Ultraviolence, Party Chat and Erotic Photography: The World of Eliza Clark’s ‘Boy Parts’

We spoke to the author about her debut novel, the fun of writing an unreliable narrator, and "an anonymous group of academics called the K-Hole Flirters".
Lauren O'Neill
London, GB
Interview with Eliza Clark, Author of 'Boy Parts'
Eliza Clark and 'Boy Parks', her debut novel. Images via Influx Press.

Irina Sturges is a gorgeous redhead with a scientifically perfect body, a dedicated skincare routine, and a penchant for films that were banned by the BBFC. After she’s attacked by a customer at her bar job (who turns out to be the mother of a boy she picked up on the bus and brought to her risqué photo studio – don’t tell her boss), she’s put on sabbatical. At the same time, her photography career gets an unexpected boost, and she’s invited to exhibit at a prestigious gallery in London. She’ll need new work for the event, so scouts male models everywhere she goes, casting them as the subjects of her camera’s interrogating, and often erotic gaze. But despite her togetherness on the surface, and her ruling status among her friends, Irina is also haunted by a memory – one that is constantly rearing its unwanted, reality-skewing head.


This is the intoxicating world of Boy Parts, the first novel by writer Eliza Clark. Exploring themes of femininity, art and sexuality, the novel is a funny and intensely readable spiral staircase down into the mind of a woman who wears a waist trainer under her clothes and who may or may not be a keen purveyor of ultra-violence. Described as “fiercely current”, and eliciting comparisons to novels like American Psycho and My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Clark’s book weaves in contemporary references to Call Me By Your Name and Ariana Grande songs alongside deadpan quips (“I watch an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras and a documentary about the Wests”), establishing Irina as a protagonist who is tangible, fleshed out and cackle-funny – even as everything around her seems to dissolve.

I recently caught up with Eliza Clark via Zoom for a wide-ranging interview, where we managed to cram in beauty norms and shite party chat alongside discussion of the new book.

VICE: First of all, congratulations on such a great first novel. How have you found the response?
Eliza Clark: It’s been really positive so far. To be honest, it’s more positive than I thought it would be. I thought more people would not like it. I just expected that because quite a lot of aspects of the book are quite confrontational, I was expecting people to assume that maybe I’m more confrontational and more of a dick than I actually am, and would project that, and be a bit of a dick about the book. So no, I’m quite pleased!


Boy Parts has elicited some fun comparisons, like American Psycho. The main character in that novel and the ultra-violence of the plot were used by the author as a way to talk about capitalism and masculinity in the 1990s. Do you think you’re doing the same, with your protagonist Irina as a conduit for questions around contemporary femininity, and the way the self is posited as currency?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve been frustrated by the glut of media about women that are a bit shit, and often a bit shit tipping into quite harmful, but the way it’s framed is just like, “Ah, what’s she like? Isn’t this fun!” I’ve always found it a bit obnoxious that we’re coming into this new wave of pseudo-feminist media and it doesn’t actively engage with feminism at all, aside from the fact that it has a protagonist who’s a bit useless. “She’s so quirky! That’s why it’s political.” It’s bullshit, capitalist feminism-as-marketing-buzzword that has really annoyed me, and I kind of wanted to create a protagonist that was almost like a hyper, hyper-exaggerated version.

Throughout Boy Parts, we see Irina constantly tending to her appearance in meticulous detail, because ultimately that is where she derives her power. Why did you want to explore beauty standards in this way?
There’s a weird societal taboo around women acknowledging that they’re attractive, and women acknowledging how much hard work it takes to be attractive. For some reason, literature is one of the worst for having a protagonist that’s just effortlessly beautiful – but there’s never any mention of her putting in any effort. You never read a book where somebody talks about how effortlessly beautiful the protagonist is, and then the next page, you see her intentionally skipping a meal, and you also spend an hour with her as she removes all of her body hair, and draws a new, more attractive face on top of her own face. I don’t know why there’s such a taboo around the actual labour that goes into being very attractive, and why it’s such a weird thing that doesn’t get talked about. I just think it’s important if you’re going to have a protagonist that is beautiful, she needs to have a relationship to her own beauty – an opinion on it, and feelings about it.


