Book of the Month: The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson


There’s a good chance you’ve already heard about The Argonauts. Published in the US last year, the book has already been lauded by everyone from The Guardian to Buzzfeed to Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. I have yet to read anything negative about Nelson’s memoir, which makes its UK release this April. Published by Melville House, The Argonauts looks set to become one of the most talked-about and widely read books of the year.

At the core of the book is a love letter from Maggie Nelson to her partner, the genderfluid artist Harry Dodge.  We are introduced to Nelson’s love for Dodge in the first paragraph; what follows is a mixed-genre memoir about relationships, family-making, motherhood, birth, change and identity. Nelson and Dodge identify as queer, and this queerness is a major part of the book; it acts as a lens through which to examine ideas of what is normal, radical and real. The result is an incredible and completely absorbing meditation on the boxes culture puts us in and about what it means to live outside them. Nelson puts it best when she writes about Harry’s fluid gender identity: “How to explain, in a culture frantic for resolution, that sometimes the shit stays messy?”

Nelson is an acclaimed poet, art critic and essayist. Her previous works include Bluets, a now-iconic book about heartbreak and the colour blue, and The Red Parts, a memoir about her aunt’s murder. Her work is often described as “genre-busting”, a description that makes complete sense as soon as you open The Argonauts. Nelson writes paragraphs rather than chapters. She mixes autobiographical with theoretical writing and seamlessly blends her own sentences with quotes from thinkers, writers, artists and philosophers such as Eileen Myles, Annie Sprinkle and Judith Butler. Her style has been compared to Susan Sontag; much like Sontag she has already gained a cult following, and now The Argonauts introduces her to a wide, already-enthusiastic audience (Nelson’s forthcoming London events have already sold out).

The book has been met with exceptional praise; from writers and musicians like Miranda July (“I read the Argonauts in one breathless, tearful, mind-blown day and I’m still recovering”), Carrie Brownstein (“This book is a life-changer”), Kim Gordon (“Maggie Nelson turns ‘making the personal public’ into a romantic, intellectual wet dream”) and Olivia Laing (“One of the most electrifying writers at work in America today”); from magazines and newspapers like The New Yorker (“an exceptional portrait both of a romantic partnership and of the collaboration between Nelson’s mind and heart.”), The London Evening Standard (“A complicated, intimate book about motherhood and identity. Perfect for escaping into”) and Vanity Fair (“Maggie Nelson slays entrenched notions of gender, marriage, and sexuality with lyricism, intellectual brass, and soul-ringing honesty.”); and from culture sites Buzzfeed (“Brilliant like nothing else you’ve ever read… stunning.”) and Vulture (“[Nelson’s] is a radicalism that looks like the future of common sense. . . . A singular book.”). This considered, we can expect The Argonauts to be a big deal this year.

The Argonauts is published on 7 April 2016 by Melville House (£9.99, paperback, 184pp, 9780993414916)


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