Beejay Silcox

The Nile runs straight through the middle of Cairo, from south to north like a grand zip. In the middle of this citied stretch of river there is an island known colloquially by the name of the suburb that crowds it: Zamalek. Once the grounds of a summer palace, the island became a colonial stronghold in the 1880s, when an extravagant leisure club was built for British Army officers, replete with croquet lawns, a polo field, and pony stables. Now, Zamalek is a restless mix of affluence and decay: home to old money, new expatriates, and crumbling art-deco apartment blocks – the last gasp of Nasser-era rent control. Embassy gardens thrive behind concrete walls and razor wire, while national service recruits doze in the heat, chins propped on the barrels of their AK-47s. American fast-food chains rub greasy shoulders with antique stores full of French rococo and faux-Napoleonic gilt. The ponies outlasted the British Empire, and can still be booked for riding lessons, but the summer palace has been swallowed by a Marriott Hotel. And on the busiest street of this well-storied isle – where the everyday traffic is as loud as a rock concert – there is a bookshop.

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It’s difficult to imagine a more hotly anticipated novel than Irish author Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You. Fiercely embargoed advance copies have sold for vast sums on eBay, and British publisher Faber even set up a custom Sally Rooney store – featuring branded bucket hats, tote bags, and a coffee truck. The author’s two prior works, Conversations with Friends and Normal People, garnered critical acclaim for their insights into young love in the modern age, with pundits even declaring her ‘the first great Millennial novelist’. ABR critic Beejay Silcox delves into Rooney’s latest work for our October issue, available to read tomorrow, September 30. In today’s episode, Beejay first discusses the entangled process of critiquing Beautiful World, Where Are You, before reading her review in full.

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By the time I received my heftily embargoed galley of Sally Rooney’s new novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, it would have been more lucrative to auction the book online than review it, such is the wild demand for Rooney’s fiction, the monetised eagerness. I’ve ruined my chances for unethical riches with my margin scrawls, dog-ears, and penchant for spine-breaking (reading, after all, is a contact sport). But it is telling that the question I’ve been asked most about the novel, other than whether I intended to sell my advance copy, has not been What do you think? but Are you on Team Rooney? Popularity of any sort inevitably rouses a backlash, and it can be constructive – often revelatory – to parse the stories that capture our collective imagination. But Sally Rooney (the literary product, not the person) has become a kind of shibboleth. To profess a grand love or distaste for her novels, or even – perhaps especially – a lofty indifference to them, has become a declaration of pop-cultural allegiance, a statement that’s almost entirely about ourselves. It’s a fate that too often befalls precocious, art-making women: they’re turned into straw men and set publicly alight.

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On 4 August 2020, Theodore Ell was living in Beirut, Lebanon, when an explosion erupted at the local port, killing more than 200 people and injuring more than 7,500. Ell and his wife, a diplomat, survived, but were badly shaken. At the encouragement of his close friend Beejay Silcox, Ell turned his experience into the essay ‘Façades of Lebanon’, a harrowing, intimate piece of reportage, and the deserving winner of the 2021 Calibre Essay Prize. In today’s episode, listen to Ell in conversation with Silcox about the inception of his prize-winning work, the balancing act of writing trauma and place, the historical complexities of Beirut, and more.

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Throughout her childhood, Krissy Kneen was surrounded by make-believe. At the centre of this enchanted world was her grandmother Lotty, whose prodigious fabulations not only kept her family in thrall, but also hid painful memories of poverty and forced migration. In her new memoir, The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen, Kneen retraces her grandmother's journey from Slovenia to Australia. In today's episode, Kneen sits down with her friend Beejay Silcox, a past ABR Fellow and longtime contributor, to discuss their serendipitous meeting and Kneen's journey to uncover her family's history. 

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In the wake of Brittany Higgins's startling allegations of sexual abuse in Parliament House, Beejay Silcox revisits her review of Witness by award-winning journalist Louise Milligan. Witness (recently shortlisted in the 2021 Stella Prize) is an interrogative critique of the criminal trial process. It is the culmination of five years of research into how witnesses are treated (and often intimidated or worse) in court rooms.

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In 2017, Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his masterful novels, which, in the judges’ words, uncover 'the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world'. His new work, Klara and the Sun, is his first novel published since winning the Nobel Prize. In today's episode, Beejay Silcox discusses the novel and our expectations of the author, and reads in full her review which appears in ABR's March issue.

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Klara is an Artificial Friend (AF), an android companion for spoiled tweens. She’s not the newest model, but what Klara lacks in top-of-the-line joint mobility and showy acrobatics, she makes up for in observational nous; she’s an uncommonly gifted reader of faces and bodies, a finely calibrated empathy machine. Every feeling Klara decodes becomes part of her neural circuitry. The more she sees, the more she’s able to feel.

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The street entrance to the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court is a scoop-hungry gauntlet of journos who spend the day jostling for soundbites, ever ready to give chase. As a rookie reporter, Louise Milligan used to be part of the Sydney court scrum, but when she arrived to give evidence in Australia’s ‘Trial of the Decade’, she had become the story. In her investigative work for ABC’s Four Corners – which begat the Walkley Book Award-winning volume Cardinal: The rise and fall of George Pell (2017)Milligan had been the first person to hear one of the criminal accusations against the Vatican’s disgraced treasurer

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Beejay Silcox began writing for ABR in September 2016 after infiltrating a Trump rally in rural Virginia. In 2018, she was ABR’s Fortieth Birthday Fellow. Her literary criticism and cultural commentary appears in national and international review publications.

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