I've been wanting to read Isabel Waidner for a while, but the recent Goldsmiths Prize shortlisting of their novel “We Are Made of Diamond Stuff” encouraged me to finally buy a copy. Because it's an award which honours books which “open up new possibilities of the novel form” I was prepared to read something experimental but I think this must be one of the most original novels I've read for some time. This novel is ‘Stranger Things’ fan fiction while also being an avant-garde form of social commentary. It’s at once fantastical and as real as grit caught in your teeth. These dualities might feel too testing for the reader if it weren’t for the wonderful sense of humour this novel possesses in satirising the dominant institutions and ideologies which inhibit its protagonists. In its playfulness it carves an opening in the world for its narrator and Shae who work for minimum wage in a hotel on the Isle of Wight. They ally themselves with or battle against the logos of corporate institutions which come to life as well as contending with the manager who withholds their wages, the locals who exclude them and the government which restricts their access to citizenship. Seeing the world through their point of view this story questions the meaning of belonging and nationality in a way which is poignant and personal.
One of the things which struck me most was the layers within layers of exclusion that Waidner identifies. In their efforts to create a pride float these characters come to question the meaning of pride itself when Pride celebrations are commandeered by capitalist institutions or right-wing members of the queer community. Rather than uniting groups of people this ironically forms more divisions and it prompts the rhetorical question “How many times can you divide a minority culture?” They seek to connect these disparate groups in art and optimistically form a fashion label which will cross social boundaries. They also identify with and draw inspiration from contemporary non-mainstream writers and marginalized figures such as the poet Tommy Pico, Dennis Cooper and Tonya Harding. In forming this dialogue they seek to better identify the historical processes by which class divisions are upheld and interrogate the meaning of nationality. As someone who has also taken the 'Life in the UK' test in order to become a citizen these are issues I've personally grappled with as well. I appreciated and enjoyed the inventive way Waidner created a story which theatrically plays out these ideas on a fabulous stage.