At the party, "there was a slightly ominous, mischievous stir" from the kitchen, where guests have been hard at work: "Flowery or feathery, fluted or fanned, each small sculpture was detailed and different: lovely little white objects against a hand-painted blue Italian ceramic tray." "I call those 'cuntini', says Alan, laughing." "My heart contracted," Naomi responds. Next, she hears a sizzle. "I got it: ha, sausages … The room had become tense." Then comes the salmon. "I flushed, with a kind of despair," she writes, adding that the evening as a whole left her so upset, she was unable to write a word of her vagina book for the next six months. "I felt – on both a creative and a physical level – that I had been punished for 'going somewhere' that women are not supposed to go", she writes.
"A Rorschach with legs" is what Natalie Angier calls the vagina in her superb Woman: An Intimate Geography (1999). "You can make of it practically anything you want, need or dread." And the same is true, surely, of this sorry tale. Different readers will have different cringe-points, different places in the story at which they start shouting "Whoah!" You may be appalled at the thought of a book called Vagina in the first place. How backward-looking, how attention-seeking, can a 21st-century feminist get? You may be fine with vaginas in a book title, less so as a shape of pasta – most people avoid close-up genital chit-chat in mixed culinary situations, and there are obvious reasons for the taboo. You may find the pasta in theory, as Wolf did, "sweet" – a quick google brings up vagina cupcakes, pink felt vagina knickers, a commercial range of tricolore pasta from Naples cut in genital shapes – but it's the c-word that upsets you, or the sausages, or the fish. Personally, I particularly disliked the "impresario whom I will call Alan", and the "hand-painted blue Italian ceramic tray": ugh boasting, ugh sentimental, ugh ugh. I'm not keen on the post-party six-month trauma either. If you're a big enough show-off to have a vagina-pasta party in the first place, I kind of feel you've abjured your right to victimmy tender-plantdom. No doubt that says as much about me and my hangups as it does about anything else.
Read the full review at The Guardian