Review: Something To Be Tiptoed Around

6 September 2018

“I wanted my writing about my grief to feel like my grief,” writes Emma Marie Jones in the preface to Something To Be Tiptoed Around. To theorise her experiences of trauma and femininity outside of the rigid, phallocentric confines of traditional academic writing, Jones turned to fictocriticism, a form of experimental autobiography and a “textual space in which fiction, theory and memoir interact playfully, artfully, experimentally”.

The result is a 77-page book that hums and sparks and hisses with the friction of its braided theoretical and poetic threads, words drawn from Butler, Kristeva, Cixous and Tumarkin but also Ovid, Freud, Gianni Versace and Jones’ own mother, who believes in ghosts because the energy that animates a person’s body “has to go somewhere”.

Jones explores her own “pluralised grief” in the experiences of an “external, dualised self”, a character who she names Jeannie, who resembles the author physically but with a few small differences (in, say, hair colour and eye colour). At the age of 17 Jeannie, like Jones, receives the news that her younger sister has drowned in a backyard swimming pool. Jeannie’s sister, Jones writes, is called Harriet: “which is not the name of my sister but will do for Jeannie’s.” Like Jones, Jeannie spends the next decade grappling with this loss and struggling to inhabit the trauma that she has been dropped into, “like a small drop of hot wax into a dish of cold water”.

On the page, quotations and references go uncited, diverse voices speaking to one another in a single unmarked paragraph. Quotations are isolated against a backdrop of grey, never drawn directly from the text but informing it, sitting beneath it. On page 15 we have Ovid’s Goddess, who “turned away, and hid her eyes”; on page 16 we have “Harriet’s straight, sharp teeth puncturing the fluffy white bread!” and “Ants crawling on the crusts, gone hard under the air conditioning.”

“The self and the other are two fragments of one whole,” writes Jones in the chapter ‘Not All Ghosts Are of Living Things’. “And they are, or can be, me and Jeannie, and they are, or can be, Eurydice and Medusa—yeah, picture this – they’re the women of the myths! The women who were given gazes, as weapons or as death sentences…” Like Maggie Nelson, like Cixous before her, Jones plays not only with the bodies but the ghosts and the gazes of her mothers and sisters: literary and literal, mythic and real. Her writing is haunted, but it is also alive, young, electric, reinvigorating the legacies it invokes.

In her ‘Notes on Genre’, Jones writes: “No story is truly original. Especially not the one about sadness.” She takes this statement not as a challenge but as a fertile breeding ground, teeming with snakes and ants and wilting lilies, a soil in which she goes on to plant a skilful and profoundly moving exploration of the intersubjectivity of womanhood and grief.

Something To Be Tiptoed Around is a new release from the Grattan Street Press as part of their Shorts Series, which showcases writing that does not fit into conventional publication formats. Having read this book three times in as many days, I would like to recommend that you buy it from a store or borrow it from me, and read it as quickly as possible and then read it again but slowly, carefully, quietly listening.

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