Review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

154510581 Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.

I had never heard of Gloria Steinem before this book was featured as the January pick for Emma Watson’s “Our Shared Shelf” book club, but I saw the book at work and thought it looked interesting, so decided to give it a solid shot.

I did not expect to love it half as much as I did. I didn’t expect to learn new things and find it incredibly inspiring and enriching to my long stifled feminism. I feel that I’m okay to loudly and proudly say that I am a feminist, as I don’t believe that the movement is solely about shutting men down- far from it, I have no problem with most men. I have problems with a certain type or group of men, but I have similar problems with certain women. But anyway, I digress.

“Feminist” has become a pretty dirty word to a lot of people. I’ve had people who don’t even know me talk down about “man hating, ugly feminists” and expect me to agree with them. My ex boyfriend repeatedly told me he would dump me if I ever said I was a feminist, for heaven’s sake… now I wish I had, but it’s a long time ago now.

Gloria discusses these ideas of feminism and breaks down the attitudes that have brought them about. She also discusses wider topics, such as the civil rights movement, indigenous rights, advocacy, her nomadic childhood, mental illness and politics with great sympathy and great anecdotes. Her storytelling throughout the book is phenomenal- for example, she talks of her most interesting experiences with taxi drivers, and I really didn’t want it to end!

The book is strangely organised, but I didn’t have a huge issue with it. I felt some parts would have been better slotted into other chapters, or some chapters would have slotted in better before or after others, but in general I thought it was fine. I didn’t really like that she assumed the reader was American, but perhaps she didn’t expect the book to gain the global readership that it has attracted.

The book details Steinem’s achievements as an organiser and advocate, but focus is often shifted to those that have inspired her throughout her journey. A chapter about her amazing friend, Wilma Mankiller (what a name!), was beautiful and truly inspired me to try and be as calm and patient in my own bodily suffering as she was.

I took quite a long time reading this book, as I felt the need to stop frequently to digest ideas and wrote all over the margins, underlining and commenting on ideas and thoughts. My copy now looks rather manky, but luckily the dust jacket is still there to cover up my sins…. and regardless, I will be keeping this book to read over again, to pick up and reinforce ideas and to contemplate.

So my first ever book club pick has been quite the success, though I read it a month late. I probably won’t read The Colour Purple, which is February’s pick, right now as I just don’t have the time at the moment. It doesn’t help that I couldn’t get a copy through work either! The OSS people seem to have wiped out the supplier’s stock! Well done!

I’d seriously recommend this book to anyone wanting an inspirational and enlightening book, to any woman wanting to read more about feminism without it being too “radical” (definitely no bra burning in this one, and no man hating either!) and those interested in contemplation of a nomadic lifestyle.

4.5/5 and Leo with a wine glass, not an Oscar.

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Review: The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

25666052As the Titanic and her passengers sank slowly into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg late in the evening of April 14, 1912, a nearby ship looked on. Second Officer Herbert Stone, in charge of the midnight watch on the SS Californian sitting idly a few miles north, saw the distress rockets that the Titanic fired. He alerted the captain, Stanley Lord, who was sleeping in the chartroom below, but Lord did not come to the bridge. Eight rockets were fired during the dark hours of the midnight watch, and eight rockets were ignored. The next morning, the Titanic was at the bottom of the sea and more than 1,500 people were dead. When they learned of the extent of the tragedy, Lord and Stone did everything they could to hide their role in the disaster, but pursued by newspapermen, lawyers, and political leaders in America and England, their terrible secret was eventually revealed. The Midnight Watch is a fictional telling of what may have occurred that night on the SS Californian, and the resulting desperation of Officer Stone and Captain Lord in the aftermath of their inaction.

Told not only from the perspective of the SS Californian crew, but also through the eyes of a family of third-class passengers who perished in the disaster, the narrative is drawn together by Steadman, a tenacious Boston journalist who does not rest until the truth is found. The Midnight Watch is a powerful and dramatic debut novel–the result of many years of research in Liverpool, London, New York, and Boston, and informed by the author’s own experiences as a ship’s officer and a lawyer.

