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London Feminist Book Club X Jaded by Ela Lee

On the 16th of February, Penguin Random House hosted a collaborative event with the London Feminist Book Club and author Ela Lee, to discuss Lee’s debut novel Jaded.


Photo courtesy of London Feminist Book Club


“Jade isn’t even my real name. Jade began as my Starbucks name, because all children of immigrants have a Starbucks name.”


London feminists gather at Penguin Random House HQ for the evening, excited to listen to Ela Lee talk about her novel Jaded. Some attendees are regular members of the London Feminist Book Club, while others are here for the first time. A book club that prides itself on inclusivity, where everyone should feel welcome, the atmosphere is warm and friendly as attendees take their seats and engage in conversation with those around them. In such a big city as London, it feels heartwarming that there is this growing community of women seeking to discuss intersectionality and platform female writers. As the event begins, managing directors of the book club Rebecca James and Jo Gallacher welcome everybody and marvel at how much the book club has grown. It is certainly a mark of success when your book club is being hosted by Penguin! James and Gallacher invite Ela Lee to the front to loud applause from the attendees; although Jaded has only been out for a week at this point, many of the attendees have already read it.


Jaded tells the story of Jade, a Turkish-Korean city lawyer who must navigate her relationship with her firm, her boyfriend, and her family in the wake of a sexual assault. A Turkish-Korean ex-lawyer herself, Lee tells the London Feminist Book Club how the book is incredibly reflective of women in the city, especially women of colour in predominantly white, male spaces. 


Photo courtesy of London Feminist Book Club


Lee explains how she sat down to write Jaded during Covid-19 lockdowns; she describes the period as one of grief and reflection, where she had the time to sit with all her experiences in life. After deciding to write the book, Lee reveals that she wrote up the first draft in just a month, explaining that it was “an extremely cathartic experience.” Of course, she adds that she did spend about a year afterwards editing the novel! 


Indeed, Jaded touches on many aspects of Lee’s own personal life, most notably the Turkish-Korean heritage she shares with her protagonist, Jade. After debating whether or not to include this shared ethnicity, Lee explains her eventual decision: “My core priority with this book was to make it as emotionally authentic as possible.” By drawing on her own experiences, Lee writes honestly and authentically, effectively sharing the second-generation immigrant experience. Food and language are an important part of the novel; Lee explains that for immigrant families, food is an enormous part of their relationships with each other. Additionally, Turkish and Korean feature not simply as translations but as phrases written in the original language. Lee argues that although many readers are English, this does not necessarily mean that characters and narrative voices are automatically English as well.


Photo courtesy of London Feminist Book Club


Arguably, the main theme in Jaded is its discussion of sexual assault. Lee acknowledges the importance of the #MeToo movement, but reasons that while it did a great deal of good, and brought much needed awareness to the realities of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, it hasn’t magically fixed these problems. “Shining light on an issue doesn’t fix the issue…it falls to the shadows [instead]. These things become more insidious…as opposed to in plain sight like fifteen years ago.” Jaded, then, is a novel that fights hard to keep discussions like #MeToo at the forefront of our minds, and shows the commonality of experiences like Jade’s. “Every woman has a story of assault, or something worse than that,” Lee declares, “there’s so much pressure to be the perfect victim.” 


Finally, Lee criticises white men who pride themselves on their allyship with feminism, questioning “Why are you saying all the right things but not doing the right things?” She points out that feminism goes beyond words, and requires actual action from men who claim to want change. Lee’s critique is demonstrated through a variety of male characters in Jaded – from the law firm’s nepo-baby, to the well-meaning but objectively terrible boyfriend, Lee illustrates men interacting with and upholding patriarchy in both the workplace and the domestic.


Jaded is a book that resonates with a lot of women, a fact that Lee has found “bittersweet.” At the London Feminist Book Club event, many women who are in attendance are full of praise for Lee and her execution of the story. Attendees remark on the relatability of Jade and what happens to her, and link the fictional to their own realities, altogether demonstrating the ongoing need for feminist spaces such as the brilliant London Feminist Book Club, where female writers and female stories can be celebrated.


Reflecting on the event, Rebecca James, Managing Director of London Feminist Book Club, said: "Hosting a book club author event with Ela Lee for the launch of her debut novel 'Jaded', at Penguin Random House's offices in South London was a huge pinch me moment. Ela was everything we could've wished for and more – she's incredibly intelligent, her writing is excellent and the book covers so many themes which made for a night of fruitful discussion. We are very proud to have a book club full of such incredible people, currently living in London but from all over the world, brought together by a shared love of reading. Here's to the book club’s future, and many more events like this!" 


Photo courtesy of London Feminist Book Club

 

London Feminist Book Club is a community interest company which currently hosts four book clubs (one in North London, South London, Sheffield, and Bristol). Each month a group of people meet to discuss the book that has won the book club vote. Then on the following month we will host an author event. The book club was set up as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, where we would meet online for a little bit of solace and escapism during a pretty tough time. We hosted our book clubs via Zoom, but once the world opened back up, we quickly moved them to in-person meetings. Since then, we have hosted a festival, many author events and are working with incredible publishers, from the independents to the big ones (like Penguin Random House). 


We want to create a space where anybody and everybody can come along and have an evening chatting about a book, but who knows where the conversation could take you – you may be meeting your new life long best-friend, form a work partnership, new flat-mate, or you may never see each other again – and that's totally ok. 


The book club book of the month is 'Wandering Souls' by Cecile Pin, tickets to our North London and South London events can be found on our Eventbrite. 


Our next author event is with Freya Bromley, discussing 'The Tidal Year', partnering with women's organisation AllBright, hosting the night at their Members Club in Mayfair. 


All event details and tickets can be found here.


Ela Lee’s debut novel Jaded is out now, and can be bought here.


Photo courtesy of London Feminist Book Club

 

Edited by Lara Mae Simpson, Literature Editor


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