“It’s a heady stew” – Peach by Emma Glass #IDTP19

Let’s get the Eimear McBride comparisons out of the way first shall we? There are superficial similarities between Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and Emma Glass’ debut, Peach.

The similarities are essentially two-fold: each book deals with damage done to a woman, and each book uses techniques that arguably one could say are appropriated from modernism (although where McBride is more Joycian, if you want to plough that particular furrow, Glass is more Beckettian, for what it’s worth – although Glass does thank Gertrude Stein before Joyce in her acknowledgements, before going on to thank Dylan Thomas, Kate Bush and Justin Vernon).

But if you start out along comparison road, you could just as easily compare Glass to Daisy Johnson (both writers like word play, both writers have a lyrical style, both writers are interested in ideas of identity), or Anna Burns (like Milkman, Peach essentially concerns a young woman with a boyfriend who is essentially pestered by another person) or Phoebe Waller-Bridge (some of the back and forth you get in Peach could have come straight from Fleabag – see “”I’m not complaining.” I am complaining.”)

But to be caught up in endless comparison is a distraction that does the book a disservice. Such comparisons miss the wild surrealism at the heart of the book. There are sushi cars here with wheels made of California rolls, leaving fish along the road as they pass by. There is what might pass for a wooden boyfriend, whose best friend appears to be a potato called Spud. There is a predatory creature who leaves seven foot trails of grease in his wake who may or may not be an enormous sausage. There is a pair of highly sexualised parents who goad their young daughter with talk of the sex she’s probably having, and of the baby that must shortly be due. There is a sympathetic teacher made entirely from custard. And there is Peach herself who may or may not be an actual peach. (We get that a peach is a terrific euphemism for a young woman – beautiful, easily bruised – but there are definitely times in the novel where you can’t help but wonder, given the wooden boyfriend, the potato friend, the sausage man and the custard teacher – whether she really is a peach.)

To talk of the surrealism (and it’s worth saying, Peach is comically surreal, like, say, Daren King’s Jim Giraffe), though, is to travel too far down another side-road because there are two other things that you are more likely to take away from your reading of the book.

One is the way the book is written, words and sentences echoing one another, tripping up and falling down like a three year old running down a hill. Here is an example from early in the book, as Peach stands in the shower:

“The soap slips off. Cold. The drips prick my skin, push through, rush through, collide with my bones. Red blood runs to blue. Buzzing bones stand still. Cold. Numb.”

Here is an example from close to the close:

“…this is it, I can’t I won’t grow, I can’t hold I can’t hold I feel I am close I feel the scratch and scrape the stone on the ceramic tiles the stone the stone the stone on stone, I can’t grow I won’t hold…”

You need a tolerance for this kind of writing. If it isn’t for you, it isn’t for you. It’s a book that announces itself as a book within a mighty tradition.

We said there were two things you were likely to take away from your reading of the book, though. The second thing is this: Peach is brutal, at times. There are portions of Peach that you may read through your fingers. The novel opens in the aftermath of an attack, Peach hurrying home, covered in grease, bleeding, knuckles grazed, “scarred and scared”, torn. When you sit with Peach later, as she uses her mother’s sewing kit to try and repair the damage, when you are privy to a strange family barbecue that seems to descend into an odd kind of cannibalism… it’s unlikely you’ll forget what you read any time soon.

Any Cop?: All told, it’s a heady stew, a novel whose fabric is composed of metaperceptions, at once a surreal comedy, an adolescent rite of passage and a shocking and visceral attempt to explore the effects of a sexual attack.

 

 

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