Knausgaard for the Sally Rooney Generation: Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

I would have loved to see this debut novel on the Women’s Prize longlist the other week. It’s such a hip, fresh approach to fiction – the last book to have struck me as truly ‘novel’ in the same way was Lincoln in the Bardo.

Broadly speaking, this is autofiction: like the author, the protagonist was born in London to a Brazilian mother and an English father. In the tradition of Karl Ove Knausgaard, Yara Rodrigues Fowler audaciously includes the mundane details of everyday life – things like a friend coming for Sunday roast, struggling with IBS, packing for a trip to Brazil, and trying to be grateful for having half-decent work and a place to live with her parents in Tooting. She also recounts lots of conversations, some momentous – as when she confronts an ex about a non-consensual sexual encounter – but most pretty inane; all conveyed with no speech marks.

The book opens with fragmentary, titled pieces that look almost like poems in stanzas. That experimentation with how the words are set out on the page continues throughout the book. Some pages contain just a few lines, or a single short paragraph that reads like a prose poem. Even where there are more conventional sections of a few pages, Fowler deliberately eschews commas and hyphens to create a sort of breathless, run-on pace. This makes the text feel artless, like a pure stream of memory and experience has been channeled directly onto the page, and yet you can be sure that a lot of hard work was involved.

The perspective moves smoothly between the third and the second person, referring to the protagonist by turns as “she” and “you.” Sometimes she’s “the baby,” going grocery shopping with Vovó (Grandmother) Cecília in Brazil and asking for bedtime stories, or observing Aunt Ana Paula’s relationship with a classmate when she comes to live with them in London for a time. This stubborn archivist is equally convinced of the value of her family history and of her twentysomething life of relationships, parties, and a good-enough job.

I love the U.S. cover!

Navigating two cultures (and languages), being young and adrift, and sometimes seeing her mother in herself: there’s a lot to sympathize with in the main character. If you’re a fan of Sally Rooney’s work (especially Conversations with Friends), you’ll want to pick this up as soon as you can, even if you don’t expect to relate to someone of Fowler’s generation. Stubborn Archivist impressed me enough to earn the first entry on my “Best of 2019” shelf.

My rating:

 

 

Stubborn Archivist was published in the UK by Fleet on February 21st. My thanks to the publisher for the free copy for review. It will be published in the USA by Mariner Books on July 16th.

17 responses

  1. I don’t know Sally Rooney’s work, but your taste of Fowler’s work appeals immensely. I’ve put it on the list.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This one as already on my radar, briefly eclipsed by your Knausgaard reference but I suspect you might have a different attitude towards him than I do given the high praise that follows.

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    1. Knausgaard is a prime example of improbably popular mainstream autofiction, so I used him as a touchstone. I’ve liked his seasonal volumes that blend fiction, autobiography, and essays more than My Struggle (of which I only ever read the first volume).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, I’m so intrigued by this book – thanks for this great review. Sounds like it should have been a Women’s Prize contender.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This appeals to me a lot. I liked Conversations with Friends. I also like Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. And I surprised myself by liking H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker which if I remember rightly played around with the words on the page and was cleverly crafted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve come across quite a lot of books recently that play around with word placement, the font type and size, etc. One I’m currently reading is Lanny by Max Porter.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The style this is written in sounds fascinating! And I loved the bit you shared. It reminds me of The Book Thief in the way it plays with the organization of words on the page. Definitely adding this to my to-read list 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so pleased you’re interested! Not enough people have heard about this book.

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  6. […] Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler: What a hip, fresh approach to fiction. Broadly speaking, this is autofiction: like the author, the protagonist was born in London to a Brazilian mother and an English father. The book opens with fragmentary, titled pieces that look almost like poems in stanzas. The text feel artless, like a pure stream of memory and experience. Navigating two cultures (and languages), being young and adrift, and sometimes seeing her mother in herself: there’s a lot to sympathize with in the main character. […]

    Like

  7. […] of the fiction highlights of 2019 so far for me is Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler. It stands out from the autofiction field due to its placement of words. […]

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  8. […] books from the shortlist, which is to be announced on November 3rd. I have my fingers crossed for Yara Rodrigues Fowler, Daisy Johnson, Elizabeth Macneal, Stephen Rutt and Lara Williams; I expect we may also see repeat […]

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  9. […] shortlisted titles, the poetry collection The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus and the debut novel Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler, which was one of my specific wishes/predictions. The kind folk of FMcM […]

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  10. […] odd untranslated Portuguese phrases I wasn’t always sure of). See also Rebecca’s review here. […]

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  11. […] Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler: Autofiction in fragments, like a pure stream of memory and experience. Navigating between two cultures and languages, being young and adrift, and sometimes seeing her mother in herself: there’s a lot to sympathize with in the Brazilian–English main character. What a hip, fresh approach to fiction. I’d hoped to see Fowler on the Women’s Prize longlist and winning the Young Writer of the Year Award. […]

    Like

  12. […] version of Jenny Offill’s Weather or a more cosmic autofiction than Yara Rodrigues Fowler’s Stubborn Archivist, this is a timely, quietly forceful story of how women cope with concrete and existential […]

    Like

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