Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Book #37

The Power by Naomi Alderman

The world is a recognisable place: there's a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power - they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Alderman flips gender norms on their heads in this stunning depiction of a sudden onslaught of female power. Young women begin to develop a strange, electrical power, which they can bend and control at their will. They can hurt, they can influence, they can awaken the power in their elders, and they can do pretty much what they damn well want. The patriarchy crumbles; we see men become the victims; I begin to salivate.

The story progresses through the viewpoints of different characters. And they’re very different. An American mayor with high hopes of her own progression, a daughter of a British gangster, an orphan escaping her disgusting foster parents, and a man hellbent on documenting everything in his notebooks and digital camera. None of them fit with each other, none of them felt like reliable narrators, yet each of them had to come to terms with what was happening in the world.

It feels liberating for a while. Society has been flipped, and we are the dominant sex. The thrill is in you, you long for this electricity to course it’s way through your veins. Then Alderman takes us down a dark, political path, and it’s clear to see what is bound to happen in a world where this type of power is available.

Alderman is so clever with this. She describes the atrocities committed against men until you feel sick to the stomach. How can we live in a world like this? Until the realisation dawns that we are living in a world like this; it’s just not the men who are taking the pain.

Just imagine a world where one sex is oppressed, sexually violated, and lives in fear of their lives daily. Unable to walk alone in the dark, a world where listening to music with both earphones in place is unimaginable, where if you’re a member of the weaker sex, you are fair game. Imagine that. Unthinkable, right?

If you don’t get it yet, see below for a member of Goodreads being schooled:

This was truly wonderful and so intelligent; I haven’t read a book like this in a very long time. I think it’s important, exciting, and absolutely gorgeous. Read it immediately.

One of them says, 'Why did they do it?'
And the other answers, 'Because they could.'
That is the only answer there ever is.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Book #36

The Great Fire of London by Samuel Pepys

A selection from Pepys’s startlingly vivid and candid diary. Originally written in code, Pepys’s diary includes his unforgettable eyewitness account of the 1666 Fire.

The Great Bore of London - Samuel Pepys.

I have always been fascinated by the Great Fire, but this is the first time I’ve read Pepys account of it. A first-hand witness, it’s a shame his diary wasn’t a victim of the flames. His report was so dire, so full of tedious details, that my need for a startling version was quashed. I didn’t need to know who he had dinner with, nor did I delight in his soulless descriptions.

Writing of the times, definitely, but it didn’t stop my apathy. The only exciting moment was when Pepys was transporting his treasured personal effects to safety and decided to bury some parmesan cheese out his pal’s back garden - a dullard, yes, but also a man after my own heart. 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Book #35

Emma by Jane Austen

Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected.

Emma is, by far, not only my favourite Austen heroine, but my favourite Austen novel.

In many ways, she’s awful. Determined to matchmake after she believes her governess marrying is all down to her, she considers herself an expert in love. Her blind determination in matching her friend up with men leads to an entertaining set of blunders, embarrassment, and a steep learning curve. Emma knows nothing of love and its nuances, and this becomes abundantly clear as each little gaffes come to light. She’s an Austenian pain in the arse, but I love her dearly.

She is, in many ways, a strong woman. She admits when she’s wrong; she owns her mistakes graciously and truly does learn from them, apologising for them, and feeling the mortification that would be expected. She has a strong love for those close to her, and will defend and aid them ferociously (even when such defending and aiding is perhaps not the best thing for them). Emma is far from perfect; that’s why she’s my favourite.

Austen’s wit is superior here. She shows us all of my favourite Austen themes - the flaws of aristocracy, the frightening gender roles performed, the insanely polite yet subtly malicious dinner table conversations - with an excellent degree of underlying commentary; something not quite said, but implied between the lines of every paragraph.

All of the characters here were gorgeous. The blabbering Miss Bates (don’t we all have an auntie like that), the insufferable Mrs Elton, the exasperating yes-man that is Harriet Smith. I knew and loved them all for their flaws, and Austen allows these people to become real, despite the passage of time, and, you know, the fact they are fictional.

A tale of seemingly first-world Regency problems, Austen’s real message seems to be to own your inexperience, and remember being too confident in your own abilities isn’t always a good thing, whether for you, or others around you.

Emma, I love you. All of the others are passive, dreary, and let’s be frank, far too polite. I hope you continue your meddling (although maybe more sensibly), and never let your big heart shrink.

