Review: Indelicacy, by Amina Cain

I discovered this book while researching for my new project. I won’t tell you why or what the project is about – I’m not ready to let it out of my head just yet, even to my partner, who’s asked me multiple times what I’m thinking of writing about. I often feel new novel ideas are green shoots which need to grow to a certain level of sturdiness before they can be exposed to the outside world, otherwise they risk withering or being blown away before they’re fully formed.

Indelicacy is beautiful. It’s astounding. It’s going straight onto my list of favourites – not just of books that I’ve enjoyed, but books that have made a lasting impression.

“… I began to feel that I could see my writing – not the words or the paintings – somehow in between. That I had made a new thing.”

This book is so rich, and yet so sparse. My copy is now full of underlines and folded pages (sorry to those who don’t approve).  CultureFly says ,”Not a word here is wasted. You might imagine that kind of ruthless efficiency to have created a harsh, ascetic book, but Indelicacy doesn’t feel that way at all. It feels sumptuous. Decadent.” For me, it was amazing how much Cain managed to capture in so little prose. This is a thin book, and each chapter is little more than a page. At 52,000 words, it would barely pass NaNoWriMo. 

“In a sitting room outside the bathroom, another woman sat in front of a mirror and brushed her hair roughly, so roughly a real drop of blood was beginning to appear on her scalp.”

“I turned to the suitcase I had already been packing and folded one of my blouses before placing it inside. I was getting everything I wanted.”

There’s something wonderfully detached and simple about the writing, yet intensely engrossing. In this interview in full-stop, Cain says, “Sentences are important to me; they have the potential to be so alive, so activating in their own right, not just at the service of plot.” I could see that time and time again reading Indelicacy.

“How happy I was. I had created an experience for someone; I hadn’t been sure I could actually do that.”

“But I was always enthralled; I knew this about myself. It was almost annoying.”

What appealed to me most about Indelicacy, as someone who writes (dare I call myself ‘writer?’) was the way Cain captured the main character’s search for meaning, for self expression – particularly through writing. Vitória is a striking narrator, frank and funny, but also misunderstood and on a pedestal. She has few real connections, except with a handful of women she is close to. I didn’t necessarily identify with that part, but I did identify with the atmosphere of solitude, her unpredictability, and her need to capture what she sees around her in all its painstaking detail. 

I suspect this is a book I will read again and again – thankfully, its length won’t make that too difficult! 

Other reviews & interviews with the author

FT: A woman reflects on the sum of her life, via its smallest details

The Guardian: A cleaner in a gallery pursues her passion for art in a deceptively slim novel about the act of looking and being looked at

The Paris Review: Interview