This is one of those books that grabs you by the throat and won’t let go until you’re staying up way past your bedtime just so you can keep reading it.

I started reading this, feeling I needed a break after reading quite a few tough books in a row, and wanting something a bit fun and interesting. I’ve been obsessed with the Titanic ever since I first learnt about it way back when I was little. My little brother and I would pore over great big books about it, read any kids books featuring the disaster, watched all the documentaries and went to see several exhibitions on the ship. I visited the Titanic museum in Belfast and cried, buying my brother all the merchandise and books I could carry; if you’re ever in Belfast and have even a smidgeon of interest in it, I thoroughly recommend the museum!

Anyway, this book was going to be mine once I saw it on the ARC shelf and work, and it did not disappoint me at all.

I was instantly grabbed by the reporter, Steadman’s, introduction, which captivated me and dragged me straight into early 20th century Venezuela, and then Boston. I enjoyed his point of view immensely, though I wish it hadn’t been the sole POV through the whole 2nd portion of the novel. I enjoyed the switching between him and members of the crew of the Californian, who were experiencing the disaster on the water, whilst Steadman unearthed it from the offices of Cunard shipping.

Lord, the enigmatic captain of the Californian, remained a very difficult person to understand. I still don’t really understand why he acted the way he did that night, but that’s the point. His actions were thoroughly reprehensible, despite his suave exterior. You never see the disaster from his point of view, but only that of the people around him. He’s the destabilising feature of the novel as much as the wreck of the Titanic is.

The final section is told from the fictional perspective of Titanic passengers during the disaster. I do like how it is brought into the story, though in some ways I feel it could have been woven through it before a final reveal. Regardless, I was moved to tears and lay there contemplating the ending for hours… needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night!

This book should be released in March or April, depending on your region, and I really do recommend getting your hands on it. I am really glad I took the chance and read it, because it would have been a shame to have it laying there unread any longer!

5/5 stars and a different Leo… because this is Titanic, not Gatsby!

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Thank you to Penguin Australia for the ARC. This review is entirely my own opinion and is in no way affected by the fact that this is a review copy.

Top Ten Tuesday: Badass Women Writers I Love

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Some authors are downright inspirational when they have little to no intention to be. Others force it, and fail miserably. Some don’t want to be inspiring at all, and try to make sure they couldn’t be accused of it. I like the first and the last particularly, though I haven’t really ever read too many books setting out to inspire, except maybe Eat, Pray, Love, and I don’t intend to repeat the experience anytime soon!

But these authors are all badass in their own way, and I love them for it!

  1. Anne Brontë

Anne was quiet and stoic, dealing primarily with her deadbeat brother Branwell, her wild sister Emily and her disparaging Charlotte. She’s often forgotten and overlooked, despite her genius being as great (in my opinion) as that of her sisters. She endured her fatal illness without much complaint, even after watched almost all of her siblings die around her. She wasn’t afraid to tackle really full on, socially unacceptable topics in her works, making her my favourite Brontë of them all!

2. Fanny Burney

Fanny Burney risked the censure of her family to write. She spent a long time in a French prisoner of war camp during the Napoleonic wars- but Napoleon himself told her he liked her work. She underwent a mastectomy without anaesthesia, and lived to write about it. She wrote about things that pushed the envelope, and didn’t apologise for it. Very, very awesome.

 

3. H.D.

This woman overcame so many things that would have kept most people down. Stillbirth, a horrible husband, a fiancee who not only criticised her work and deserted her professionally, but also had TWO OTHER fiancees on the side, an unwanted pregnancy and much much more, and that was only in the first 20 years of her life. She then went on to be thoroughly awesome (I hope in revenge) and had a fairly stable lesbian relationship with Bryher for over 40 years. You go, girl!

 

4. Virginia Woolf

However much I dislike some of her attitudes, Virginia Woolf was Queen and she knew it. She totally dominated the modernist groups, wrote like a total maniac for weeks on end and did some pretty revolutionary things. Despite all this, she was emotionally fragile and admitted it, which to me is a strong thing in itself.

