Slug by Holly McNish
McNish dedicates her latest book to “my grandmothers, who’d most likely have disowned me for most of what is written here”. Thus begins a collection of deeply personal observations in poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction, that come together to reflect a collective female experience, a sort of guidebook for the modern woman.
Few writers have earned the right to pen such a work as much as Hollie McNish has. Alongside having five other publications under her belt, with Nobody Told Me (2016) winning a Ted Hughes Award, she has campaigned for orgasm equality alongside Durex, has been an ambassador for gynecological cancer charity, The Eve Appeal, and is a patron of Baby Milk Action, which works to protect breastfeeding and babies fed on formula from irresponsible marketing. It’s fair to say that she’s a bit of a feminist icon.
The book is divided into seven sections: Endings, Growing Up, Parenting, Mirrors, Masturbation, Blood and Strangers. McNish’s poetry, luminously modern and undeniably her, is interspersed with prose sections that recount the memories and musings that have inspired her work, with a short story ending each section. She fearlessly probes taboo topics; ‘Push’ explores the messy, potty-mouthed reality of childbirth, ‘Shoe Shopping in the Girls’ Toilets’ reminds us of the heroes who taught us how to use tampons and ‘Stealing Their Innocence’ claims that teaching our young daughters about their vaginas won’t suddenly end their childhood. In ‘Mimicking the Vicar’, McNish fearlessly probes herself in order to feel her bones, horrified by the fact she has a skeleton like the paper ones she hangs up on Halloween. In the Masturbation section, she encourages us to fearlessly probe ourselves by including a series of ‘fingering poems’.
Whether you are a woman or not, Slug is an essential debunking of the ‘softer sex’; the pasts which have both shaped and restricted them, the presents that they can be grateful for as well as those that indicate that the work of feminism is not yet done, and the futures we must fight for. However, it’s not all political. At the core of the book is emotion: grieving at virtual funerals, laughing at those of us who can’t leave hotel rooms without taking all the tea bags with us, falling in love with others and ourselves.