Laura Gonzalez


The Complete Short Stories by Muriel Spark**** — 31 Aug 2013

Reading dates: 09 January 2012 – 31 August 2013

One day in my young youth at high summer, lolling with my lovely companions upon a haystack, I found a needle. (The Portobello Road)

There are so many stories I loved in this collection … I began reading it while also reading Martin Stannard’s biography of Spark. When things were not looking very good for her, she won a prize with ‘The Seraph and the Zambesi’, the first story I read in this book. The experience of reading it reminded me of the contemplation of a Fra Angelico painting now; there was something eternal, maybe transcendental in it. I fell in love with her African stories: ‘The Go-Away Bird’, ‘The Curtain Blown by the Breeze’, ‘Bang-Bang You’re Dead’, ‘The Ormulu Clock’. But her European ones were wonderful too. The stories mentioned by Stannard — such as the stunning ‘The Portobello Road’ which contains one of my favourite first lines, together with Beckett’s Murphy and Nabokov’s Lolita — and those unknown to me — for example ‘The Girl I left Behind Me’ — made an impression. There are a lot of stories in this collection, and a lot of very diverse narrative strategies. I did not find them as absorbing perhaps as her novels (but that’s me, I like novels more than short stories) but I did enjoy most of them despite my long involvement with the book (I was not so keen on ‘The Young Man Who Discovered the Secret of Life’). I read them at breakfast, or in between books, or while waiting for someone and they always left that peculiar Sparkian feeling. She deals with the supernatural like no other writer, not even the Latin-American magic realists …

If you are in the UK, you can listen to her talk about the supernatural and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie here: She is wonderful.

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A guide to my star rating system — 29 Aug 2013

*: I finished the book, which means I will be rating and reviewing it. But finishing it might be the only attraction of the 1*. It could as easily have got none.

**: I finished it and there must be a paragraph or two, a section or an aspect of the story that I found innovative or attractive.

***: More often than not, 3* denote two kinds of books: those that are not very good but gave me a lot of pleasure (generally due to plot or execution) or those where I know the book is good, but I did not enjoy it. Sometimes, it also denotes books with one major fault (usually length or depth).

****: A very good book, but not a priority for re-reading.

*****: If the eternal recurrence of the same was true, I would not mind reading these over and over again. In the 5*, plot, character, innovation, execution and reading experience come together seamlessly, and one is not privileged over the other.

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Strictly Bipolar by Darian Leader *** — 20 Aug 2013

Reading dates: 27 May 2013 – 20 August 2013

Some might find Darian Leader’s writing style unnerving but I think it comforting in its ease, the depth of its connections. Like ‘Why do women write more letters than they post?‘, ‘Promises Lovers Make When it Gets Late‘ and — my favourite – ‘Stealing the Mona Lisa: What Art Stops Us from Seeing‘, his narrative has no sections, it flows. This is part of the reason why it took me so long to read a very short book: I kept going back and forth, as in a tide. In Strictly Bipolar, he addresses the characteristics, psychic structure, cultural and medical perceptions of manic depression. This is a complex topic, more so at the time of the book’s release, as it coincides with the much dreaded 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Leader argues that the structure of manic depression, although certainly painful and reflecting suffering, is not something to be treated with pills, to be tamed, pushed down. This is backed by his opening remark, the fact that the diagnosis has expanded to cover a large proportion of the population, not making us bipolar (or not), but making us bipolar on a scale.

The book is rich with examples from his clinical work and from culture, but my problem with the book is its length. It feels too cursory, only getting to the threshold of ideas, arguments and counterarguments. The beautiful folds he crafts – there are numerous repetitions, like litanies – get lost in their brevity. And by God the topic deserves length and depth …

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Why read? Part 1: my rights — 19 Aug 2013


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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde*** — 17 Aug 2013

Reading dates: 07 July 2013 – 17 August 2013

When I revealed to Neil that I was not enjoying The Picture of Dorian Gray , but could not articulate clearly why, he referred to all my book reviews and rating, exploring the 5* to see what the patters was: books by or about strong women, which The Picture of Dorian Gray is not an example. I am not sure how I feel about the revelation of what my unconscious likes. Part of me is shattered at the fact that I would chose something so predictable as strong women over simply a good book. Yet, part of me sees it as natural, an activist position, a duty. I guess I like what I like and I found Dorian Gray too moral. Don’t get me wrong, it is delightful in parts, and very original and interesting, but it is patchy, it did not carry me (in fact, I carried it). I want to be swept away by books, become obsessed, change the way I do things and Dorian Gray was one of those I had to get through, like Dracula, but much better written, which is why it gets a star more.

