Book of the Month: Five uses of the body in literature

One of our books of the month, James Hannah’s The A-Z of You and Me is told through parts of the body. Inspired by this, we’ve picked our favourite examples of the body’s use in literature. Let us know yours – @CBBookGroup!

Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (1818)

That’s right. We’ve gone all A-Level English and given this classic its full title. We couldn’t really do a post about the body in literature and not include this classic – Victor Frankenstein’s monster is made from many different bodies, put together as he is from parts robbed from the grave. We have a real soft spot for the monster: ‘I am solitary and abhorred’! One of our favourites by far.

Black Vodka by Deborah Levy (2012)

Black Vodka is the title of a short story by Deborah Levy about an adman with a hunchback. He’s a modern day Quasimodo, says Levy – she had always wanted to put him in a suit, she says. Giving him a hunchback allowed Levy to explore how a character reacts to the enquiring gaze of others, making for a rich short story. You can hear her talking about it here.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (2009)

If you don’t want to read a visceral account of what it’s like to be burnt, don’t read this. However, if you don’t, you will be missing out on a Really Good Book. A surreal and gothic-y novel, the protagonist is in a hospital bed covered in burns, leading to a novel that has a focus on the fragility and immediacy of the body.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)

OBVIOUSLY. We follow Orlando over 400 years as she/he transforms from one gender to another. Her/his body is, debatably, the key feature in this glorious ‘biography’. It also has some great quotes about writing: ‘For it would seem – her case proved it – that we write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person.’ A slim novel to read in a weekend.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2012)

Uplifting and weepy in the same moment, we love Harold Fry. The use of the body? Well, Harold walks, and walks, and walks. His feet fall apart, and yet he continues on his quest to see Queenie Hennessy. This book is a lot about physicality – about the physical act of walking for miles upon miles, and its affect on the body and on your mind; and about the difference between thinking of someone or writing to them, and actually being there, present with them. We’re getting weepy again just thinking about it.

The A-Z of You and Me by James Hannah is one of our two February books of the month, and will be published by Doubleday on March 12th. Our other book of the month is The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble – stay tuned for a list inspired by that, too…


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