meimear McBride, 44, is the best-selling author of three novels: A woman It’s one halfThing formed, which won the female fiction award and the Goldsmith award, The bohemian minors Y Strange hotel. His first non-fiction work, Something out of place: women and disgust, is the result of an invitation from the Wellcome Collection to explore its museum and library, located on Euston Road in London. He lives in East London with his family.
How did your new book come about?
Wellcome was a place where I worked temporarily, in the old days, before being a full-time writer. I worked in the library: I was the monkey on the pile. So when they asked me about doing this, I was very open to the idea; I’ve always liked Wellcome. I didn’t go to college, so I never had the experience of spending a lot of time reading.
The essay is apparently about disgust, but also about shame, isn’t it?
That’s a big part, yeah. As an Irish Catholic, I belong to a long tradition of shame. But I think all women deal with both disgust and shame all the time, because I think we are held to a higher standard. We feel like we have this internal flaw and we constantly apologize for it or try to make up for it. It is infuriating and exhausting. The problem is that it is internalized. The way it works is that you do it yourself. It is so destructive.
How much does it have to do with our bodies?
Much. Our bodies are changing all the time, not just throughout our lives, but over the course of a month, and this is problematic in a society that wants people to fit into certain roles. They educate us to ignore these changes. It is a badge of honor not to show that you feel garbage; that it’s your period, or that you’re having a hard time getting over giving birth. There is pressure on women to always be well.
Write about the current ubiquity of pornography and its effect on our culture. Do you feel that things are going the other way around for women?
I remember the 80s when everything was power suits. People objected to the fact that women were expected to be like men, but there was also a push. In the 90s, the ladette thing started well, but ended badly. Everyone was embarrassed too. There was a long period when women were expected to be post-feminists, to accept certain things as fun: the age of Sex and the city, that pressure for a very sexualized release that didn’t seem like a release at all. When my first novel came out seven years ago, people asked me if I was a feminist. They were surprised when I said: of course. #MeToo has changed that. Everyone is a feminist now.
Is this a good thing? Or is feminism already as commodified as everything else?
It is certainly performative. Social media creates an environment for the performance of everything. But it’s hard to see how frankness seeps into the world. #MeToo has allowed us to complain when we are harassed or abused. But what consequences will we ultimately face for doing so?
What about the role of men, especially younger men, in this?
It is possible to be a misogynist and at the same time appear like a good boy, and it is disturbing that institutions do not question it; that they will give up on women without any rejection. It scares me because I don’t know what to do about it, which is the scariest thing of all.
What do you want Something Out of place do for your readers?
When my editor asked me this question, I said: I remember Susan Faludi’s Reaction [a feminist classic of 1991, which railed against negative stereotypes of career women]. It changed the way I read the things that happen around me. It is a case of: here is something that I see, and perhaps you will see it now too.
How, if anything, does this book fit in with your novels?
This is an anomaly for me. One of my problems is the language. I find it a forceful tool compared to the richness of human experience. It is very difficult to translate the experience into words. With fiction, you can at least break all the rules to get close. But with a rehearsal, you can’t. It was difficult to write grammar sentences and then try to give them some life as well.
Your second novel The bohemian minors, which was about sex and the body, seemed to provoke some displeasure in some male critics when it was published, didn’t it?
Yes, there was a palpable thrill and horror that felt very childish. I felt like they were trying to embarrass me, and at first I felt ashamed. But then I thought: no, I believe in this. I don’t think they would like for a woman to take 20 pages to write as a male character talking about her destructive sex life, which causes her so much pain. It does not agree with the popular idea of the hypersexualized man.
How do you feel about the narrative that has been built around the fact that you have been working on the experiment? A woman It’s a half formed thing for seven years before publication, and even then, just for a little press?
Every now and then I have moments when I think: none of this could have happened. You may still have three novels in a drawer. So yeah, I am uncomfortable with the inspirational element of the story. I stayed with writing because I didn’t know if I could do something more or something better. Luckily it went well. But it might not have. I am a huge beneficiary of the award culture. Winning the female award changed everything for me. But how, really, can you choose the best book? You can not. I see a lot of writers that I admire who can’t get any kind of traction.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading A Guide for the Perplexed, a collection of interviews with [the German film director] Werner Herzog. I love your curiosity. You see the world through their eyes, and as a result, you see it differently. It is so unromantic and unpretentious. He does not care about the razzamatazz. Just keep doing your thing.
Something out of place: women and disgust by Eimear McBride is published by Profile Books on August 12 (£ 9.99). To support the guardian Y Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism