Photography by Salam Zaied

My Media Diet: I’m A Fan author Sheena Patel

Following the success of her twisted yet deeply satisfying debut, Patel reflects on Trump, emotional unavailability, and why Black and Brown people don’t owe you palatability.

I’m A Fan, Sheena Patel’s brutal debut novel, isn’t one for the faint-hearted.

Throughout its 207 pages, it breathlessly tells the story of an unnamed female protagonist who embarks on a relationship with a married man while she, too, cheats on her boyfriend. Meanwhile, said married man is also having an affair with an insufferable Instagram influencer. Together, these two are the subject of our heroine’s unbridled obsession, culminating in a blazing story of sex, warped romance and uneven power dynamics.

The narrator partakes in the kind of behaviour most of us have probably been prone to now and again, especially after a painful break-up, like obsessively poring over every move that person makes online – except hers is more heightened and feral, even grotesque.

Words run along the page furiously, in keeping with the narrator’s anguished, frantic and witty trains of thought. Patel has an astute eye for the banalities that make up our virtual lives, and the image we hope to portray to the world through the grid – even when we’re secretly dying inside.

Having previously worked as an assistant director for film and TV, Patel saw each of I’m A Fan’s chapters as a scene. I wasn’t wedded to a timeline at all whilst writing,” the author, from North West London, says. Time is an illusion. In film and TV dramas, you’re never spoon-fed anything – you have to do a lot of work as a viewer. I wanted to mirror that in the reading experience.”

Patel, who’s also part of the 4 Brown Girls Who Write poetry collective, felt compelled to sit down and write I’m A Fan after seeing the attacks on the Capitol last January. Watching far-right groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers’ blind allegiance to Trump, their perception of violence as love mirrors the narrator’s relationship to the man she wants to be with. I thought, this is what it’s like being with someone who’s emotionally unavailable and barely acknowledges you breathing the same air as them,” Patel says.

There’s an underlying sense of emotional cruelty throughout the novel, often shaped by the patriarchal and racial norms the narrator is tethered to, and which I’m A Fan searingly critiques. Her toxic relationship is a vehicle for that.

Black and Brown people have to try so fucking hard to bend and twist for this indifferent society to get anywhere,” Patel says. We swallow our anger, our sense of injustice, we become palatable in order to get some sort of comfort or status to help us get by.

I thought, fuck this. I want to write a character who is human, not a victim, not a saviour, not a vessel as a way to understand the world. Just a human being trying to get by.”

By no means as unhinged as I’m A Fan’s protagonist, keep scrolling to learn more about Patel’s own online habits.

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The last article I found myself thinking about was…

Boris Johnson and the Lebedevs by Carole Cadwalladr in The Guardian on Saturday. She’s a modern day Cassandra, who’s been subject to immense pressure by very powerful people to shut up. History will remember her as a very important person, but we’re too stupid to realise it.

The last new artist I discovered on Spotify was…

She’s not new but she’s new to me: Mitski, who’s incredible.

The last podcast I spent hours listening to was…

I listen to This Jungian Life a lot. I also like John Harris’ political round-up for The Guardian and look forward to it weekly. But Sweet Bobby was the last series I spent hours listening to – I have so many thoughts about it.

The last picture I liked on Instagram was…

The White Pube’s article posting about their new review, Level One Identity Art.

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The last TikTok I sent to a friend was…

Are you mad! I’m not on TikTok – my life would drain away, but I know it’s the best place on the internet. I screen record other people’s roundups, though, because I am a very cool meme lord.

The last series I binged (or watched a lot of) was…

I’m watching The Undeclared War at the minute, which is great. I’m obsessed with Bluey.

The last book I stayed awake reading was…

I keep slipping in and out of a reading rut, but the last book I read in that way was Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age. I was fighting sleep to keep reading it.

The last new word I learned was…

I just learnt that brilliant” is what the Ancient Egyptians called the first hour of the day. I’m trying to verify this, because it’s a brilliant fact.

The last meme that made me laugh aloud was…

I’m A Fan is available for £14.99 via Rough Trade


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