An Open Letter to 2016

Dear 2016,

You have been an incredibly painful year, perhaps one of the most painful years I have experienced in my lifetime. You took so much, and spread so much despair and misery through our world. You have undoubtedly been a complete shit show.

2016, you killed so many people. In war, in moments of heartless violence, in acts of hatred and discrimination – you took people who still had whole lives to live. You saw bombings and shootings and acts of terror. You saw people suffer through the worst possible things one can go through.

You also took a tremendous number of our role models and heroes from us – David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Harper Lee, Elie Wiesel, Gene Wilder, George Michael, Muhammad Ali, Leonard Cohen, and so so many more.

You also took people close to me and my family. And for that, I’m not sure I can forgive you.

You took me on a terrible ride through personal sadness and heartache and saw me curled up in bed without wanting to leave my house for days for fear of what you might do to the world.

You let bigotry and fear lead the vote for Britain to leave the European Union, and see that same hatred and fear allow Donald Trump to win the US Election.

You have seen so many small acts of hatred turn into large scale movements that have the potential to destroy us. I have never been so disappointed and scared and sad at the state of our world, and 2016, that is your fault.

But 2016, I also have to thank you for a few things.

2016 was the year I found myself so much more attentive to the small wonders of my world, to the little things that make this world worth living in.

2016 was the year that I discovered Hamilton, the year I found myself crying through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Love Is Love Is Love speech at the Tony’s, the year I lost myself so completely in the soundtrack and let it be the thing I turned to when things felt hopeless.

2016 was the year that brought me more Gilmore Girls, brought me home to a place that I have always loved and will always love, brought my childhood friends back into my life, and brought such joy and fullness that it leaked out of me and caused my Mum to see if I was okay because I was blubbering so loudly.

2016 was the year I finished my undergraduate degree, despite my own personal struggles, and felt so immensely proud of myself for getting through it.

2016 was the year I read 52 books, smashing my own goal of completing the 50 book challenge. It was the year that those same books opened up so many new opportunities for me as a reader, a writer and as a future employee in the publishing business. 2016 was the year that introduced me to so many great feminist writers like Clementine Ford and so many socially aware writers like Julie Koh, someone I have had the great pleasure of meeting. The year I thanked so many writers I admire for the gift of their work.

2016 was the year I started reviewing books, receiving books from publishers, and then started an internship at one of those same publishers – one of the most wonderful places filled with wonderful people. The opportunities that interning there have granted me have been phenomenal, from reading books ahead of their release, to being invited to a special screening of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. I have also been so lucky in working with the people at that publishing house, who have taken me under their wing and taught me so much.

2016 was the year I took on so many new projects, from poetry to the Mass Book Drop Event for Books On The Rails on Sydney Trains, the year I was paid for my first published piece of writing, the year I noticed my hard work finally paying off.

2016 was the year I went to lots of concerts, alone and with people I love. The year I stopped feeling self conscious in those spaces and danced like the complete dork I am. The year I couldn’t stop myself from thanking the singers, songwriters and musicians I met for the music they gifted me.

2016 was the year that I found people who loved words as much as me, and who were willing to spend their time with me to discuss our work and what writing means to each of us. I got to see my friends create wonderful pieces of art and be so immensely proud of them.

2016 was the year I got to see progress amongst the hatred, the year I found so many new voices to fight for, the year I heard so many new voices speaking out and sharing their thoughts with ever-growing communities, the year I realised I wasn’t going to stop fighting, no matter how crap things get.

2016 was the year of “Ethel, cancel the goblins” and “Obama out” and “Just a smidge” and “It’s okay to be angry” and “The Fantastic Breasts” and endless creative crushes and having breakfast at Tiffany’s for my 21st birthday and spending endless hours with my best friend in the whole world and getting a new puppy and the Hamilton Mixtape and surprise presents and magical bookshops and endless generosity and so many wonderfully body crushing hugs from people I love.

2016 was the year I realised I was so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful people, who even when they didn’t notice they were doing it, made me feel so full of light in my darkest moments and made me smile when I wasn’t sure I would be able to.

All these things have been so vitally important to me and I am so endlessly grateful for them.

I’m not sorry to see you go 2016, but I am glad that you gave me the opportunity to learn so much and open my eyes to all the small wonders of the world amongst all the pain. You gave me the chance to see so much beauty despite the dark, and I am so grateful for that.

But please, don’t come back any time soon.

 

Kind Regards,

Hayley New

 

© Hayley New 2016

Pass The Gugelhupf – A Review of ‘The Empress and The Cake’

cw: Addiction, Eating Disorders, Abusive Relationships

Linda Stift’s The Empress and The Cake is the latest release from Peirene Press, masters of translated European novellas.

The Empress and The Cake follows a young lady who becomes entangled in the grasp of a strange elderly lady with a mysterious past and a penchant for emotional manipulation. Soon after being tempted by the offer of half a Gugelhupf, the young narrator is manipulated into museum raids and destructive behaviour, only to see herself start to unravel before failing to escape the abusive nature of the relationship.

One of the most interesting things about this book is the dynamic between the central characters. Not only is it brilliant to see a novel that is so centralised around women – in fact there are very few men in this novel at all – but these women are built so complexly. It shouldn’t be such a shock to the system to read a book so dedicated to them, but with this book in particular, the way in which the women are written with so much power and complexity is utterly intoxicating.

The narrator herself is perhaps the most interesting of the women. Stift’s narrator, whilst speaking so clearly to the reader about her experiences and thoughts, still holds so much mystery. I am not used to having the narrator of a novel keep secrets from me, and the deliberate withholding of information played brilliantly into the novel’s themes and plot. Even after finishing the book, I have so many questions. Who is the narrator? Why is she so insular and isolated?

And Charlotte – who is she? The narrator constantly mentions her like we should know who she is, but we never do. Is she their sister? Their friend? Their lover?

But my questions extend beyond the narrator: Who is Frau Hohenembs? Is she the Empress? Did she know the Empress? Or is she just some imposter? How did she start this scheme of hers? Is Ida the first to fall for it, or have there been more before now?

Another thing that fascinates me about The Empress and The Cake, is the blunt and unabashed way it discusses addiction and addictive behaviour. The parallels between the two addictions in this novel – the repetitive over eating and punishing rituals and the constant return to an abusive relationship – are hard to miss. The narrator’s discussion of bulimia, whilst not naming the eating disorder directly, is without a doubt one of the most confronting I have read in fiction. The doubling of the addictive behaviour – the bulimia and the addictive subservience to the emotionally abusive Frau Hohenembs – is entwined throughout the whole novel, and makes the characters seem more mysterious. We have so little history of them, and yet, here they are, wrapped up in one of the most complex mental states. Furthermore, the description of the central relationship and its abusive behaviour and its effects on those involved is incredibly nuanced. The failure of the narrator and Ida to escape the hold of Frau Hohenembs despite their best efforts is perhaps the most honest representation of the destructive and impossible situation that an abusive relationship presents – no matter how much you want to escape, it is not always that easy.

This book is so incredibly mysterious and complex, and I am definitely going to go for a re-read soon to try and decode this strange modern Austrian fable. My review does not do it any justice, so I highly recommend you pick up a copy of this book as soon as you can.

 

The Empress and The Cake is available in all good bookstores, or directly from Peirene PressAs always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Peirene Press for sending me a copy of The Empress and The Cake. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

© Hayley New 2016