The novel is so rich, and while it has its main themes about gender, power, and control, there’s also a lot of other stuff going on. One of the points you make is about London-centricity and the arts. During the pandemic, I think we’re all thinking about how actually, the creative industries don’t need to be centred in London at all, and how they’d be better if they weren’t. That’s a sentiment that your novel obviously and rightfully shares – can you speak on it a bit?
I’ve been back and forth between London and Newcastle. I did my degree in London and then moved back to Newcastle, and more recently moved back down again. I had a corporate job when we first moved down, but I packed that in in January because I was just like, “I can’t do this anymore.” I really quickly found a job in the creative industries in terms of what I wanted to do and what fit with my skill set. But it took me two years of just solidly applying for jobs in Newcastle to get anywhere near an arts job. It’s such a crushing, miserable experience. There’s a real sense of unfairness.

The problems that are in the arts exist all over the country, but there’s a real sense that there’s nothing there for you, and if you do manage to get something, you are extremely lucky and you have to grab onto it. Particularly in Newcastle, it feels like people move through the same few organisations. It doesn’t feel like that in London, but there’s a culture shock when you first move down. Loads of people are super middle-class and super connected, and they’ve got no idea how connected they are, and what a huge difference that makes. I knew somebody tangentially at uni whose dad was a BAFTA-winning film editor, and if you even so much as suggested they pass over your CV to their dad, they were like, “I feel very used.” And it’s just like, “Come on!” People don’t seem to have any sense of how great of a privilege that is, or how unique it is to be connected in that way outside of the south east, and it’s very frustrating.


The novel feels very lived-in. Everything from the descriptions of the parties to the text messages felt like things I had reference points for in my own life. How much of your experience is in Boy Parts?
I suppose a fair bit. Obviously not the extreme sex and violence. I’ve never killed anyone! But the parties and text messages and stuff, and the club nights are all very drawn from experience. In the acknowledgements, I thank an anonymous group of academics called the K-Hole Flirters, which is basically our Facebook group chat’s name. It was the culmination of wanting to include a bunch of smashed up, awful nights out.

Your house party scene is so accurate, and I feel like you very rarely see a decent or realistic representation of that.
I totally agree. The only other thing I’ve seen that I felt was super accurate was like, have you watched any of Limmy’s Show? You know the “Party Chat” sketch? Originally, the party scene was a lot more like that. The first person that read it was like, “This is very accurate but it’s very boring.”

Another comparison I made when I was reading the book was with Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation. The protagonists of both are very comically mean-spirited, in a way that almost makes you feel bad for laughing along (they also both have horrible moms!) What’s the appeal of writing a bitch?
Originally, the internal monologue running through Boy Parts was a lot more similar to mine. I think I’m funny, and I’m quite often generating jokes fairly constantly in my head, some of which are really fucking cunt-y and I would never say out loud. So it was just fun to have an avenue for all of the worst things that I think on a weekly basis, that I would never say, and also don’t even feel like I thought them, because they’re so spiky and mean.

The novel obviously has an ambiguous ending, and throughout we’re not sure whether Irina has actually done the violent things she talks about. What do you hope readers take away from that ambiguity, and why did you want there to be that question mark?
I’m a surprisingly firm believer in the “Death of the Author”. I like the idea that when you put something out into the world, it belongs to other people as much as it belongs to you. I quite like the idea of having something that is open-ended, just to hear other people’s interpretations of it. I really like hearing other people’s hot and spicy takes on books with ambiguous stuff in them. I wanted to people to have something to talk about and interpret, so it wouldn’t be a super prescriptive narrative. But also I just think it’s interesting with the theme of “unreliable narrators” and “unreliable memories” – I like pushing that as far as it can go. As far as I’m concerned, the entire last 30 pages of the book could have just not happened. I like to play with that sense of unreality.

What is next for you? Can we expect more writing soon?
I have another book out with Influx [the publisher of Boy Parts] in 2022, so there should be a book then – my attention span and hopefully-not-flukey ability to write more than one book permitting! I have already changed my mind once on what that second book was going to be, so I’m just not telling people.