I've just finished reading the most extraordinary novel, House Rules by Heather Lewis. I have a strong stomach, but it's really stomach-turningly disturbing, and one of the best novels I've ever read. Talk about female noir. . . . Flattened-out first-person narration, teenage girls, show-jumping, absolutely brutal sex scenes (some of the most disturbing but also erotic I've ever come across), cigarettes and bourbon and doping (horses and people): this book will not suit everyone (I was not exaggerating above, it literally made me feel sick to my stomach, it's that intense), but the combination of writing and sensibility is quite remarkable.
I've been meaning to read Lewis for a while now, Pete Ayrton of Serpent's Tail told me about her first and then Dale Peck's piece in New York Magazine (click on that link in part for the really amazing photograph of Lewis) compounded my sense that this was a writer I would particularly like. And here's an interesting short piece by Charlie Dickinson about her novel Notice (published posthumously by Serpent's Tail in 2002, following Lewis's death by her own hand at age forty).
I was reminded of two other particularly favorite novels of mine with roughly comparable subject matter (and both--like this one--written to the highest possible standard of language), Jenny Diski's Nothing Natural (which I picked up in the bookstore at Heathrow without having heard anything about it--it just caught my eye--and then was consumed by on the flight back to New York, it was one of the most intense reading experiences of my entire life) and Stephen Elliott's Happy Baby.
I must get Heather Lewis's other two novels as soon as possible (The Second Suspect is the other one, published second but written third). Though first I had better read something more morally uplifting and cheery, this is not wise January reading (especially as I have done exceptionally well and not smoked a single cigarette since the first weekend in September, and it is hard to imagine a more cigarette-smoking-inducing writer than Lewis). . . .