Body Shell Girl by Rose Hunter, Spinifex Press 2022 was virtually launched by Dr Sally Breen and Simone Watson on 4th May 2022. Below is an edited version of Dr Sally Breen’s launch speech.
‘Trauma can destroy narrative or it can create a firestorm – in Body Shell Girl Rose Hunter has ploughed her memory and her ‘radioactive’ journals to take us not just inside the debilitating machinations of her time in the sex industry but right inside the experience itself. A highly visceral reading experience that left me body-shocked and reeling. In Body Shell Girl Hunter annihilates misogynist fantasy word by word, page by page..’
………………………………………………………………………………………….– Dr Sally Breen.
Thanks so much for having me here to help launch this wonderful book by Rose Hunter Body Shell Girl – first a huge congratulations to Rose, her bravery in sharing these experiences with us and her talent in bringing them to life so vividly.
Kudos must also be given to Spinifex Press, Susan Hawthorne and the team for publishing this book and many others which challenge dominant paradigms in the literary space. The space to do so is shrinking and Spinifex has always led the charge on this.
Body Shell Girl is a special book – layered, creative, complicated. On one level we can approach it as a confessional, a delivery of one woman’s story where the subject matter is clear – we know Rose has created a verse novel inspired in her own words by ‘the radioactive journals’ she kept in the first two years of a decade long stint in the sex industry – in this way the book joins a conversation, a context with other books that explore this industry from different points of view.
There’s a lot to say about this highly contested arena. For me though, this book stands apart from what might be considered a kind of sub-genre of stripper and/or prostitute memoirs for a few reasons. The first is that it avoids the titillation intentional or not that often inhabits these books, their marketing or indeed their reception – in this way I’ve never read anything like it.
Rose strips away that confusion by focusing on her body beyond or beside the male gaze – that’s not easy to do especially in this highly sexualised space. To expose so vividly male misogynist fantasy for what it is. This remove however is not cold or clinical, this book is still highly sensorial and lived, the position is powerful because Rose never relinquishes herself to that point of view. Or gives into it. Here, the subversion of the male gaze, the critique of the sex industry is not just position or opinion – it’s an embodiment that comes alive, and is infused into the verse.
This book seems to grow over you as you read it – you become drawn into the world instead of set apart from and watching it. And this is what I mean when I say in my endorsement for the book that trauma can destroy narrative or it can create a firestorm – just because a story deserves to be told or should be told doesn’t mean the writer is capable of telling it well – especially in relation to traumatic experiences – for obvious reasons, trauma can sometimes be so debilitating that the ability to create art from it is null and void. It’s dangerous territory in this sense given the impact the exploration manipulation and reinterpretation of trauma required to create can be too much. The narrative can sometimes fall away or is ineffective from a critical point of view. That’s not the case here and I wonder if Rose might speak to that at some point tonight – about how trauma and artistry intersect. How you can make art out of something that hurts. A strange kind of impulse. Without romanticising or reducing the work to its subject.
– Dr Sally Breen
Dr Sally Breen is the author of The Casuals (2011) winner of the Varuna Harper Collins Manuscript Prize and Atomic City (2013) shortlisted for Book of the Year QLD Literary Awards 2014. Her short form work has been published widely both nationally and internationally. Dr Breen has worked as associate editor of the Griffith Review, is executive director of Asia Pacific Writers www.apwriters.org and Translators and Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Griffith University www.sallybreen.com
Body Shell Girl is available from https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950502