I was late to meet Samantha Irby. I say meet - but as the title of her 2017 essay collection suggests, we are destined never to meet in real life, and I write that even as someone who has interviewed Irby, for the podcast series that I co-host. What I really mean, is that I can’t quite believe that it took until this year, for me to discover her filthy, whip-smart writing, courtesy of her third essay collection, Wow, No Thank You.
A collection of scattershot snapshots of the human condition and all its petty indignities and contradictions, it is howlingly funny and often, revolting. It shouldn’t really work in book form (we’ve grown accustomed to believe that random streams of consciousness are best confined to the wilderness of the internet) and yet it really, really does. It’s gorgeous. Enriching. Utterly unique.
It turns out that’s a trademark of Irby’s: writing things that shouldn’t really work, with titles that sound like working titles - previous collections are called We Are Never Meeting In Real Life (2017), and Meaty (2013) - but that have you howling and wondering why, really, when you think about it, anyone would choose to write about anything other than faecal incontinence or detachment parenting (she respects, indeed likes, the children of her wife - but does she have any desire to parent them? Nuh uh.)
Her writing is scatological and unpretentious, hilarious and random. And yet it feels almost universal. You may not have Crohn’s disease - a painful, life-long inflammation of the gut that Irby is forced to navigate - but we all know that feeling of being betrayed by our body. You may not have ever thought that someone recognised you for your work, when they have not a single clue who you are, but we all know that feeling of hot prickling shame, when our ego swoops in and temporarily blindsides us. And as for her yearnings to never go out, again? Quite frankly, she was ahead of the curve.
Irby has been writing on the internet for a whopping twelve years (if internet years are like dog years which they are, no question, then she’s been writing for almost 100) since she begun a blog on MySpace in 2008, and while her writing style has never changed, her reputation has transformed: she is a Number 1 New York Times bestselling author, feted by her non-fiction peers -- and yet she stays utterly true to the intimate. Her writing appears funny and trivial, which enables her to do the best kind of Trojan horsing; Girls Gone Mild is a treatise on ageing that every woman is sure to identify with.
On a night out with her wife, Irby assumes that she is seen as she feels: “a cool old” down at “the local watering hole” with her lady. With a jolt, she realises how differently she appears to others; a woman who has acquired some years, in a crease-free easy trouser. But wait! She writes. I have tattoos!
We Are Never Meeting In Real Life, by Samantha Irby, £8.95, is available to buy here.