 

5. Jean Rhys

Not only did Jean Rhys manage to hold her breath long enough to sleep with Ford Madox Ford, she also wrote the most scathing portrait of a man EVER in After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, and what’s more, he deserved it. Yes, she led a sad life, but she overcame so many things, such as bullying, racism, poverty and sexism. She even bounced back and smashed people’s expectations by publishing Wide Sargasso Sea, when people had assumed she’d succumbed to her raging alcoholism.

 

6. Rebecca West

I don’t even know where to begin with Rebecca West. She travelled through Yugoslavia on the brink of war, she hunted and shamed Nazis, she lived though terrible treatment from H.G. Wells and she wrote fabulous novels that deserve far more attention than they are given.

 

7. Colette

Her abusive absolute raging prick of a husband literally locked her in a room to write the Claudine novels, until she was so sick that she was on the edge of death. Then he claimed the novels and subsequent royalties as his own, t’then when he had been busted and spent all the money that should have been hers, he sold the rights to the books and left her utterly destitute, relying on dancing to scrape by. But scrape by she did, and went on to become even more unbelievably awesome.

 

8. Katherine Mansfield

Moving from a New Zealand sheep farm to London must have been quite the experience for a 19 year old woman, especially in the early 20th century. She somehow managed to be friends with Virginia Woolf without throttling her, a fear that seems to have been almost superhuman. She was bisexual, and had lovers of both sexes, including a Maori woman, which shows she wasn’t sucked in to the racism so prevalent in that era.

9. Maria Edgeworth

A contemporary of Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth was an Irish woman who wrote about some pretty controversial topics, especially Anglo-Irish relations in a time when this was distinctly improper for a woman to do so. She met Lord Byron and thought very little of him, which makes me like her even more. She wanted to write about traditional Irish culture when it was an unfashionable thing to do, and she wrote about interracial marriage in Belinda (though publishers later removed it from her work). When the Famine raged across her homeland, she campaigned tirelessly for relief for the poor.

10. Natalie Barney

Natalie Barney, an American expat who moved to Paris in the early 20th century, was well known for her outrageous parties and bohemian lifestyle. She ran a literary salon that drew some very famous attendees, including Colette and Edith Wharton. She ran hers in opposition to Gertrude Stein, and absolutely rocked it. Her outgoing and unashamed lesbian behaviour and cross dressing was considered deviant, but she discovered some of the biggest names in English literature, and told her critics to get stuffed!

 

Top Ten Tuesday (on a Wednesday…again): Favourite Books of 2015

91e47-toptentuesdayAgain, I’m terribly disorganised and didn’t get around to writing this post when it should have been written. I’ve been quite ill and totally exhausted, as well as trying to organise things for Christmas, so my poor blog has had to take a back seat.

I have read so many good books this year, and many of them will be similar to my TTT post last week, but so what… it’s time to wax lyrical about this year’s favourites!

  1. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovich
  2. Orkney by Amy Sackville
  3. Bid Me to Live by H.D.
  4. The Silk Worm by Robert Galbraith
  5. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters + The Lake House by Kate Morton
  6. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  7. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  8. The Female Malady by Elaine Showalter
  9. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  10. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

 

Rivers of London is a damn good book. I’ve been at and at people to read it… most commonly my fiancee, poor bugger. It’s hilarious and very cleverly written. I’m trying to ration out the rest of the series, since I don’t want to devour them all and be left with no more left!

Orkney was my first Amy Sackville novel, and not my last, as I also read The Still Point recently. The prose is gorgeous and I loved the slowly unravelling story, laced with mysteries and unspoken, unseen moments.16057621

Bid Me to Live is a very special book to me. I fell in love with H.D.’s work whilst reading it, and it’s changed a lot of my thoughts about how and why literature is written. The Female Malady comes in here too, because it utterly changed my perception of the way women have been treated as humans and as writers- same goes for A Room of One’s Own, which I read on New Years Day, not realising how important it would be to my year.

