Thursday, July 18, 2013

Francesca Lia Block: a loving (incomplete) bibliography.

In 2003, I was 19 years old. I was in England, staying halfway across the world with a couple of girls I had only ever talked to online. I was going through their bookshelves, and realising how similar our tastes in books were, except for this one author I'd never heard of before: Francesca Lia Block.

It was only the first time that I would come across this wondrous woman's writing. There were two books on that bookshelf; one was about a teenager who met and fell in love with a boy with angel wings, the other was the story of a girl fighting anorexia and telling her story through a series of tarot cards. I was hooked.

At 19, I was one of many young women who was struggling with an eating disorder. I was also a young woman who still believed in magic in all places. These books, speaking of realities like cancer and abuse while intermingling it with a sense of the divine or the magical spoke to me in a way that I couldn't quite describe.

My writing style changed around this time, trying to emulate the simple beauty I found in these books. 

It was 2005, I was 21, and New Zealand was the flavour of the year. A friend had a copy of Violet and Clare, a novel that I mistakenly took from its title for a lesbian love story, but I wasn't disappointed. 

2006, still in New Zealand, and leafing through a copy of I was a Teenage Fairy, the story of a young model trying to live up to the pressures of her mother, who sees fairies in the backyard and is close to one fairy, the fairy Mab, in particular. 

When I revisited this novel again in 2008, I started wondering whether these stories of real life with magical realism spoke of a deeper metaphor, whether suffering mental health was the scope through which these teenagers escaped to and regularly found outlets of the mystical and the divine. Or whether the fairies and angels were part of their delusions. 

In 2011, I did an Honours paper that included one of the short stories from Francesca's The Rose and the Beast. There, while my focus was on the short story 'Beast', I finally found my lesbian love story in the retelling of Snow White and Rose Red. 

This month, I read The Elementals, a book with lyrical writing, strong plot and many of the familiar themes I have come to associate with Francesca's various works. This novel was, in many ways, one of those "New Adult" novels we've been hearing so much about: The main character moves out from her family home, goes to college, discovers sex. But it's so much more than that. Mystery and drugs and abductions and cancer with just a hint of magical realism serve to make this a very well weaved, heart-wrenching novel by a very talented author.

For ten years , Francesca Lia Block has managed to elevate, excite, liberate, titillate and make my heart soar with her stories of sadness and beauty, magic and suffering. I love these stories. They are a part of me, and now, this year, she will be releasing her latest novel. 

Love in the Time of Global Warming is a post-apocalyptic novel with a young woman going on a journey to find her lost family. Early reviews of the book agree that this will be another one of her gritty realisms in a slightly fantastical setting which, of course, post-apocalyptic settings tend to be.

This will be the first time that I am getting on board with one of Francesca's novels as they come out. I was close, I think, when I picked up her novel Ruby (co-written with Carmen Staton). Of course, the release date for this novel is saying late August, so my only question really is how am I going to wait that long? 

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