinctive blend of riveting historical detail and brilliant women’. All this is standard book promotion, and no one was surprised when The Bookbinder of Jericho went straight to the top of the Australian bestseller list on its release in March.  

As The Dictionary of Lost Words and The Bookbinder of Jericho chronicle, there’s a long history of gendered judgements about who gets to read what, and why. The reader is given plenty of warnings about the bigotry of patriarchal literary criticism, about the way the norms of good and bad books are gendered and contingent. Today, overwhelmingly, it is women who attend literary festivals, it is women who host cultural podcasts, and it is overwhelmingly women who read works of Australian fiction like The Dictionary of Lost Words and The Bookbinder of Jericho. It is possible to situate these two novels in the tradition of recuperative feminist scholarship that has made visible the work of women writers across the centuries, in part through editorial projects. It’s more difficult to connect in any persuasive manner The Dictionary of Lost Words and The Bookbinder of Jericho to radical thinking about gender and language, whether Mary Daly’s freewheeling crone discourse, Luce Irigaray’s écriture feminine, or the more recent provocations issued by trans thinkers. The space for these novels was cleared by feminist writing and scholarship, certainly – and how disappointing to see it occupied by such bland heroines, by such cautious liberalism.  

This is not to say that The Dictionary of Lost Words and The Bookbinder of Jericho ignore the political altogether. Williams dramatises feminist struggles such as the campaign for suffrage and access to higher education, making space for dissenting opinions. Lizzie, for example, is skeptical of the suffragettes, dismissing them as ‘a lot of rich ladies wanting even more than they already have’. These gestures towards a more variegated social totality are restricted, however, by the limited scope of Peggy and Esme’s narrative imagination. The desire to have a social identity beyond house and family motivates Peggy and Esme, and they pursue sexual freedoms too. If they express a burgeoning class consciousness, they are more interested in accessing the institutions of cultural power than transforming them. For all the promising proletarian resentment expressed in passages like the one below, Peggy sees no remedy in collective organising.  

As soon as I put on my apron and sat at my bench, I knew it was the building and the books that the University valued. It wasn’t me or Maude or Mrs Stoddard. It wasn’t even Mr Hart. We were just part of the machinery that printed their ideas and stocked their libraries. 

Peggy rails against Gwen, who she insists cannot understand the restrictions her class imposes upon her. That may be so, but Gwen and the reader would be forgiven for overlooking Peggy’s class status as she does not appear to suffer tremendous degradation beyond the closed gates of the university. There’s always plenty to eat, she has time up her sleeve to read and chat and flirt, and she apparently experiences no precarity or violence. The shallow class critique serves as scenery for the actual political orientation of the novels, which is an assertion of the capacity of individuals to exceed their circumstances. Our heroines are first and last entrepreneurs of the self. In this, the novels share some ideological ground with the bootstrapping work of Trent Dalton and, indeed, the go get ‘em girl ethos of Barbie

To call these novels works of popular feminist history, to call Barbie a work of popular feminist cinema, is to capitulate to the detachment of an active political project from popular feminism. Caitlín Doherty has recently noted

when it comes to the packaging of films and books by, about, or ‘for’ women, marketers’ lexicons have shrunk to two words: ‘timely’ and ‘urgent’. Feminism, in this register, designates any text or tale in which a woman might occupy a central position, or any project in which a role historically occupied by a man has been taken by a woman. 

Feminist history as light entertainment turns activists into passive consumers. I’m wary of joining the ranks of those named by Renata Adler as the ‘brave commercial explorers’, those critics who are ‘forever saddened that some popular movie has failed to realise the high aesthetic possibilities they might have envisioned for it’. And yet, guilty as charged, I guess, both in terms of being deeply unimpressed by the style of these two novels and the conventional itineraries set for their heroines. Prioritising work over domesticity, as Esme and Peggy both do, in a roundabout fashion, would have been a radical choice in the 1920s, though you wouldn’t know it from the plots of these novels, as everything comes up roses. Ultimately Esme and Peggy are proxies for an audience of contemporary women readers well-versed in the mantras of self-realisation via professional fulfilment.  

As Astrid Lorange recently wrote for the Sydney Review of Books, ‘Whether we are writing about gender or writing about the writtenness of it, the stakes are high. It is not hyperbolic to say that we are in the middle of a bloody and brutal war waged under the sign of gender, and it is a war that requires us to take a stand, to take a side.’ Williams’ novels take us back to an earlier set of battles waged under the sign of gender. Peggy suffers humiliation, frustration, and material disadvantage as she strives to step out of the category of bindery girl and become a scholar – but never does she fear physical violence. Militant suffragettes do, but The Dictionary of Lost Words implies this is a consequence of their tactics. And although Peggy and Esme are legible to contemporary readers as the heroines of feminist blockbuster novels, as women who find their way, the novels provide no resources to help readers navigate the most urgent contemporary conversations about language, or institutional inclusion, and gender. Those are conversations for lexicographers and feminists alike: about pronouns, about definitions, about the relationship between language and experience. The diagnosis given by the conference speaker – ‘Words define us, they explain us, and on occasion, they serve to control or isolate us’ – is platitudinous and utterly inadequate to the peril experienced by trans people. 

Even though the publishing industry couldn’t do without the middlebrow woman reader, there is a long and sexist tradition of contempt for her aesthetic inclinations and purchasing decisions. I’d like to ask more for this reader, whose curiosity about dictionary lore, about the fascinating premises of Williams’ novels, is here short-changed. The limited horizons of these two novels reflect the banalisation of contemporary popular feminism, with all its breezy maxims about women’s achievements and capacity. As an escapist form, the feminist blockbuster distracts us from the high stakes of writing gender in the contemporary world. In place of social transformation, we have the growth of well-behaved narrators who make their peace with the institutions that excluded them. And in place of the marriage plot, we have the career plot. The boldness of writing a counter-history of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, of dreaming up an alternative life for a bindery girl like Peggy, is dampened by the restraint of Williams’ literary-political imagination, and by her unwillingness to let language have its way with her narrators.  

Works Cited

Renata Adler, After the Tall Timber: Collected Nonfiction (2015).

Caitlín Doherty, ‘A Feminist Style’New Left Review (7 July, 2023).

Mark McGurl, ‘Social Capital: Epic Fantasy and the Magical School’, Genre, Vol. 56, No. 1 April 2023.