I haven’t yet finished reading The Silk Worm, but I already know this is one of my favourites for the year! It’s sucked me straight in and I’m very sure I’ll break my moratorium on unmatched series sizes to get the third book tomorrow.24661340

Fingersmith took me way too long to read, having lost my copy halfway through, but once I found it again I chomped the rest down in one very satisfying gulp! The Lake House by Kate Morton is getting thrown in here too, because I seriously can’t choose between them. It’s all too hard!!!

North and South was a wonderful novel, and I’m sure to be reading more Gaskell soon. An honourable mention also goes to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, who sadly missed out in favour of Gaskell!

The Bell Jar came at the perfect moment for me, so though I am sad I spent so long without it, I am glad I read it at a time when it would speak to me so perfectly.

Reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus was an effort, since it was one of my forays into audiobooks, but the story and the magic of it sucked me straight in. Jim Dale’s narration was spot on, and was really what got this (somewhat flawed) book over the line for me.

Coming in last place is Between the Acts, simply because I can’t say I enjoyed the experience of reading it. It was a bit like having your guts smashed and put in a blender. However, it was one of the most heart 526033rending and gorgeous books I’ve ever read, beating Jacob’s Room on that point alone. The desperation and sadness in this novel isn’t just an undercurrent; it is the whole feeling and it slams the reader so hard it hurts.

I know I’ve put a few sneaky extras in here, but it was WAY too hard to choose ten favourites out of the 99 books I’ve read so far this year!

Yep, I’m one book off my goal of 100 books read in 2015, which I’m fairly sure beats all my other goals by about 20 books!

October In Review

This October was my first month of freedom since beginning Semester 1 of university in February last year, so I’ve gone a bit crazy in the book department. I’ve read a fair few books, and had a fantastic month in general, so I’m a very happy lady right now!

I got engaged!! That was a nice surprise! I’m a very lucky and very happy woman indeed.

This month, I’ve read:

Affinity by Sarah Waters (***1/2)… which has spurred me on to pick up Fingersmith as my next read.2015-10-05 14.30.14

Names for the Sea by Sara Moss (***)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (**1/2) …which I STILL haven’t decided what my opinion really is about it!)

Summer Crossing by Truman Capote (**1/2)

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (*****)

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (*****)

The Lake House by Kate Morton (*****)

The Three Miss Kings by Ada Cambridge (****)

Lots of quite high rated books, with the latter half of the month being packed full of winners for me! I still haven’t quite got my head out of North and South, and The Lake House was so exciting that I feel I have a bit of whiplash going on from it. I did expect to read more books, but with work, medication changes making me sleep a lot, general laziness, plus a holiday AND an engagement to announce (seriously, no one told me that would be so stressful… thank god for The Lake House and the off button on my phone!), it just didn’t happen. In my defence, those were all pretty time consuming, and a few of the books were very lengthy, with several being over 500 pages long.2015-10-18 19.11.21

I’ve also been plodding through Les Miserables, which makes me feel rather miserables myself. I believe I’m at the 300 page mark at present. Whoever designed my copy ought to be taken out and shot, because bible paper and a size 8 font do not bode well for a comfortable reading experience. Generally, I can read in bed without my glasses, but not with that beast, oh no! It’s glasses, a bookmark in my hand to mark my line as I go, and another stuck in the back for the endnotes to help me with my non-existent French knowledge, a pen in my hand and preferably an assistant/slave to fan me as I go.

I did mean to read Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett, but it had a terrible water bottle accident and I fear it will prove to be unreadable in the end, despite my best efforts. I’ll have to find myself a new copy, as the book looks lovely! I did see two real whales, a mother and calf swimming south to Antarctica the day after that accident, so perhaps that will make up for the delay in reading the novel for now. They’re astonishingly big, somehow bigger than I expected, even the baby!

