Not to be Overlooked
By Katie Simpson and Alicja Baranowska
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to help readers find their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of Boy Parts and Love in Colour.
Boy Parts by Eliza Clark
Published by Influx Press
Book trigger warnings: rape, sexual assault, drugs, eating disorders and alcohol use.
I first read Boy Parts by Eliza Clark back in the summer of 2020. It secured the number one spot as my favourite book of the year and, to this day, it remains one of my most thought-about narratives. Published by independent publishers, Influx Press, I believe Clark’s fresh and challenging story carved out a line of success for the book creators.
Set in Newcastle (hooray, a change of scenery from the typical London-driven narrative), Irina is a young, independent and bold woman who works in a bar while running a photography business on the side. There’s one thing about her photos, however, that makes her stand out: she takes explicit images of ordinary men.
Fuelled by a lifestyle of drugs, sex and spiralling mental health, Irina is attempting to revive her artistic career while juggling her closest female friend (who has developed obsessive feelings for her) as well as a judgemental mother who disapproves of Irina’s lifestyle choices.
After years of trudging through a reliable catalogue of men, a young Tesco cashier catches her eye one night and Irina revels in the fact she has found her next project: “He has curly black hair, brown skin, freckles. An earring - I love girly shit like that. He’s a vision in polyester, a checkout movie star; he’s the Oscar Isaac of random boys who work in Tesco.”
As you can tell from the excerpt, Clark writes with dark humour, wit and relevance to modern social times. But when we put the award-winning celeb references aside, we realise Clark is digging much deeper into current affairs. She's turning the narrative of artistic, powerful men abusing female models on its head. Irina’s male models have now become her dolls to play with, encouraging the reader to contemplate power dynamics between men and women.
With an uncomfortably careless yet career-hungry woman at the centre of the story, Boy Parts feels like a mix between Killing Eve and American Psycho. Clark has written something that I wanted to race through, but I never wanted to end. The dark humour made me laugh, gasp and feel slightly concerned in equal measure. There are several interesting aspects to this book: the way Irina sabotages female relationships, how she manipulates men and how you can never trust her narration.
Influx Press have played a blinder with this publication, and it deserves all the publicity it’s received, even two years on. I’d highly recommend picking this up and supporting just one of the books from Influx Press’ impressive catalogue.
Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola
Published by Headline
Love in Colour is an immensely enriching and beautiful read, a debut by Bolu Babalola.
It’s a collection of short stories, all centred about the theme of love, and inspired by Greek mythology and Nigerian folklore. In Love in Colour, Bolu Balalola brings thirteen stories to life, making the retellings more modern and as a result, more powerful in many ways for the contemporary reader.
The three last stories are not retellings, but rather original narratives by the author, some inspired by her life, with the last story being about her parents. Having listened to the audiobook of Love in Colour, I had the pleasure of getting to know the last as read by Bolu Babalola herself and her mother. It made this short story so much more personal and powerful.
While each story in this collection is different, they all feature strong female characters and empower women to make their own choices. This is something that has resonated with me heavily whether I already knew the original myth the stories that inspired the stories.
Some of the stories were based on myths that I grew up with, and others made me reach out beyond the book and search for the original material inspiration - I liked the element of exploring more after reading Love in Colour.
While I enjoyed the collection as a whole, my favourite stories were definitely Nefertiti and one of the author’s original pieces about a bad date that led the character to someone else completely.
I would definitely recommend this short story collection to anyone looking for a modern spin on myths and folklore, even if they’re not usually romance readers – Love in Colour surpasses the traditional romance and becomes a powerful and immersive read in itself.