Women Taking Risks in Contemporary Autobiographical Narratives ed. by Anna Rocca, Kenneth Reeds (review)
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Women Taking Risks in Contemporary Autobiographical Narratives. Edited by Anna Rocca and Kenneth Reeds. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013. x + 232 pp.

What is at stake when women write autobiographical narratives involving particularly difficult material? While contemporary studies of women’s experimental self-narrative frequently address this question (as indeed do women authors within such texts), this is the first volume to use risk-taking as its central theme. Following a compact critical introduction to the concept, the volume offers fourteen chapters on women authors whose writing is fraught with risk and gathers them into three thematic sections: ‘Risky Disclosures’, ‘Risky Leaps’, and ‘Life as Risk’. Chapters analyse works by major figures within the field of life-writing such as Annie Ernaux, Assia Djebar, Nina Bouraoui, Marie Nimier, Ken Bugul, and Malika Mokeddem. There are also chapters devoted to writers who have as yet received somewhat less exposure, such as Clémence Boulouque, Leïla Abbouzeid, and Houria Boussejra, as well as studies of Marie NDiaye and Virginie Despentes, highly mediatized writers who are less integrally associated with autobiography yet have both produced innovative (and risky) examples of self-narrative. The usefulness of ‘risk’ as a concept is tested by applying it to very diverse projects and voices, and this is one of the volume’s strengths. As the list of authors suggests, the volume offers considerable geographical and cultural scope, encompassing writings from North and Sub-Saharan Africa, France, and the Caribbean. The volume is also attentive to experimentation with genre and media: testimony, phototexts, travel writing, autobiographical manifesto, creative performance, and autobiographical film all find a place here. A further strength is the mix of single-author and comparative chapters, indicative of the attentiveness throughout to both personal and collective dimensions of risk. Trudy Agar brings together Djebar and Bouraoui to explore illicit love in their writings; Adrienne Angelo examines silence and speech in Nimier and Boulouque (silence and breaking it are, in fact, common themes over more than one chapter); Amy L. Hubbell examines a collective autobiography in which pied-noir women confront Algerian memory, while Anna Rocca brings together Abbouzeid and Boussejra to calibrate the risks of being ‘Truthfully-Modern Women’. Overall, the volume serves as a sharp reminder of the potential consequences for women of speaking out: shame, violence, or censorship, on the one hand; on the other, the positive result of disturbing the status quo. While, as the editors argue, risk is undoubtedly a general feature of contemporary life and one warranting interdisciplinary investigation, the Introduction’s harnessing of risk studies pertaining to medical, economic, and security fields is not especially helpful; instead, more might have been done here to analyse risk as it applies specifically to literature and to take account of the many studies that are already attentive to courage, anxiety, truth-telling, authenticity, and agency as key components of women’s life-writing. In fact, this volume makes a renewed (rather than entirely new) argument for focusing on such things. All chapters are nonetheless inventive in their harnessing of risk, and there is plenty of material here that will be useful for any reader with an interest in boundary-testing and daring self-narrative by contemporary women writers. [End Page 433]

Shirley Jordan
Queen Mary University of London
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