I bought a ton of books, which is pretty much a given, really. Most were second hand, and made me very, very excited. Some of the stand outs were first edition copies of The Walls Do Not Fall  and Tribute to the Angels by H.D. in almost perfect condition, as well 2015-10-17 17.08.35
as a clean copy of Bid Me to Live by H.D. (i.e. not annotated by yours truly… this was an effort and a half to find under $60, but find it I did!). I also found old Penguin paperbacks of a stack of Monica Dickens’ books, Tea With Mr Rochester by Frances Towers (currently published by Persephone) and some Daphne Du Maurier books that I didn’t already have. I also got a few more books by and about Virginia Woolf, and some more of my darling Rebecca West.

I’m looking forward to reading lots in November, and right now I think at least one of the books will be The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, since it’s almost a year since I read The Cuckoo’s Calling and her newest book, Career of Evil was released in October. I won’t be buying it as yet, as I want all my editions to be in the fame format, because I’m picky like that. I’m also looking forward to reading Greenery Street by Dennis Mackail and possibly something by Monica Dickens, with maybe a Du Maurier thrown in for good measure. We shall see.

My blog has been getting a lot of love recently, so thank you to all my new followers for coming on board! It’s recently occurred to me how much I can’t believe that a little thing I started, not really believing it would go anywhere (or that I would stick to it, for that matter) has actually begun to get noticed! I’m so thankful to all of you, especially those who have been with me for the ride- you know who you are!

Hope you all have a lovely month, and I’ll see you in my next post!

Review: Summer Crossing by Truman Capote

‘Summer Crossing’ is the story of a 17-year-old girl who has been left in New York while her parents spend the summer in Europe. It is a coming-of-age story, the heroine of which is very much a proto-Holly Golightly from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’.

I was really looking forwards to reading this novella, since I have an enduring adoration of Truman Capote and will not rest until I have read all of his work. I unfortunately found this to be the most disappointing of his novels so far, but this is likely due to the fact that he lost it and never actually finished writing or editing it himself. He was having difficulties in writing it, and moved on to bigger and better things, namely Other Voices, Other RoomsAs for Grady being a proto-Holly, I’m not so sure about that.

Nobody was very likeable in this, which is pretty much the standard for Capote’s writing. I found myself hating one character, before swinging around to hate the other more. He had a great talent for characterisation, making even the smallest dunce of a character seem perfectly drawn. Grady is definitely not my favourite sketch though, and I found her annoying. She was the sort of character I wanted to slap and make her see sense! This is basically “Uptown Girl”, but the girl is kind of a naive sociopath with a rebellious streak, and way more money than sense.

I did thoroughly enjoy the very Capote-ish best friend, Peter. He’s flambouyant as all hell, and very, very sassy. The whole “romance” set up between Peter and Grady by others in the book seemed laughable to me, as he is clearly portrayed as homosexual. Her actual boyfriend, Clyde, was rather repugnant, and I just could not get myself to even consider liking him. 

There’s much backstabbing, drama and EVEN MORE DRAMA that ensues in this teeny novella, and I don’t want to spoil too much of it for anyone who is interested in reading it. Though I felt held back from really enjoying it by my dislike of the characters, it is a truly solid effort for a first or second draft (nobody is entirely sure what stage he was at in writing this). It gives us a great look at Capote’s early work and the beginnings of his moulding of characters that will become his most recognisable trait as a writer. He was a master at observing people and human behaviour, and depicting it perfectly, but he went on to write far better books. Still, it would have been a shame for this to be lost forever.

2.5/5 Stars

Review: The Catcher in the Rye

Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two haemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.”

His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

I know that most people have strong reactions to this book. It seems to either be adored or abhorred. I somewhat expected to hate it, if I’m perfectly honest. I didn’t expect to feel rather ambivalent about it all though. It’s rare for me to feel totally “meh” about a “classic” novel, because I just tend to have strong opinions.

