12 August 2023

How to be a French Girl: A Reading List

Posted by Rose Cleary

Rose Cleary’s debut novel How to be a French Girl is just out this week from Weatherglass Books. To celebrate the publication, Cleary put together a reading list of some of the influences and inspirations behind the novel.

Proleterka by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Alastair McEwan
A young woman takes a final voyage aboard a cruise ship with her distant father. Adrift and trapped, the girl seeks out embodiment through carnal relations with the ship’s crew. Through hardened, crystalline prose, Jaeggy evokes the distance of estrangement, and the compulsive neglect that is a symptom of difficult father-daughter relations. It manages to be moving without sentimentalising. 

The New Me by Halle Butler
When How to be a French Girl was still a few non-committal bits of stuff on my Google Drive, I read this and had the instant thought: ‘This is the book that I’m trying to write.’ It was hugely formative. As it goes, …French Girl is now quite a different book to Halle Butler’s. But the similar themes – the inane futility of temping jobs, and aspirations for a life beyond office work –  have remained, as well as the highly relatable feeling of being an abject excuse for a human.

Exit Management by Naomi Booth
So many themes ribbon together here – housing and hospitality, violence and nature – undergirding a story about survival. Based in London, the central female character is on a tightly-planned scheme to achieve precise aspirational conditions: the perfect house, the perfect family, the perfect image. But the abjection of her body, and her inhospitable nature, cause conflict with these conditions. 

Cold New Climate by Isobel Wohl
This was Weatherglass Books’s first publication when they launched in 2021, and it really deserves more exposure. The narrative is so slippy and compelling, building and building towards a certain conclusion. But then the plot’s entire world shatters, and all of the moral issues deconstruct to ask a whole new set of questions. It is mindblowing. 

Siblings by Magnus Florin, translated by Harry Watson
I love ‘building blocks’ prose; a steady build of directional sentences. I struggle with pages and pages of exposition. Just let the world build itself. Siblings is a short book, but the strength of its building blocks means it has the dense layers of an epic. There is also a spiral rhythm to it: the rotations of control gradually coming loose as the protagonist, a megalomaniac pharmacist, loses grip over his family and legacy. 

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
This is just a classic, isn’t it? Admittedly I came to this book relatively late. Following a teenage diet of Bret Easton Ellis, I am still drawn to detached and darkly judgemental writing, the cruelty of it. But reading A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, you’re in the very guts of the female protagonist, swimming around in a soup of cruelness – the body’s own machinations, the monstrosity of female existence.

How to be a French Girl by Rose Cleary is published by Weatherglass Books, priced £11.99.

Books mentioned in this blog post