“A heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Book #34

The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman

A coming-of-age story that pierces the soul and heals the spirit, this is the tale of the future leader of the Amazon women warriors. Rain must hold fast to her inner warrior, but she is startled and mystified by the first stirrings of mercy towards the enemy.

This was loaned to me by a friend, and I really didn’t think I was going to like it. The blurb on her particular edition puts heavy emphasis on horses; quite frankly I think you’re either a horse girl, or you’re not a horse girl - wonderful readers, I am not a horse girl. In actual fact, this story is about strong women (who happen to ride horses), and strong women are really something I can get behind. Note to self: do not doubt friend’s taste in books again.

Rain is a girl warrior, daughter to the queen and born after a vicious attack on her mother. For this reason, the queen cannot look at her for fear of seeing nothing but sorrow. Rain feels an outsider in her community of women, yet cannot see her own strength, and continues to struggle on for her mother’s acceptance; she’s reminded she is the product of fifty men, and so has more power than the others, but this does not solve her feelings of otherness. 

Throughout the pages we see Rain learn and grow, become stronger, more defiant, and more sure of her place. She makes mistakes and learns from them, and most importantly of all learns the futility of trying to be something you’re not.

Despite Rain’s excellent journey and growth, I’d have liked some more depth or growth to the other characters, and for a little bit more to happen. Melek, Deborah, and even the queen herself had so much more to give, and could have bolstered the story wonderfully. I’d also have enjoyed some social commentary on how the women live. I did, however, appreciate the introduction of a homosexual relationship, and felt this was artfully done.

The prose is effective in its simplicity, and gives us trust in Rain’s voice. Despite the short, modest sentences, there is some real beauty here in Hoffman’s descriptions, particularly those depicting the scenery and animals. 

Seeing, and being part of, this powerful tribe was nothing short of captivating. Hoffman unleashes a true feeling of power and intensity in this short novel. As a story targeted towards the young adult audience, it holds an important message of resilience, and of accepting who you are.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Book #33

Nasty Women

With intolerance and inequality increasingly normalised by the day, it's more important than ever for women to share their experiences. We must hold the truth to account in the midst of sensationalism and international political turmoil. Nasty Women is a collection of essays, interviews and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st century. 

People, politics, pressure, punk - From working class experience to racial divides in Trump’s America, being a child of immigrants, to sexual assault, Brexit, pregnancy, contraception, identity, family, finding a voice online, role models and more, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Zeba Talkhani, Chitra Ramaswamy are just a few of the incredible women who share their experience here. 
Keep telling your stories, and tell them loud.

This is such an important book.

I’m a self-confessed hater of non-fiction. I prefer to be carried away by fiction, to escape the confines of my life and to fly anywhere else for a birds eye view of someone else’s life. I didn’t hate this book for being non-fiction; the deep personal levels of detail given to me were akin to viewing someone else’s life, but this couldn’t ever be escapism because the stories were all so real. 

The strength and honesty from these women’s essays rips right through the pages. This is feminism without the vacuous celebrities, without the neon lights, without apologetic backing down; this is stark female reality served up in a bitter bowl of facts. And it fired me up.

As a white, straight, able-bodied woman (albeit with an invisible disability), I knew I experienced misogyny, but in subtle ways. I also knew that I had sisters all over the world who experienced this discrimination, and worse, on levels more negatively impacting than I did. Before I read Nasty Women this was a mere awareness of the fact, and nothing more. This book has given me a deeper insight into the lives of my queer sisters, my sisters of colour, my disabled sisters, and has given me a far more ferocious attachment to feminism than ever before. I mean, yeah, I get on okay, but there are girls out there who don’t, so there’s absolutely no excuse to stop fighting.

There’s importance in sharing our stories, in banding together, in honesty. These essays address so many important areas; areas I believe many of us identifying as feminists have never even considered before - and that, girls, is pretty disgusting. It blew me away - we all must do better.

I could write for hours on how I felt reading this book, but instead I’d prefer if you all just went on to buy it. Whoever or whatever you are, this is an important one to wake us all up to learning. I’m awake, I’m angry, I’m hungry to learn more, and I am fucking nasty.

‘Feminist’ gets misrepresented as a dirty word, echoing throughout the timeline of experiences of activists in the women’s movement since the 70s and longer; we’ve been seen as the radical feminists who want women to leave their husbands, become lesbians, dye their hair green. If wanting a woman to be able to own her own sexuality, to be able to live life with freedom and dignity and find and make her own choices are these things, then yes, we are nasty women - the nastiest around. - Nadine Aisha Jassat