Eliza Clark’s debut novel Boy Parts is disturbing, but also heartbreaking in a really uncomfortable, visceral way. This read is truly a sucker-punch of mixed emotions.
The story follows Irina, a cut-throat erotic photographer who is obsessed with making unconventionally attractive men model for her. Though the men’s initial agreement to be the subject of Irina’s photos is consensual, what they eventually partake in is hardly in accordance with a typical photo shoot.
My favorite stories are the ones with protagonists who are almost completely horrible, but at the last second reveal something that reels me back in. That is absolutely Boy Parts, with an obscured critique of our male-dominated world at the heart of Clark’s novel. While Irina is mostly an awful human, I can’t help but understand her frustration with being perpetually held under the patriarchal thumb.
As the plot unfolds, we discover much more about what makes Irina’s psyche, and art, so twisted. We are ultimately plunged into what makes her tick through her relationships with her border-line obsessive best friend, Flo, and a homely young man who works at the local Tesco grocery store.
The entire novel begs the question: What if Irina were a man? Much of her attitude towards the male body is a very crude and concentrated imitation of how women’s bodies are often considered by men. The fact that the main character in Boy Parts is a woman behaving as the worst kind of man is cutting and intentional. Clark picks apart the vulgarities we often expect from men, but are horrified by when we experience them from women.