Boy Parts is a disturbingly relevant book for the 21st century female. Despite the discussion of topics that are beyond comprehension for many of us, the book beautifully combines this with just enough ‘relatable’ content. This amalgamation ensures readers can critically look at the world around them, asking questions of gender, class, drug use, and power. The author, Eliza Clark, writes in a way that hypnotically transports you to the chaotic life of our protagonist, Irina. Becoming increasingly absorbed in her work as an explicit photographer, Irina’s life is lived partly in the present and partly in the hallucinated. Clark fearlessly navigates through taboo topics of sexuality and gender roles; we are shown a female lead with personality traits typically considered ugly. Intersectional feminism has created a visible space for true female expression within popular culture. Clark takes this to the extreme and uses these traits to eventually fuel Irina’s destruction.
The exploration of female desire, narcissism, and rage flips traditional characterisation on its head. Irina’s need to be noticed and respected as more than an object of male desire leads her to darker places with her photography. Her curation of images from potentially dangerous situations highlights areas of toxicity within assumed gender roles. Constant subjection to male gazes and desires drives Irina’s actions. This motivates her to further push boundaries and ask, “do I have to smash a glass over the head of every single man I come into contact with, just so I leave a fucking mark?”. She both plays up to the epitome of female beauty and uses it to construct new dynamics of gender. Clark also highlights how toxicity is intertwined with internalised disrespect of women. The inability to admit discomfort and fear is shown in various scenes: “Blood drips down his chin. I smile at him and ask him if he’s okay. In what I think is some attempt at bravery (toxic, masculine bravery), he nods.” Underestimation of women and the stigma surrounding female domination allows Irina to take unacceptable liberties. Eventually she walks down a path of destruction with those who unquestioningly work with her.
Heavy narcotics use is normalised throughout. Romanticisation of drug use is not new within the media, yet Boy Parts shines a brighter light on modern day society’s consumption. Two hundred years ago, the publication of Confessions Of An English Opium Eater marked the beginning of an increasingly popular genre. Here, drug (mis)use is integral to the development of Irina’s character. “I’m doing it like this because I need it to be here, not because I’m going to especially enjoy it,” Irina explains as she scrapes cocaine from underneath styled fingernails. Throughout, Clark highlights societal pressures that lead to drug use as a coping mechanism. Clark seamlessly links this unconscious drug use to the wider treatment of Irina as a woman. Unquestioningly consuming a bag of white powder. Unquestioningly consenting. She asks, “Was it my idea to have him hurt me, or did he just let me think it was me?”.
Issues of class are also prevalent throughout and reflect the views of the author brilliantly; Clark took to Twitter to say, “a good thing about me is that you can enjoy my book without finding out that I have been to Oxbridge and that my parents are both famous journalists like six months later and feel a bit betrayed”. The rising pressure to have found fame and fortune before the ripe old age of 21 is further exacerbated through constant social media usage. The influencer-led ‘girl boss’ movement plastering social media is concerning. Multiple businesses, a clothing brand, and a new book coming out—but don’t worry, you too can have this if you simply try harder. It is essential to highlight the privilege, Clark notes, and to normalise considering its position when discussing success. Throughout Boy Parts, Irina is placed as an outsider on the inside. This is done to reflect Clark’s views: “at the end of the day I’m a white woman who grew up quite comfortably and got a college education, and yet, because I went to public school and am from the northeast, have a regional accent and a working-class environment, I am diverse”. There are systemic issues in the UK concerning diversity and class divisions are certainly one of them. Segregation by class is detrimental to the success of many people across the country. Irina’s final awakening to this motivates the chaotic ending to the book. Her success is inextricably linked to that of her upper-class friend. Comments regarding Irina’s career (“honestly, it confounds me how much working-class talent goes to waste”) plant seeds of destruction in her actually non-working-class head. The realisation that merit alone had not secured her exhibition space begins the downward spiral.
Words by Eloise Cowen
This article was published as part of The Indiependent‘s May 2021 magazine edition.
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