Boy Parts (2020)
Words by Lucy Vipond
Boy Parts (2020)
Eliza Clark’s debut Boy Parts begins with a mouthful of vomit; a brazen warning for the difficult to digest story to come. The novel follows Irina, an unscrupulous, cocaine fuelled photographer of fetish art, who scouts boys on the street to pose in her garage-turned-studio. This is where lines between art and abuse, consent and assault and sanity and insanity begin to blur.
Approaching thirty, Irina works at a bar while building an explicit portfolio and pulling pieces from her archive to feature in an upcoming London exhibit. Beginning at the origins of her pursuit to capture the perverse, confronted by her photographs, she reminisces on every model captured and instinct followed.
Boy Parts is the story of the modern female experience and trauma metamorphosing into an inhumane and detached existence. Parallel to cinema’s female horror renaissance (a là Jennifer Kent, Prano Bailey-Bond and Julia Ducournau) bringing female perspective to horror and psychological thrillers, it's refreshing to have less victimised women and more boy parts. However, Clark leads us on. Love bombing us with uncanny experiences and observations, Irina’s ugliness is merely hinted at. I kept waiting for a pang of ‘she’s just like me’, but it never came.
Until Zola (2020) I hadn’t watched a film that embraced modern social media with authenticity and artistic merit. Similarly, Clark exemplifies in bringing modern communication to the page with barely legible drunk texts, highly deliberated work emails and a mum that sounds like ‘the Daily Mail comment section’. Boy Parts has perhaps paved the way for Tumblr posts to become a powerful literary device. Irina’s so-called friend Flo’s whingy blog illustrates the other side of their toxic relationship, and made me forgive Irina’s hostile behaviour.
The men/boys in Irina's life are snapshots of twenty-first century male archetypes: her boss, for instance, a short man with a bald ‘pea head’ who overcompensates with muscles; Flo’s boyfriend who is the outdated metropolitan lumberjack type of hipster; then there are the Peter Pans, those ‘men’ who only experience emotional puberty in their thirties. We can recall encountering them, dating them even, but it's Irina’s bleak commentary, that reads as continual rebuttals at times, that fractures the connection and trust she garners.
The men coincide with another more enduring, taxing relationship; that with her body. A topic that, although almost universal, I cannot recall being so dominant in a book since reading Jaquiline Wilson’s Girls Under Pressure. For Irina, food is a synonym for bad. Sex that she forces herself to have with Eddy from Tesco is, “a cheeseburger, and me sticking my fingers down my throat in an hour.” But her figure is an asset, one she knows how to use - perhaps she is a modern day femme fatale. The men continuously miscalculate her, deceived by her pretty appearance until they are in front of her lens, or her knife.
Irina’s yearning to touch is more evocative than any composition. It instilled my faith in her art. It’s animalistic quality, so potent, the hints provided by Clark merely a springboard: “My fingers slip on the buttons of the camera, because my hands are so sweaty, and the plastic in my palms is a stand-in for his hips.” There’s a power that comes with being behind the lens, one abused by men so frequently and publicised recently with the #MeToo movement. With a woman behind the camera the dynamic changes, Irina is able to go to extremes before it's considered exploitative.
Clark’s book isn't prefaced with a trigger warning but a message beckoning her parents not to read. A warning to those from Surrey might also be appreciated, who Irina holds a personal vendetta against. The working class Fran Leibowitz of Newcastle, a pretentious pessimist, I can imagine Irina lurking the cold halls at London’s Central Saint Martins, among trust fund babies and scaring the first years but also sparking complete awe because she is the epitome of ‘edgy CSM’. In fact, I’m certain she would inspire the working class imposters she despises so much.
Clark packages social commentary, among quips and a violent plot. But Irina never becomes the cunning, glossy nihilist figures that Patrick Bateman and Amy Dunne have. Perhaps because she’s British, poor, or could quite possibly be me or most of the women that I know.