Those with a weak stomach should look away now, for it is impossible to discuss Peach, the debut novel from nurse-turned-author Emma Glass, without risking bringing up your lunch. The 98-page novella – the experience of a young girl recovering from a brutal sexual assault – is visceral and raw, made more so by the experimental and poetic style of Glass’s writing.
It begins with a powerful sucker punch – “Thick stick sticky sticking wet ragged wool winding round the wounds, stitching the sliced skin together as I walk, scraping my mittened hand against the wall” – and ends with a similar display of assonantal prose. “In this pit I will sit. In this pit I will sit. In this, In this. Pit.”
Peach is shocking, revealing and deals with a subject which most authors would shy away from. It is uncomfortable, worthy and brave. Yet above all, it is confusing. Peach herself is confusing. This is not the story of an ordinary young girl who has suffered a terrible attack, which is perhaps where it falls down.
Everything about Peach is unusual and not much adds up. Her parents’ sex lives are paraded in front of her, yet on other levels they appear to be fairly normal. She has an unusually mature relationship with her boyfriend, Green, yet avoids the subject of her assault in her dealings with him – nor does he appear to notice anything is wrong. Her name, presumably chosen to fit in with Glass’s obsession with seeing everything through the prism of food, is unusual, yet never explained or referred to.
References to food permeate the book. The memory of the sexual assault follows her around as a pungent, greasy pork smell; her baby brother is described as being sugar, or jelly. Her teacher is Mr Custard. Peach reads like a stream of often impenetrable consciousness, while Glass’s short, often one-word sentences punctuate the text like machine-gun fire, a technique which loses its impact after the first few pages.
One reader review posted online said that it read almost like a nursing textbook – interesting considering that Glass is still a practising nurse. Yet I would defy even the most seasoned of medical professionals not to flinch at the scene when Peach sews up her own vagina with thread.
Peach has enjoyed plenty of marketing hype and it will inevitably be a hot topic for discussion around the table of many an awards shortlist meeting. Glass deserves recognition for her bravery regarding both topic and style. I’m just not sure that the experimental nature of the work translates well enough from Glass’s head on to the page to make it a story that many would want to read.
Peach, by Emma Glass, Bloomsbury Circus, £12.99