I had lengthy discussions with Neil about the book while I was reading it. And it all came down to the fact that he is right and I am wrong: my dislike is a matter of taste, whereas his admiration is one of the book itself. Read his wonderful article. I should follow better Mrs Hawkins advice to consider the text only, when making a judgement about a book. This avowal of my partial view of certain books made me consider the question of why I read. I do not yet have an answer.

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A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark***** — 16 Aug 2013


Reading dates: 04 August 2013 – 16 August 2013

A Far Cry From Kensington gave me nothing but delight. This is Spark in good form, mixing mystery — a case of anonymous letters — with sex, outrage and the publishing industry. It is interspersed with Mrs Hawkins’ good advice, from whom I learned a great deal of applicable tips. A banana keeps rheumatism away, before you marry someone see them drunk, if you want to lose weight eat half of everything, if you want to write a book, get a cat to help with concentration. In his wonderful biography of Spark, Martin Stannard writes that A Far Cry… is, together with Loitering With Intent, an autobiographical book. In fact, it is her revenge on Derek Stanford, which I waited to happen for most of my reading of Stannard’s book. And, as any revenge, it is sweeter when served cold. Spark portrays Stanford as Hector Bartlett, the pisseur de copie. She makes him an unequivocally despicable character, devious and vile, as shown in the scene where, as a dog bites half of his sausage roll, he dips the other half in mustard and feeds it back to the animal to make it sick. Bartlett costs Mrs Hawkins two jobs, but she keeps the moral high ground. She is not a pisseur de copie and she speaks her mind. There is dignity in that. Add Spark’s trademark non-sequiturs, her sense of fashion, her wonderful women (there is one called Abigail de Mordell Staines-Knight), death, her specific version of religion (appearing here as Hail Marys at noon) and waspish dialogue, and you will understand my utter delight.

A Far Cry … joins The Driver’s Seat, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and The Girls Of Slender Means, as one of my favourites.

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Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin * — 10 Aug 2013

Reading dates: 01 August 2013 – 09 August 2013

Having given 1* to Fiesta, I did not feel I could give any more to Rebus’ first appearance, even though I enjoyed reading this much more than Fiesta, save for the fact that Neil and I read Fiesta aloud to each other. Rankin references Muriel Spark, Dostoyevsky and Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde in this book and, although laudable, I felt he was trying to hard. The plot needs work. Perhaps he should have referenced a bit more of Nabokov’s divine details, the way he introduces Clare Quilty in Lolita. How we find out who is sending the knots and crosses is one of those moments that almost made me close the book. It is a short book, so I continued, but I am not sure I will read any of the rest. Well, I probably will because crime fiction is addictive, but Rankin made me miss Denise Mina and the good in Jo Nesbo. Perhaps it is the voice, the fact that the narrator is not Rebus, that annoyed me. In crime fiction, the position of the narrator is crucial, which is where Denise Mina got it absolutely right with the Garnethill trilogy. Maureen O’Donnell is fascinating. Instead of more detection, though, I should return to Spark and read Dostoyevsky at long last. There’s that for Rankin, he inspired me to try Crime and Punishment.

My new year’s resolution of reading less 1* books is not quite working out is it? It was my first fall from the list, my first weakness. Forgive me, I have had my quick, cheap thrill. I am back on the serious work.

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Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway * — 1 Aug 2013

Reading dates: 04 July 2013 – 01 August 2013

Not sure if this is even worth a review … What clunky writing! I think the Time Out guide to France and Spain might also be more entertaining.

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About Me

I am an artist and writer. My recent practice performance, film, dance, photography and text, and my work has been performed, exhibited and published in many venues in Europe and the US. I have spoken at numerous conferences and events, including the Museum for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the Medical Museum in Copenhagen, College Arts Association and the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. When I am not following Freud, Lacan and Marx’s footsteps with my camera or creating performance works as part of my Athenaeum Research Fellowship at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I teach postgraduate students at Transart Institute.

I am currently immersed in an interdisciplinary project exploring knowledge and the body of the hysteric. In 2013, together with Child and Adolescent Mental Health practitioner Frances Davies, I co-edited the book ‘Madness, Women and the Power of Art’, to which I contributed a work authored with Eleanor Bowen. My book ‘Make Me Yours: How Art Seduces’ was published by Cambridge Scholars in 2016. In this text, investigates psychoanalytic approaches to making and understanding objects of seduction, including an examination of parallels between artistic and analytic practices, a study of Manolo Blahnik’s shoes as objects of desire, a disturbing encounter with Marcel Duchamp’s last work, and the creation of a psychoanalytically inspired Discourse of the Artefact, a framework enabling the circulation of questions and answers through a relational approach to artworks.