I was thrilled when, not too long ago, I was invited to attend a blogger’s event with Elle Nash for her debut novel, Animals Eat Each Other. I went last night and it was lovely – just 9 of us around a table in Tottenham Court Road’s Waterstones Café, listening to Elle answer questions about her novel.
Though you’ll find my book review here, I’ll give you a quick recap of the plot – just so that you don’t end up with an unhealthy number of tabs open, ya know. It follows the experience – in first-person retrospect – of an unnamed narrator. Through work, where she is sleeping with her boss and her co-worker best-friend, she meets a young unmarried couple: Matt and Frankie. Matt is a Satanist and a tattoo artist, and Frankie is his girlfriend, the mother of his young child, who is looking for a girlfriend. So our unnamed narrator soon becomes a part of a three-way relationship with the couple, who name her Lilith. Their relationship is fraught, fragile, dependent, intense, with Lilith soon making the choice to try further her relationship with Matt, excluding Frankie. You’ll have to read it to see how that goes.
Elle went over the motivation behind the unnamed narrator, the renaming of her to Lilith and the significance of the name Lilith. At the heart of this novel is a coming-of-age story. Lilith defines herself by what she thinks she needs to experience, and how she thinks other people experience things. She centres her existence around sex, despite not enjoying it most of the time. She goes through the motions. And so, when this couple whose life she has inserted herself into name her, she becomes Lilith. She embodies who they need her to be, to whatever extent she is capable.
Then there’s the significance of the name itself. In Christian mythology, Adam is made from dust and his counterpart, Eve, is made of Adam’s rib. In Jewish mythology, Adam was not made alone. He was made alongside his first wife, Lilith, who too was made of the same dust as Adam. Thus, while Eve is of Adam, Lilith was Adam’s equal. Elle is playing around and incorporating this mythology into the relationship’s power dynamic, not strictly adhering to it but rather drawing inspiration from it. But it is interesting to think, when observing this polyamorous relationship, of that critical difference. Of Lilith as Matt’s equal, but Frankie as a part of Matt – an inseparable part. Lilith, though an equal, is the outsider.
Sexuality, Representation and Coming-of-Age
Lilith is bisexual, but Elle did not want this to be a coming-of-age novel in which Lilith discovered that. While many novels of similar dispositions focus on the uncovering of sexuality, Elle wanted Lilith to already know who she was. Her sexuality was not a question, it was just who she was. It was not a central device within the story, but simply a pre-existing feature.
Elle was interested in writing about a polyamorous relationship, as she wanted to reiterate the fact that monogamy is not the only way of experiencing intimacy and romance. Though this particular relationship doesn’t end very well, the point is not how it ends, but rather the simplicity with which it begins. It isn’t some difficult and tricky set up – it’s just like how people engage in heteronormative relationships, only with more people involved. Like with Elle’s bisexuality, it is simply a part of these characters’ set-up, rather than a plot device or something to drive the narrative.
Writing Erotic Fiction
When the interview was finished and question-time underway, I asked Elle about writing a novel with an inherently sexual subject matter. My curiosity was rooted in my initial reaction to the subject matter. The first page of the book is quite stark and raw, and I had no knowledge of what the book was about before I started reading. So I was shocked. And felt the urge to kind of hide the page, because I was reading on public transport. After finishing the book (in a swift day – it is incredibly readable), I found myself reading other reviews on Goodreads and Instagram, while I was trying to formulate my thoughts into something coherent before sprinkling those thoughts on social media. Many people would say things like, “It is well written, but the subject matter isn’t my thing”, or “I don’t usually read this sort of thing but it’s very good”. This bothered me. I thought, if it’s good, why are people so concerned about making it apparent that it’s not something they participate in? Acknowledging something as a good book is not saying that every character is likeable, or that you’d behave in the same way as them. If that were the case, The Great Gatsby would’ve been kicked to the curb. Nobody reads a crime novel and fears being called a murderer by observers, and yet when broaching sadistic sex, the reader feels the need to publish IT’S VERY GOOD BUT I’M NOT, LIKE, A WEIRD SEX ADDICT OR ANYTHING. Relax. You can enjoy things that are different without a disclaimer.
Anyway, I was interested to see whether Elle faced this sort of thing a lot – whether she came up against people reluctant to read her (very good) story just because there are elements they are uncomfortable with. She answered simply and astutely, basically saying that she doesn’t mind people finding it uncomfortable, or even people insisting on the disclaimer, because if she can be a part of people reading, experiencing and learning outside of their comfort zone, then she’s happy. That’s what art is about. And the people who don’t read it because of that? That’s their loss.
Elle is in conversation tonight (21 August) with sex educator, artist and body positivity trooper Ruby Rare. More info! Otherwise…