Monday, July 19, 2021


Hermione Hoby grew up in Bromley, in south London, and graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2007 with a double first in English Literature. After working on the Observer’s New Review she moved to New York in 2010. She has written for the Guardian, the New Yorker, the New York Times, Harper's, and others. She has also interviewed hundreds of cultural figures including Toni Morrison, Naomi Campbell, Laurie Anderson, Debbie Harry and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.

Her debut novel, Neon in Daylight, is a two-time New York Times editors’ choice.

Hoby applied the Page 69 Test to her second novel, Virtue, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel, appropriately enough for the lewdest number we have, includes a passage about sexuality. Our narrator, Luca, is in the studio of Paula, an older woman and artist who's interrogating him about his sex life. Luca has just recalled, but not divulged, an instance at a posh birthday party where he somewhat passively received a blowjob from a guy called Sandy. Here's the whole page in full:
I don’t know what happened to Sandy or where he is now. It’s hard to retain a sense of the reality of people, by which I mean their human fullness. Sandy, of course, would always be a full person to himself, a thousand different planes. But in my memory, he appears just as a mirrored blow job, one image repeated endlessly. One time years later, in the infinity room of a Japanese artist, I would have to suppress an erection I would never have been able to explain.

I don’t think the simple word bisexual even occurred to me in those years. The great flowering of queerness and sexual expression was well underway, a revolution of sorts as people all over social media claimed their pronouns and confirmed their identities, but I never considered how any of this might apply to me. One day I opened up Instagram and thought, Who’s this cute, butch-looking, eyelinered girl I seem to be following? My friend Tim had become Thalia—overnight, it seemed, but that was just the disjunctive nature of the stupid app. So I approved from the sidelines while failing to reckon personally with sexuality and its grayness. Or not grayness, maybe, but its many-colored mess, like one of Paula’s palettes at the end of the day, smudged and smeared into dingy browns but still flecked with flashes of vivid pigment. Generally, I liked the idea of a man admiring me and wanting me, but the carnal reality of bodies and what went where, made me squeamish. Women were softer, easier. Plus, the script of straightness was already written, making it easier to play the part. Maybe heterosexuality was nothing but a great shared failure of imagination.

I didn’t say any of this to Paula, of course. She was talking about love now. People love to talk about love as an absolute. She was saying love was like being both cut in half and multiplied by two. Cut in half because you lost a portion of yourself to it but doubled because the two of you became magnified.
I suppose this passage is fairly representative when it comes to Luca's personality: gauche, uncertain, thoughtful, hesitant. As for the book as a whole, Luca's vague bewilderment with shifting gender mores is only a minor current. Like most writers of fiction, I want it to be a book "about" many things. Not a hot take, but a very cold, very slow, geologic accretion of something.

As I reread it now and come across Paula wanging on about love as an absolute, I suppose - and hope! - that this bit speaks to that line above about heterosexuality - whose absolute quality is also, of course, a fallacy! What a vital thing that is, resisting absolutes. It's why I read novels and why I try and write them, too. With this book I was particularly concerned with the competing meanings of "the good life", as in, the life of comfort and pleasure on the one hand, and the life of ethical and civic duty on the other. The unrelenting hideousness of the previous administration made a lot of us ask whether beauty and duty can be reconciled - we should keep that question urgent.
Visit Hermione Hoby's website.

--Marshal Zeringue