Arts and Design

On my radar: Claire-Louise Bennett’s cultural highlights

Claire-Louise Bennett grew up in Wiltshire and studied literature and drama at Roehampton University before moving to Galway, where she worked in theatre for several years. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in a number of publications, including the Irish Times and the Stinging Fly, and in 2013 she won the inaugural White Review short story prize. In 2015, she published her debut short story collection, Pond, which was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas prize. Her 2021 novel, Checkout 19 (Vintage), was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths prize and is out now in paperback.

The cover of Haunted Houses by Lynne Tillman.

1. Book

Lynne Tillman

She’s a US novelist, short story writer and cultural critic. Peninsula Press has been bringing out her novels and Haunted Houses, which came out in 1987, is being reissued in October. It’s a novel made up of three separate stories, each one charting a young woman’s journey into womanhood. That’s an awkward and painful and exhilarating time: you’re discovering yourself as a sexual being, you’re seeing your parents, particularly your mother, in a whole new, quite critical light. I love the way she depicts all of that. Her prose is poignant and irreverent at the same time – it’s warm, but really sharp too.

2. Cafe

Café de Pels, Amsterdam

Café de Pels in Amsterdam
Café de Pels in Amsterdam. Photograph: Jordi De Rueda Roige/Alamy

This is a 1930s-style cafe bar. The interior has this beautiful, elegant simplicity: wooden floors and panelling and a curved metal counter, low-hanging, frosted pendant lights and no music. They also have this rack full of papers from all over the world and people just read at this big communal table in the window. I found myself going in there one morning recently and I had a really nice coffee and a croissant and I wrote for a bit. I wish I was nearer to it because I’d be in there a lot.

3. Exhibition

Bones in the Attic, Hugh Lane, Dublin

The artwork Talking to My Hair by Alice Maher.
Talking to My Hair by Alice Maher, whose work is on display in the Bones in the Attic exhibition at the Hugh Lane gallery in Dublin.

This opens on 11 August and it’s a group exhibition of female artists, including Alice Maher, Dorothy Cross, Ruby Wallis and Jesse Jones. When I was reading about it, it just made me appreciate how distinct Irish feminism is, because Ireland has such a rich mythical heritage and social history and a different power structure from America and the UK. That throws up very different concerns and issues to address, so I’m interested to see how these artworks are going to explore these cultural sources and distinct narratives and their way of looking at female experience.

4. Music

Cucina Povera

The sound artist Cucina Povera.
“Celestial and spiritual’: the sound artist Cucina Povera.

I’ve loved listening to strange music in the dark ever since I was a child and heard Laurie Anderson’s O Superman late at night when I couldn’t get to sleep. It took me off into this completely different dimension. Since then I’ve discovered female experimental sound artists such as Pauline Oliveros, Aïsha Devi, Félicia Atkinson and Pan Daijing. I particularly like the way Cucina Povera makes work – it’s based on vocals, with a lot of repetition and looping. There’s something quite celestial about it – and spiritual – but at the same time it’s really earthy as well.

5. Activity

Swimming at the Ladies Beach, Salthill, Galway

Salthill in Galway is home to the Ladies Beach.
Salthill in Galway is home to the Ladies Beach. Photograph: Reuters/Alamy

This is a city beach – it gets crowded, it’s pretty buzzy and busy. I’ve been going there for years to meet friends and to swim and we talk about everything that’s going on: our work, love lives, getting older. It’s great to talk when you’re looking out on to a big body of water; it makes me feel quite open and makes you think in an expansive sort of way. We swim in all weathers and at all times of day – the moonlit swims are really magical. I’ve got some great memories there.

6. Place

Hi-Fidelity, Berkeley, California

The cannabis retailer Hi-Fidelity in Berkeley, California.
The cannabis retailer Hi-Fidelity in Berkeley, California. Photograph: @hifigreen

I don’t smoke dope, generally; I don’t get on with it very well. But I was in Berkeley for a book festival in the spring and I wanted to do something fun for my birthday. So I coaxed another writer to come to this cannabis dispensary and after some discussion with a very informed assistant, we selected a pair of flavoured gummies. It was really nice to just walk through the University of California, Berkeley campus: there are some huge redwood trees and there was a strong smell of eucalyptus, which was amazing. It was much better than drinking, actually – I felt completely fine the next day.

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