Content warning: sexual violence
Eliza Clark’s Boy Parts is a subversive story about the female gaze. The novel is narrated by a violent anti-heroine who stars as Clark’s “unlikeable female protagonist“.
The novel follows Irina, an arts graduate based in Newcastle. Irina’s work predominantly features explicit photos of naked men, who she scouts from the streets. However, Irina’s explicit preference is for younger men, as they are more compliant and less likely to flake.
Clark’s protagonist also holds down a bar job alongside her photography work to help keep her afloat whilst she launches her art career. The novel begins with a tense scrap between Irina and a mum of one of the teenage models at the bar.
During the conflict the mum accuses Irina of photographing her underage son. Irina explains that she photographed him because he showed her valid ID. Irina admits to the reader that ‘I’d scouted him on the bus and suspected he may have been in sixth form’.
Boy Parts explores deviance, taboo, and criminal behaviour. The novel occupies a genre-defying space between realism and psychological thriller, taking on the pace of a thriller as the plot develops and Irina’s violent behaviour starts to be unravelled.
“I think if I smile at him like this, he’ll leave. I look like I want to skin him and wear it”
Clark’s protagonist is coarse, funny, and fully aware of her pretty privilege. In an interview with i-D magazine, Eliza Clark explained that “I definitely wanted Irina to be perceived as a villain” rather than a “feminist icon”.
Irina cannot be branded as an icon. But, the construction of her as an unlikeable female character, or anti-heroine, strikes me as a feminist move. There is something innately radical in allowing women characters to be coarse and a bit bitchy.
Boy Parts shares striking similarities to Ottesa Moshfegh’s novel titled My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Irina is a shit friend to her oldest friend Flo, and she has a strained relationship with her family. Likewise, Moshfegh’s protagonist treats her longest standing friend badly, engages in substance abuse, and has an arts-based career background.
However, despite the potential for comparison with Moshfegh’s novel, Boy Parts firmly stands in its own ground. Eliza Clark’s debut novel is a talented piece of writing by a novelist who is set to be one to watch.