I didn’t hate Holden though. I wouldn’t want to have to deal with him, but I understood why he was how he was. The trauma of your brother dying, and being sent away to school, taking you away from your baby sister who you love, would be a really horrible thing for any teenager to deal with. It seems Holden’s parents didn’t think too hard about that little issue… and the way Holden puts it, they don’t think about him very much at all. I don’t think that’s entirely true, but he is really alienated from his family, his peers and the adults who are trying to guide him. His bursting into tears whilst under pressure shows that there’s more going on underneath this cynical exterior.

Holden is really the biggest “phony” in the novel, and that’s pretty much the point, or so it seemed to me. He’s extremely hypocritical; for example, swearing in front of his sister, then getting angry that someone wrote swear words on the school wall… as if that’s somehow different. He’s obsessed with innocence, yet he isn’t innocent himself.

I just didn’t really care about what happened all that much, I didn’t care if Holden went home or went to Seattle or whatever. It all just fell flat and I was thrilled to finally reach the end of the book. I don’t think that that’s really the best impression a book could have.

I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it, I don’t think I am Holden or that he’s a useless whiner. It is what it is, and that is definitely not the book for me.

2.5/5 Stars

Review: The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

‘The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.’

Written with barely controlled fury after she was confined to her room for ‘nerves’ and forbidden to write, Gilman’s pioneering feminist horror story scandalized nineteenth-century readers with its portrayal of a woman who loses her mind because she has literally nothing to do.

Wow.

This short story is even more amazing than I expected it to be. I’d read about it a while ago in The Female Malady by Elaine Showalter, which piqued my interest, as she waxes lyrical about the story. I wasn’t going to review anything at all this month, but I needed to write and I got way too excited about this short story and needed to talk about it!

I’ve been working on this kind of thing, including the eminent 19th Century American psychiatrist Silas Weir Mitchell’s infamous “rest cure”. This is the same rest cure which Virginia Woolf was subjected to numerous times in her life, of which the fear of having to undergo again factored into her decision to commit suicide. It is also the rest cure that Septimus Warren Smith chooses suicide to escape from in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Yeah, it was that bad.

The idea was to isolate the patient entirely, giving them nothing to eat but litre upon litre of milk, with the occasional bit of rare meat. The patient was not allowed to write- a condition which severely affected both Perkins Gilman and Woolf, as well as the protagonist in this story. They were not allowed exercise, and were on a strict regime of bromides, eating, sleeping and doing absolutely nothing more. The doctors would usually visit once a week, but the patient was not allowed to advocate for their own sanity. Essentially, for many women, this was an utterly infantilising experience, and one which (as in this story) often did much more harm than good.

“…you invoke proportion; order rest in bed; rest in solitude; silence and rest; rest without friends, without books, without messages; six months rest; until a man who went in weighing seven stone six comes out weighing twelve” ( Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, pg. 108)

I would absolutely go crazy under those conditions.  Who thought wallpaper like this was a good idea anyway?!

This short story can be read on multiple levels, though it invokes the double in all the ones I can think of. The unnamed female narrator begins to believe that there is a woman trapped or hiding behind the arabesque design of the wallpaper, and becomes fixated on letting her out. Her fixation on the grotesque pattern of the wallpaper grows more and more manic as she is incarcerated in the room. The husband, John, a doctor, essentially traps her in the “nursery” which is far more like a prison cell for a mentally deranged person, has pushed his belief of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour or thoughts for a woman, and has imprisoned her. He, being a man, and being her husband, has the ultimate power in their relationship. He even has medical power over her, giving him the ability to lock his wife in a room with barred windows, rings on the walls, a bed with canvas mattress nailed to the ground (complete with bite marks all over it) and this yellow wallpaper that he hopes will give him what he desires- an infantilised, passive wife. Hell, even him calling the room the “nursery” points towards the ideal of passive, childlike womanhood. A man could very easily silence a woman who had become too independent, too imaginative or too outspoken by declaring her to be “hysterical”, and this is exactly what John does in this story.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was placed into a rest home by her doctor, Weir Mitchell, because she suffered from bouts of depression. The experience nearly sent her into a state of madness she had never anticipated.

“[I] obeyed these directions for some three months, and came so near to the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.

