Pace, Rage, and Hysteria of Youth: A Q&A with Zoe Pilger

Article by annalia

Ann-Marie is twenty-three and fancy free now that her long-term relationship has ended. She was down for a while, but hanging out with Vic, a thirty-six-year-old man with a military medal on his sweater, seems like a fun way to get back up. Her good luck continues when her hero, a fictional second wave feminist named Stephanie Haight, dines at the upscale restaurant where Ann-Marie is a reluctant receptionist. Our protagonist is well-versed in Haight’s writing: “To wait is a woman’s prerogative….To wait is a woman’s raison d'être. To wait and see what a man will do for you. Do to you.” Ann-Marie obeys. She waits for her ex, Sebastian. She waits for her new beau, Vic. She waits for attention from Haight.

Let me be clear: this is not a love story—not the kind you’re thinking of, anyway. Prince Charming is MIA; Haight turns out to be a less-than-helpful Fairy Godmother; and poor Ann-Marie is a princess that would never win Miss Congeniality. But EAT MY HEART OUT isn’t an anti-hero anthem, either. Pilger has penned lines of dialogue and snippets of scenes that will slap the lipstick right off your mouth. She shocked me—not because Ann-Marie is sometimes so impulsive that the word “feral” comes to mind, but because her need to belong is so intense (and genuine) that it makes me miss my own parents, who are packing up my childhood home as I write this.

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Brazos Bookstore: Though EAT MY HEART OUT is chronological overall, the chapters are structured almost like a scrapbook, where Ann-Marie highlights particular moments rather than meditate on whole days hour by hour. How did the structure for the book come together? If you had to make the book into a map, what would it look like?

Zoe Pilger: I wrote the first draft of EAT MY HEART OUT in three months at night at the end of 2010, and the structure emerged spontaneously. The novel is set over ten days and nights in London—I wanted to create the pace, rage, and hysteria of youth (Ann Marie’s youth in any case). I’ve always described Ann-Marie as my alter ego, and writing the world through her eyes was like getting in role. The novel is very much about London, so a map of the novel would trace all the places that Ann-Marie visits—from Leicester Square at one in the morning on a Saturday night to a warehouse party in Hackney Wick to Soho, Clapham Common, Greenwich, and especially Camden Lock, where she hallucinates a vision of Amy Winehouse.

BB: The way Ann-Marie admires Stephanie Haight reminds me of fandom culture. Are there any fandoms you follow? Who are the Stephanie Haights that have inspired you?

ZP: Ann-Marie is twenty-three and obsessed with Stephanie, a second wave feminist writer whose non-fiction book FALLING OUT OF FATE has just been published. Ann-Marie eventually moves into Stephanie’s house in Camden Square, next door to where Amy Winehouse used to live. However, I think Ann-Marie quickly discovers the dangers of idolisation. Stephanie is a sadist.

I don’t follow any fandoms—I prefer the anarchist slogan, “No gods, no masters.”

Plenty of feminist writers have inspired me, though I wouldn’t classify them as Stephanie Haights! My favourite feminist book is still THE SECOND SEX by Simone de Beauvoir.

BB: There's a wonderful moment just over half-way through the book where Ann-Marie stays in her ex-boyfriend Sebastian's bed at his parents' house. It reminded me that ending a romantic relationship doesn't always mean families sever all ties. What does family mean to you?

ZP: One of the ideas that I explore in the book is female freedom since the second wave women’s movement of the 60s and 70s. Ann-Marie repeatedly says that her freedom is a burden. I think her attachment to Sebastian’s family is her way of denying her freedom and trying to return to a protected, childlike state, which is impossible. Family of course is very important to me.

BB: When was the moment you knew you were a feminist?

ZP: I was always interested in feminism, but the moment that it became really meaningful to me was when I was twenty and read THE SECOND SEX for the first time, particularly the chapter “The Woman in Love.”

BB: You have no idea who we'll talk to for the next Brazos Q&A, but never mind that: What should we ask him or her?

ZP: What visual art has influenced your writing (if any)?

BB: Speaking of, Maggie Nelson wants to know: What do you not have that you need, and what do you already have that you want to keep (cf. The Undercommons, by Fred Moten/Stefano Harney)?

ZP: I’m writing my second novel at the moment, which is about a romance writer who gets locked in a mental asylum for pushing against the bounds of the genre…I’d like a ticket to a romance writers convention.

I have a great edition of Anna Kavan’s A STRANGER STILL, published by Peter Owen, on my desk. I’d like to keep that.


Eat My Heart Out Cover Image
$17.95
ISBN: 9781558618855
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Feminist Press - May 5th, 2015

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