Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - BOOKS -

oc­ca­sions, once by a boyfriend. When I ask if writ­ing the book was in any way cathar­tic, she smiles. In her aca­demic life, she’s di­rec­tor of the Irish Mem­ory Stud­ies Net­work and writes a lot about “how nar­ra­tive is a very pow­er­ful way of claim­ing con­trol over a trau­matic past or painful past”.

“In ex­pos­ing yourself, you take con­trol of the nar­ra­tive as much as you can within a pub­lic space,” she says.

“The other side of that is the per­sonal, emo­tional side of it. When I was a teenager, I went through a lot of re­ally ter­ri­ble things and I put them in a nice lit­tle box and I closed the box.”

Be­fore writ­ing ‘Some­thing About Me’, she had never been able to talk about her ex­pe­ri­ence of sex­ual vi­o­lence — her part­ner only knew the “vague shape” of it un­til she read him the es­say. In Notes to Self, she tries to re­flect that “it’s hard to do, the writ­ing thing, it pours out of you but that act in it­self can be phys­i­cal, al­most vis­ceral”.

The col­lec­tion is very cur­rent, not just in light of move­ments like #MeToo and Time’s Up, or this year’s abor­tion ref­er­en­dum — where women’s sto­ries catal­ysed change — but be­cause it’s part of a re­nais­sance in the es­say, by women writ­ers in par­tic­u­lar. She men­tions Zadie Smith, Ariel Levy and Rox­ane Gay as writ­ers who have in­spired her, as well as The White Al­bum by Joan Did­ion, one of the “gods of es­say writ­ing”.

Pine never thought about fic­tion­al­is­ing her sto­ries. “The power of them, for me, is that they’re real.”

“I like the es­say as a form. I like the idea of the es­say. The verb ‘to es­say’ is to try some­thing out, I like that it takes an idea and that it pushes it, it looks at it from dif­fer­ent an­gles... you don’t just say here is one route through this ma­te­rial... But I wouldn’t want some­one to be put off by the idea that they’re es­says be­cause I still want them to be sto­ries. So it’s sto­ry­telling in es­say form.”

She doesn’t think that what she de­picts in the book is any­thing out of the or­di­nary. “It’s about recog­nis­ing com­mon­al­ity in a way.” Though the sto­ries are deeply per­sonal, in­evitably they have a so­ci­etal and po­lit­i­cal con­text. Her par­ents sep­a­rated when she was five and didn’t speak for the next three decades. Divorce was il­le­gal (though her par­ents never got di­vorced) which meant that in leg­isla­tive terms, her fam­ily did not ex­ist.

This forms the core of the es­say ‘Speak­ing/Not Speak­ing,’ but in a way the en­tire col­lec­tion con­fronts the ten­sion be­tween speak­ing and not speak­ing. She felt like she grew up in a cul­ture that was not speak­ing. In this sense, Notes on Self is partly a rec­ti­fi­ca­tion. When she first thought about pub­lish­ing ‘Notes on In­tem­per­ance,’ Pine reck­oned it would have meant a lot to her grow­ing up, to have had her own ex­pe­ri­ence mir­rored, “and that’s what I thought about all the es­says in the end,” she says.

Notes to Self is out now and is pub­lished by Tramp Press

When I was a teenager, I went through a lot of re­ally ter­ri­ble things and I put them in a nice lit­tle box and I closed the box

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