Then, using the remnants of intelligence that remained…I cast the noted specialist’s advice to the winds and went to work again… ultimately recovering some measure of power. “

The protagonist of this story is not so lucky, though she does triumph over her captors in her own small way- she claims her freedom from them. She proves that her husband has no idea what’s best for her, and his threats and coercions have no power. His repression and her own anger towards him has rendered her incapable of asserting herself in any other way. The protagonist has rebelled against the Victorian patriarchy and a society intent upon silencing women, especially women who desire independence, by calling them “mad”.

This is only a very short story, which I read in the very gorgeous Penguin Little Black Classics edition, however, it is available through Project Gutenberg, which is always nice. It is an extremely good read, and one that will stay with me for a very long time. I am slowly but surely coming around to the art of the short story, which has eluded me for quite a long time. Hopefully, in the future, my heart won’t sink when I read that a book I’ve been interested in is a collection of short stories!

As for Weir Mitchell, Perkins Gilman got her own back. She sent him a copy of The Yellow Wall-Paper, which he ignored, but he “admitted to friends that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenics” after having read it. Who wants to give a mere woman the satisfaction of having hit you for six? Not an eminent Victorian psychiatrist, that’s for sure.

5/5 Stars

Review: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, Hemingway’s magnificent fable is the tale of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish. This story of heroic endeavour won Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature. It stands as a unique and timeless vision of the beauty and grief of man’s challenge to the elements.

I don’t really think I’m meant to love Hemingway. He’s not my kind of writer- macho, bullfighting, misogynistic and drunken. I’ve been wary of him, though I know people who adore every word he ever wrote. I decided one day to pick this slim novella up just to give my head a bit of a break from writing, but it didn’t really scratch that itch either.

This is quite a slow novella, with really not much happening. Man goes on boat to catch fish, catches fish, fish fights, life sucks, man is hungry and sleepy and way over his head etc etc. Much discussion of baseball is had in here too, which I know precisely nothing about.  Not my kind of book at all.

However, the descriptions of the sea and of the various fish, as well as the Santiago’s life and knowledge of the ocean was beautiful and fascinating. Hemingway’s writing in these bits of the book was transcendent, brilliant and vivid. I felt like I could smell the salt water and hear the water around me… though that may have been because I was in the midst of a massive thunderstorm.

He remembered the time he had hooked one of a pair of marlin. The male fish always let the female fish feed first and the hooked fish, the female, made a wild, panic-stricken, despairing fight that soon exhausted her, and all the time the male had stayed with her, crossing the line and circling with her on the surface. He had stayed so close that the old man was afraid he would cut the line with his tail which was sharp as a scythe and almost of that size and shape. When the old man had gaffed her and clubbed her, holding the rapier bill with its sandpaper edge and clubbing her across the top of her head until her colour turned to a colour almost like the backing of mirrors, and then, with the boy’s aid, hoisted her aboard, the male fish had stayed by the side of the boat. Then, while the old man was clearing the lines and preparing the harpoon, the male fish jumped high into the air beside the boat to see where the female was and then went down deep, his lavender wings, that were his pectoral fins, spread wide and all his wide lavender stripes showing. He was beautiful, the old man remembered, and he had stayed.

Oh, yes! This was definitely the most moving quote of the book. It’s so utterly beautiful.

It’s written for a lot of symbolism, which I personally dislike. I didn’t like the way Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby to be symbolic in nearly every sentence, which led to me hating the book. This book wasn’t quite so bad, but had it been longer, it would have probably annoyed me much more than it did. This book is very obviously not just about a man catching a fish, and Hemingway wants to beat you over the head with that fact. Again, not a huge fan of this style, but for a novella of this length, it was tolerable.

It was for that reason alone that I didn’t just scream “CUT THE LINE, YOU SILLY CREATURE! GO HOME AND SLEEP!”

