A feature I found by accident on For Books' Sake. A little out of date but still adorable...
This summer, Mantle published Charlotte Mendelson's Man Booker long-listed Almost English, alongside new editions of her three previous novels, Love in Idleness, Daughters of Jerusalem and When We Were Bad. Here's ten reasons why we love her...
She doesn’t take herself too seriously.
She recently wrote a brief blog post about how writers – “largely male writers” – who take themselves seriously are more likely to be taken seriously.
But Charlotte Mendelson reckons she isn’t quite ready to give up doing silly accents or talking about her hair in interviews. She concludes, “Why mention War and Peace when you can discuss your love of Neighbours?”
Most of her characters are awkward weirdos.
Nobody writes about lovable weirdos that don’t quite fit in better than Charlotte Mendelson. Whether they’re obliviously carrying on with their own strange ways or not quite feeling comfortable in their own skin, her characters resonate with that little part of your brain that worries everyone else is on the same page apart from you.
Mendelson once said: “Show me a novelist – or indeed, a reader – who wasn’t a socially awkward, self-conscience adolescent, prone to clumsiness and excessive reading and I’ll… well, I’ll probably bang my shoulder on the door frame as I storm out.”How outspoken she is about immigration and identity.
Often, her characters’ perceived (and internalised) awkwardness stems from feeling like an outsider as a result of growing up in immigrant family. Mendelson – coming from a confusing and complicated Central European background herself – has said, “I think I’ve got the insecurity of the immigrant even though I’m two generations away, so I really identified with that feeling that there’s a right way to dress, be, choose, like different things, and somehow I don’t know about it because I’m a bit of a scruffy foreigner.”
Her views on consent and sex education.
Mendelson admits that in Almost English she wanted to write about that time, “where sexuality and the potential for sex meet, finally.” She goes on, “Every woman I know has been in situations where stuff has happened that they haven’t wanted and it’s because it was kind of in the murky area between desire and consent and sort of mental compulsion.”
She condemns the fact that consent does not feature in current sex education, arguing that, as a teenager, “You don’t know how kissing leads to sex. You don’t know how expressing desire doesn’t then mean you have to say, okay, yes, to everything. You have no idea.”
Her unashamed adoration of Iris Murdoch.
In a gushing article in the Guardian in August, Mendelson expressed decades of hero worship for Irish author and philosopher Iris Murdoch. Charlotte Mendelson became besotted with Murdoch in school, and still collects her first editions and reads every biography.
How she writes about ‘the ugly years.’
Mendelson once said: “Show me a novelist – or indeed, a reader – who wasn’t a socially awkward, self-conscience adolescent, prone to clumsiness and excessive reading and I’ll… well, I’ll probably bang my shoulder on the door frame as I storm out.”
Her teenage characters capture this perfectly, no more so than Marina Farkas, “the awkward half-foreign girl who doesn’t know how to fit in, flirt or even be.”
This quote, from an interview with Aida Edemariam:
“I do think that choosing a life that makes you happy takes a lot of bravery. It takes a lot of courage if you’re a person who cares at all.”
That she is one half of a literary power couple.
Charlotte Mendelson lives in London with her partner, Joanna Briscoe and their two children. Briscoe has explained that they try to keep a mental “glass wall” between them to ensure their work remains as separate as possible, but they do help each other out with plot problems and editing.
Her attempts to teach us Hungarian.
In the run up to the release of Almost English, Charlotte Mendelson started a Word-of-the-Week series on her blog to teach us a few words and phrases in Hungarian. I can’t remember any of it, but Mendelson’s evocative, witty explanations and memories that accompany the words are totally worth a read.
“Thank God, really seriously, thank god for The F Word and for Feminista and OBJECT and all those things. I feel there is hope, there are little fires.”
[Photograph by Carlos Jasso]