I’M A FAN by Sheena Patel (2022)
About 10 years ago, when I was single & dating, I met a woman. Or rather, we got as far as the precursor to meeting, which was a phone call. You can tell it was the olden days.
When she called, it was the weekend and I was cleaning my house. I had my phone in my pocket and earbuds in my ears. The house was messy, so there was plenty to keep me busy. It turned out to be a good thing, because this woman could talk. She kept up an unbroken monologue for three hours. I only said “yes” and “mmm”. I picked up all the clothes in the floordrobe. I took the books off the shelf instead of just waving the duster around them. I wiped windowsills. She talked and I cleaned, surging forward on a great wave of words. It became clear that she was both slightly unhinged and monstrously intelligent. I was sucked in to this whirling, self-propelling vortex of self-reflection, social critique, political commentary. At the end of it, I was exhausted; my brain popped and sizzled. I needed a painkiller and a nap to recover. We never spoke again. I was intrigued by her ideas but the force of her energy was too much. Later, I realised she was a quite-famous journalist.
I was reminded of this experience when reading Sheena Patel’s award-winning novel, “I’m a Fan” (2022). I read it whenever I had a chance, on train journeys, between meetings. I finished it last night, in a marathon session. The book is an uninterrupted, increasingly deranged monologue by a young female narrator. Her intelligence and ability to illuminate everything from Brexit to the semiotics of whiteness command the reader’s full attention. At the same time, none of this protects the narrator from her own decision-making. First, she allows herself to be hooked like a fish by some man who cares nothing about her. Then she develops an obsession with his wife, his girlfriend and his other girlfriend, hunting them on social media. Then she becomes a fully-fledged stalker and starts showing up in people’s real lives. It’s disturbing, exhausting and relentless. I was glad to have met her but also glad she wasn’t in my life all the time.
If you’re wondering what this has to do with #semiotics, here it is. You should read good quality #fiction because it helps you think. It is an invitation to get deeply inside another person’s worldview in a way that an #interview can never achieve. Even #ethnography struggles to compare to it – despite its intimacy, you can never be there in the research participant’s most private, darkest moments. The times when she’s miming a party in her bedroom, standing upright in a toilet cubicle, a frozen pillar of inaction, or experiencing pangs of jealousy and resentment towards a dog. You need #literature if you want to understand. Thank you, Sheena, for writing it. I wanted to tag her on LinkedIn, but she’s not here. Imagine not having to be on LinkedIn. The alluring mysteries of other people’s lives.