Marina Benjamin’s work in creative non-fiction pushes at the traditional boundaries of memoir to mine experiences of loss, grief and struggle and foreground a sense of unstable identity and dissolving realities. Her most recent book The Middlepause (Scribe, 2016), written after she had a hysterectomy, experiments with new ways of articulating the self, ruthlessly unpicking the certainties around which she’s built her life, undermining ‘the sovereign self of ideals’, and at one point confiding; “I no longer want what I used to want”.
Much of Benjamin’s work has a philosophical slant to it, evident in her Wingate long-listed book Last Days in Babylon (Bloomsbury, 2007), which blends history and reportage from war-torn Baghdad with a novelised biography of her Iraqi grandmother. Benjamin often works around a strong spine of interest in the history of science, threading epistemic concerns around imaginative ones, from her elegy for our Space Age ambitions, Rocket Dreams (Chatto, 2004), to essays she’s contributed to books such as Cultural Babbage (Faber & Faber, 1997), a collection of “offbeat essays” on 19th Century invention.
Benjamin’s writing experience is rooted in her earlier career in journalism – she was arts editor of The New Statesman and also part of the team of journalists who launched Aeon magazine, whose essays have won numerous prizes in the USA and Australia. In her work with memoir, Benjamin is motivated by the tension that results when editing is admitted into her writing process, as a contrary, even disruptive force.