Author Archives: Claire Eastgate

Claire Eastgate

About Claire Eastgate

Claire Eastgate is a visual artist working with the figure and portraiture. The main focus of her interest is in gender, sexual identity and shifting cultural attitudes.

Book Review | Ask the Passengers by AS King

Sending love to the aeroplanes while lying on a picnic table is something I’d like to do a little more often. Teenager Astrid has it down to a fine art. A reminder of how, for some of us, we coped in our youth when questions of sexuality arose and that feeling of being a little different from the crowd.

Ask the Passengers by AS King is essentially about love and acceptance; a classic coming of age – coming out story. However, this book stretches us a little further.

Astrid, our protagonist, is a teenager living with her family in a small town in Pennsylvania, having moved from New York City. A senior in high school she not only has to endure the small mindedness of the locals, but the increasing disparity and dysfunction of her family. Knowing herself to be different, Astrid finds the best way to cope is to lie on the picnic bench in the back garden and send love and life questions to passengers on aeroplanes. It is here that King starts to create a little magic, juxtaposing Astrid’s questions with an anecdote from a random passenger on the plane. It adds quirkiness, cleverly drawing our minds to the interconnectedness of ourselves to one another and the world, wherever we are, whoever we are.

The main thrust of the storyline is when Astrid meets Dee and they become girlfriends. Astrid has a genuine need to move slowly in her discovery not only of her sexuality, but in questioning her whole self. However, her friends and girlfriend begin
to push for her to come out to her family, misunderstanding her request to be left alone. We feel Astrid becoming increasingly isolated yet standing firm in her self belief and wish to define herself on her own terms. Her love and study of philosophy
is a crutch, even adopting Socrates (nicknamed Frank) as her imaginary friend and confidante. King uses the philosophy angle, particularly the elusive character of Socrates to develop the notion of questioning who we are. This effectively highlights the bigotry surrounding Astrid and the propensity for people to label and stereotype.

Astrid is, however, eventually propelled forward to be open about her sexuality, coming out to her family who have a mixed and generally negative initial reaction, as seemingly do the entire town. King whips up the emotional responses to Astrid’s intolerable situation; anger, sadness and heightened comedy that such times can invoke. Eventually, Astrid finds light at the end of the tunnel when all settles down and people rediscover respect and dare we hope, a broader perspective.

It is a thought provoking book while remaining highly readable, funny and original; inspiring for a younger crowd and especially those questioning or discovering their sexuality. For those of us who are a little older, it keeps check on our journey of challenging societal norms, reflecting on our own experiences and how and if times have changed that much. Have they? A question I spent a little time thinking about after closing this book. One thing I do recall, however, is like Astrid I found the whole notion of ‘coming out’ perplexing and abstruse and I’ve no doubt I am not alone in this.

AS King is an American writer of young adult fiction. Ask the Passengers is her fourth novel and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a Lambda Literary Award finalist.

Book Review | Art Objects by Jeanette Winterson

Personable yet informative, provocative and highly engaging essays on art and it’s relationship to us.

Book Review: Art Objects by Jeanette Winterson is never far away from my bedside table. It’s a book I treasure. Perhaps many JW fans may find this little book an unusual choice as a favourite, however, I’d go as far to say that everyone should read this book. Why? because it’s important. I also believe it is one of her finer works. True to her style, personable and frank, honest yet confident, her passion is clear and it flows beautifully from start to finish.

So what’s so important? Art is what’s important. This book spares no excuses for the ignorant or elitist; its point is clear. Art is there for everyone to be enjoyed, or not enjoyed; loved and hated, moved or indifferent, provoked and changed. It matters simply because it permeates every level of our existence. It is our past and our future, it is our now. You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy or understand this book, that’s the whole point, it is for everyone.

Written as a series of essays, Ms Winterson begins with her own journey and discovery of paintings, how she sought to educate herself with a subject, at the time, she knew little about. Her words hit home and not without that wry wit bringing a knowing smile, but also a thoughtful frown. She ventures further with her thoughts and opinions on the development of literature, with essays on Virginia Woolf and her personal relationship with her work. It is without doubt a powerful piece, forcing us to think, consider and yet it is engaging, funny, serious and provocative. There is meaning for us all here in her words at any given point in our life, something resonates, something hits home. It has a place on everyone’s shelf.

Book Review | Fun Home – A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Asterix and Dr Zeuss bring a flood of colour and humour when I recall the little girl happily reading in the book corner of the schoolroom. Yet perhaps without realising I’d packed away the comics and cartoons along with my childhood, that is until I discovered Fun Home – A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, and graphic storytelling at its best. If I had any reservations about picking up a graphic novel, they were soon to dissipate. After stepping into Bechdel’s life in pictures, the outside world became quiet until the final page.

Fun Home is Bechdel’s memoir chronicling her life from childhood to early adulthood. A coming of age story, it explores the fraught and complex relationship with her father and the discovery of her sexuality in an increasingly bizarre and dysfunctional home. Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s father is an English teacher and director of the local funeral home of which “Fun Home” became the grimly comic reference used by the family. A distant and exacting man, he channels his perfectionism into the frenetic restoration of the large, Gothic-revival house they live in. The dark humour of “Fun Home” sets the tone as Bechdel intricately weaves us through her story of growing up, coming out as a lesbian amidst the confusing and odd situation of her fathers revelation of his own homosexuality. This all wrapped up in the turmoil of her father shortly afterwards being killed by an oncoming truck.

Bechdel gives us a forceful and unexpectedly personal history crossing the emotional gamut of melancholy, humour, grief and the search for happiness. The use of Daedalean and other literary allusion runs throughout the book giving the text richness and depth, elevated by the wonderful pen and ink wash drawings. The construct of the book is made up of just under 1000 panels in a familiar comic format. A stranger to the graphic novel, I found Bechdels illustrations completely absorbing, refreshing and poignant.


What interests me most after reading this book is the delicate balance it achieves with its easy flowing pace and wit transported by the element of cartoon, while tackling the deeper questions in life we are all faced with. More than once I saw myself within the illustrations and this provokes an added sense of awareness I haven’t come across before. The more I think about this book the more impressed I am. Provocative, clever yet touchingly honest, Bechdel’s early life is firmly etched in my memory.

For those less familiar with Alison Bechdel, she is an American cartoonist and author, initially known for her long running comic strip called ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’. Fun Home was her first critical and commercial success. This book ran on The New York Times best seller list for two weeks and was subsequently adapted as a musical. A later notable work is ‘Are You My Mother’ and she is the recipient of the 2014 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award.