Antonia Hayes’ adventures in language began when, as a young child, she was a word sponge, soaking up speech and phrases and the sometimes haunted spaces in between. She became a natural bookworm, turning to the Baby-sitters Club series – those classics of the 90s – to start a lifetime of finding friends and comfort in the pages of a book. When her debut novel, Relativity, was published, she again turned to literature for guidance and consolation, this time in the form of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.
Woolf wished for financial independence and a room of one’s own in which to write, but Hayes, writing almost ninety years later, argues here that maybe that isn’t enough. Perhaps women writers need a whole universe of their own. Buoyed by hope and a lifetime of language, Hayes tells us how we can dare to disturb the universe before A Room of One’s Own turns 100.
In this short collection, Hayes (Relativity) begins with two moderately entertaining essays, before finishing with an exceptionally strong one. In the first essay, Hayes ruminates about her experience as a half-Filipina, half-British Australian with a foot in two cultures. This rambling narrative becomes a meditation on language and moves to her four-year-old son's acquisition of fluent speech, both in English and French, after Hayes and her family moved to France. In the second essay, Hayes takes the reader on a lighthearted but all-too-predictable romp through how the Baby-Sitters Club books caused her to fall in love with reading. In the final essay, Hayes comes into her own, pondering Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and showing that just having a room is not a solution to the many problems patriarchy creates for women. As Hayes writes of a journalist, "She was in the middle of composing a tweet about a panel she's on soon, but I guess got distracted by some 140-character rape threats," an experience of harassment too common to be easily dismissed. Her work soars, as the last essay demonstrates, when she moves away from memoir and considers questions larger than those dictated merely by the frame of her own experience.