lip lit: nicole trilivas, pretty girls make graves (+ giveaway!)
“You and me, Reader – we’re in this together. I know more about you than you think. I know you’ve worn a scarlet letter (though it wasn’t necessarily an “A”). I know because we’ve all been the adulterer and the cuckold, the widowed and the one dearly departed; we’ve bared everything from crosses to our teeth, albatrosses and Jewish stars. We have all been dominant and submissive; the inquisitor and the witch — burnt to a crisp upon a stake; the virgin and the whore; the spider and the fly. We have had things stolen from us, and we have sticky, sticky fingers.”
Pretty Girls Make Graves (a pretty girl’s ugly stories told in borrowed voices) by first time author Nicole Trilivas, is narrated by Justine, a young girl who breaks up with her older, married lover. She takes a year off from her literature degree in New York in favour of spending a year abroad. Everyone else thinks she’s taken the time “to write”. Only her best-friend, Lo, knows of her heartbreak.
The novel is divided into the places of Justine’s travels: Scotland (with a sub-section including The Netherlands, United Arab Emirates and India) Ireland, Sydney. Each of these begin with their own playlist, which gives you a strong indication of what each section will bring. Justine speaks directly to her readers, and when she doesn’t feel able to tell her story adequately, she borrows the voice and histories of beautiful, tragic women in literature. It’s an effective, heart-breaking device as it displays how women will often make the same mistakes when it comes to life and love.
I find it somewhat reminiscent to Bret Easton Ellis’s earlier work (Less than Zero, The Rules of Attraction) in how it’s about a privileged, unhappy, self-destructive central character who tries to fill a void with sex and drugs. However, unlike Easton Ellis’s often emotionally vacuous characters, Trilivas has created a layered character in Justine. She’s deeply flawed and inherently sad, but she isn’t cold or numb. She has a true writers soul: she feels everything intensely, she can’t stop thinking and analyzing, and she spend far too much time in the world of what if…
Post heartbreak, kissing a boy she has feelings for is more terrifying to Justine than having sex with a man she is ambivalent towards. A friend once told me she felt this way after she broke up with her long-term love: she didn’t want to be held, she didn’t want to be kissed, she didn’t want the sex to feel like it meant anything, because she wasn’t ready for sex to mean anything. She wasn’t even ready for a kiss to feel like anything. This is a concept that is not often something often discussed freely, let alone explored in literature, and I applaud Trilivas for being honest enough to do so.
Lo, is also one of the most refreshing and true-to-life best friends I’ve experienced on the page. Lo doesn’t try to fix or reform Justine, or give her long sappy speeches, or drop absolutely everything in her life for her. Instead, she is there for Justine when Justine lets her. She lets Justine know what she thinks, but she also gives Justine the space to make her own mistakes. And when Justine makes these mistakes, Lo is there for her without judgement. And when you think about it, that’s what true friends do: they let you be you, even if they have to pick you up and dust you off afterwards.
I could see myself in Justine– in a heart wrenching scene – in which she thinks about what would happen if she put her heart out on the line for a boy. All it would take her was a few words. But instead, because she’s afraid – and not so much in the fear of rejection as the fear of him wanting her just as much, and what the consequences of that would mean – she says something flippant. Usually authors make their characters braver, stronger and more empowered than they (and the people in their everyday life) are themselves. Authors can be selfish, they want to use their characters to live out their fantasies. And maybe for this reason, there are so many novels about girls who want to fall in love, and who are so open to it. They don’t normally write about the girls who are genuinely terrified by it. And this is why I think I warmed to the book to the extent I did: Trilivas had made Justine seem ridiculously real, even though she breaks your heart.
There are many other wonderful things I can compliment the book on: the strong sense of place, the vivid supporting characters, the way her use of language is distressing and beautiful in equal measures — and always visceral, the clever use of various experimental techniques (as well as the playlists and borrowed voices, there are photographs, sections told in text messages and emails). But mostly, the success of Pretty Girls Make Graves success comes down to the raw, engaging narration of Justine. You let Justine take you on her journey, and you wish you could be there with her. You want to be there to wash the vomit out of her hair, and tell her she’s beautiful, and that she deserves to be loved and respected – even though you know she won’t believe you. Pretty Girls Make Graves is not a coming-of-age-story. It’s a story about allowing yourself to be lost, not because you want to be, or because you have the luxury to do so, but because you can’t be anything else. It’s about letting yourself feel through your pain, and putting yourself through more, because sometimes that’s the only way you can get through.
Please. Buy the book – especially if you’re a women in the 18-30 age group. It’ll resonate with you, and if or some crazy reason you’re lucky enough to have always felt brave, centred, secure and worthy of love – you’ll know the person in your life who it’ll speak to.
You can order a hard copy from Amazon or download an ebook format from here
I’ll be interviewing Nicole shortly, and luckily for us she’s a lip fan and is giving away a free download of Pretty Girls Makes Graves. To enter, e-mail [email protected] before Feb the 3rd with 25 words-or-less about who your favourite female character from literature/mythology/fairy tale is and why.
Great review Freya. Wow this sounds like a really interesting book. I’ll certainly have to put it on my “to read” list.
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