The Fictional Woman – Tara Moss

18 / 07 / 2014

This month, our regular ‘Culture Club’ Connoisseur Karen Pickering reviews the latest book by best-selling author Tara Moss – The Fictional Woman – which is the author’s first non-fiction work following nine other previously published books (check out Tara’s website for more information). Karen also draws on the experience of interviewing Moss about her new book at a recent event at Readings.

By Karen Pickering

In 2002 Tara Moss was strapped into a machine that would conduct a lie-detector test, in order to prove that she had authored her own novels and not deceived the public who were, presumably, suspicious about her claim to have written them. Its an extraordinary story, one that I cannot imagine a man finding himself at the centre of (nor perhaps a woman who doesnt look like Moss), and its a fitting beginning for her first non-fiction work, The Fictional Woman.

That polygraph test, which Moss agreed to in an attempt to quash rumours about her trustworthiness and intellect, was eight books ago now, many of which have been bestsellers, including Fetish, Siren, Covet and Assassin. But its her latest work that marks a departure from the relative safety of murder, mayhem and women on the edge – this time the story is partly about Tara Moss.

I say partlybecause The Fictional Woman is like a long and satisfying conversation with a fellow feminist about things that really matter – the kinds of tragedy in womens lives that can never really be understood by men; the ubiquity of sexual assault, the constant fear, the pressure to become a mother, the devastation of miscarriage, and the debilitating silence around this collective grief. Layering the work with statistics and facts that plainly demonstrate gender inequality, Moss examines these issues with grace and candour, creating a powerful combination of personal revelation and empirical evidence. The result is persuasive, robust and engaging in a way that memoir and academic social science approaches alone would struggle to achieve.

A beautiful thing about this collection, and recollection, is the clear commitment to liberating everyone from the tyrannous structures of gender. Some of the best parts of this book see Moss discussing the harm done to men by the patriarchy, and far from detracting from its feminist message and credibility, it simply reinforces what feminists know to be true – that the status quo limits and diminishes us all. In this sense, its not a book about women at all, but a book about the world we inhabit and Australian society in particular.

It is a memoir of sorts, including insights gleaned from a lifetime working in fields where your gender is a big deal (are there any where it isnt?) and often used to punish and minimise you. Mosss stories of working as a model do much to dissuade the casual observer from any lazy belief that the job is either easy or glamourous. She also opens up about some of the immense grief she has endured–losing her mother at a relatively young age, surviving rape, multiple miscarriages, and other experiences that will be familiar to many women. But theres also the kind of joy that leaps off the pages, often in recounting the support of her father, co-parenting her daughter with a feminist partner, and finding in other women the kind of kinship and affinity that heals and affirms.

 

The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss is published by HarperCollins

I had the great gift of interviewing Moss at a recent event on her national book tour, in front of a live audience in a packed house. The crowd was large but also amazingly diverse, including groups of young women not yet finished university, to seasoned campaigners of the Second Wave holding copies of the new book to add to their collection of feminist works. There were young professionals, old hippies, mums with bubs, and plenty of men, too. But the thing that really struck me, was the warmth and energy in the room. They loved this book, most definitely. That much was clear listening to the questions from the floor and witnessing the conversations that took place when the queue formed for book signings. Everybody had a favourite quote, or chapter, or story that had especially moved and empowered them.

But there was also something else going on. There was an atmosphere of camaraderie that is usually only present at a book launch full of other authors. No, these were readers, who felt connected to each other, and to Moss, by a common struggle and goal. I talked to women who said they hadnt felt so fired up in years. One woman told me that reading the book helped her to talk to loved ones about her miscarriage. A young feminist I met there had seen Moss on Q&A and been so blown away shed booked the ticket and bought the book on that basis alone.

There are many reasons to be impressed by Tara Moss. Shes a bestselling author who also has her private investigators licence. Shes a forty year old working mum with a modelling contract representing one of Australias biggest fashion labels. Shes a UN Ambassador for Child Survival and Breastfeeding, who has attended activist marches as well as meetings with the Prime Minister. And much more. I dont think the huge audience that night were there because theyre in awe of those achievements. Instead, I think its because Tara reached them on a personal level and something inside them changed.

This was about more than celebrating the launch of an excellent book. It felt to me more like a cross-generational meeting of activists working on their next move. And given how well The Fictional Woman is selling, this is very good news for feminism and very bad news for the patriarchy.


Karen Pickering will be a speaker at our upcoming ‘Trust Friends’ event ‘The Great Debate’. She’ll be on a debating panel along with other keynote speakers – including Nelly Thomas, Amy Gray, Richard Denniss, Clementine Ford and Tim Dunlop – debating the topic ‘That there is a crisis of trust in Australian politics’. You can view the details of the event here.

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