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Not to be Overlooked

By Lara Abbey and Jasmine Aldridge

This column introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week covers a review of Heatwave by Victor Jestin and Disobedient Bodies by Emma Dabiri.

Heatwave by Victor Jestin, translated by Sam Taylor

Review by Lara Abbey

Set during the country’s biggest heatwave in seventeen years, Heatwave is a fascinatingly dark novel by debut author Victor Jestin. The novel uses the final day of a camping holiday in France during the heatwave as a backdrop for teenage angst – packing a massive punch in a short number of pages.

Heatwave’s narrator, Leonard, is a morally dubious young male protagonist reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield and is thoroughly engrossing throughout. Although his narration veers slightly too far into holier-than-thou-I’m-a-weirdo territory with his intense scrutiny of the sheeplike tendency of the other campers, I still found it absorbing. Leonard’s neurotic stream of consciousness invoked the queasy feeling of trying to function in the heat whilst on holiday, albeit – in Leonard’s case – with the added weight of being partially responsible for another young man’s death through his inaction, then burying the body under a sand dune.

An incredibly matter-of-fact paragraph about a boy called Oscar’s death opens the novel, and Leonard’s admission of guilt perfectly sets up the tone of helpless despair that is to follow. As you would expect, Leonard spends much of the rest of the novel (when he’s not with Luce – the object of his desire and someone Oscar was also interested in) trying not to crack under the pressure of this secret, compounded by the aforementioned heat. This leads to moments filled with incredible tension that twist the knife in just that much further, such as interactions with Oscar’s mother Claire, who has no idea what happened to her son and who becomes increasingly suspicious of Leonard. The anxiety is nauseating, yes, but it is also very gripping to see how, and if, Leonard will hold on to his sanity as things keep unravelling further.

The environment of the campsite is also really interesting, symbolising the lengths people will go to insulate themselves from the troubles of the real world, placing immense pressure on themselves to be seen as having a good time. Yet Leonard’s narration allows us to see through this as he comments on how the heat arrives earlier and earlier every year, and, in an awkward car ride home after Leonard argues with his parents at a restaurant, the references to political unrest in France and the climate crisis on the radio that Jestin writes in serve to expertly show up this pretence. 

Overall, Heatwave is a short but compelling read that perfectly reflects the (especially teenage) desire to bury the things we wish to ignore, and the frustration that threatens to burst out as a result.

Disobedient Bodies by Emma Dabiri

Review by Jasmine Aldridge

In an age of TikTok filters, diet culture and impossible beauty standards, learning to navigate feelings towards your body and your relationship with other people’s bodies is certainly not getting any easier. Living in a patriarchal and capitalist system that has profited from controlling women’s bodies for millennia means that even media movements that promote body positivity and diversity are in fact still contributing to this ingrained dialogue of imperfection, shame and insatiable beauty. In Disobedient Bodies, Emma Dabiri, author of the bestselling books Don’t Touch My Hair and What White People Can Do Next, tackles these concepts in an illuminating and truly eye-opening essay that calls for women to “reclaim their unruly beauty.”

Combining some easy-to-understand feminist theory with her personal journey growing up in post-colonial Ireland, Dabiri forms a basis for restructuring conversations about bodies, race and self-perception in the digital age. From upgrade culture to pretty privilege, this read will force you to confront beauty ideals and contradictions that are ingrained in everything we do. The essay is easy to follow and takes the reader through the history of women’s oppression in society, drawing on instances from multiple cultures, and ensuring both a theoretical and situational background to Dabiri’s dynamic thinking. There is no pretence of superiority in this book. Dabiri admits her own place within the wider system of control, explaining how it was only with a complete shift in thought processes and perspective that she is now able to think non-judgmentally and gently about her own body and those of others. Learning how to do beauty differently and become confident and comfortable with our bodies is the key message in this essay, and it is told with compassion, honesty and an integral desire for change.

Rather than simply stating the dismal state of society and the pressure facing women (although this is examined thoroughly), Dabiri offers actionable and empowering solutions. There is a distinct awareness of intersectionality, and these complex ideas are written with humour, heart and striking humanity, making them accessible to everyone. Although a shorter read than most fiction books, the impact of this non-fiction masterpiece will stay with you for much longer.

For readers unfamiliar with feminist theory, body politics or just non-fiction more generally, Dabiri’s engaging and conversational essay is a great introduction and will provide a rewarding start to the 2024 TBR list.


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