The middle dragged, but I believe this was somewhat intentional- we’re meant to feel the boredom Santiago felt out there on the sea, waiting and waiting for something to happen. When something does happen, it causes him pain, but he keeps going. Nice metaphor for life, really. I just disliked being beaten over the head with it. Darling, I get the point! It’s boring and painful! Claps for Ernie!

I wish the book had continued as it began, because the beginning was by far my favourite section of the book. This is mainly where the gorgeous discussion of the ocean is. The middle drags, and the ending is depressing. Not that depressing is necessarily a bad thing, I just really wanted the poor bugger to take his fish home and show it off!

I will probably read A Moveable Feast, as I’ve heard many good things about it, but The Old Man and the Sea was a bit of a letdown. It wasn’t terrible, and I’m very glad I’ve read it, but I’m very unlikely to go back to this later on.

3/5 Stars

Abuse in Literature

I want to discuss abusive behaviours in literature, particularly in YA literature and literature intended to be romantic, intended for women in particular. You know the ones I mean- I’m talking Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight and some other books I’ve come across that romanticise abuse in its many forms.

Abuse doesn’t mean you have to be being beaten up. No one has to hit you, stab you or physically intimidate you for it to constitute abuse. You don’t need to be sexually abused, though that is also a huge, huge issue in relationships, despite the general idea that sexual assaults by partners are rare. Abuse also comes in mental and emotional forms. It astounds me how many educated women I know have fallen into emotionally abusive relationships and convinced themselves that the behaviour of their partners is okay. I’m sure there are equal amounts of men who fall into this trap as well, but I can’t speak for their experience.qTI0O38

It’s not necessarily the pseudo S&M in Fifty Shades of Grey that constitutes abuse, though there are incidents where he doesn’t get Ana’s full consent, or continues when she tells him to stop- those incidents constitute sexual assault. It’s Christian’s controlling behaviour that is the true, overarching abuse. Ana wouldn’t have even consented to the S&M if he hadn’t coerced and bullied her into it anyway. From what I understand of S&M, full consent is a requirement and the Dom is supposed to monitor the Sub constantly to make sure they aren’t in real pain or distress, which Christian does not do. No sub would be expected to fulfil the requirements of Christian’s contract, which controls EVERY aspect of Ana’s existence, from what she eats to what medications she takes. If she had signed the contract, he would have complete control over her life. It’s every abuser’s dream situation. Even though she doesn’t agree to sign, he still exercises much of this control over her anyway- he forces her onto the pill, chooses what she eats in restaurants, tells her she can’t see her friends, buys her workplace to have control over her there. He threatens to hit her when she doesn’t call him. He threatens violence when she admits to having had coffee with her male friend, Jose. He threatens to hit her when she doesn’t let him masturbate her at his parent’s dinner table. I’m sorry, but on what planet is that behaviour acceptable or romantic. ROMANTIC.  There is absolutely NOTHING romantic about that level of control, or threatening to hit your girlfriend. NOTHING.

Having escaped a relationship like the ones described, I find this dynamic in literature worrisome, especially in books intended for young men and women. I worry about it being portrayed as appropriate behaviour. I use the word “escaped” to describe my experience, because it really feels like I escaped. Though my ex never threatened or carried out physical abuse, it is SO easy to fall into thinking that your partner is telling you what to do for your own good, that you’re always in the wrong and that they only do it because they care about you…. but it’s not true. It’s about power. It’s incredibly unhealthy and emotionally draining. I’m not a stupid or weak woman either, it’s not just “silly” or Mary Sue types who fall into this trap. It’s so, so easy, which is really scary.

It comes on slow and builds up, much like Edward and Christian’s behaviour towards their respective partners. To romanticise this kind of behaviour contributes to the problem and normalises abuse… because that’s exactly what it is- Abuse.

From my experience, I definitely see it as emotional abuse and blackmail. Edward threatened to walk into the sun, because it’s “better” that way. My ex threatened to commit suicide if I left him or if he felt I was disagreeing with him… it’s the same thing. It’s a means to get what they want from the girl. They make that power call and the woman goes along with it; because you feel like you need to “fix” him, make him happy, you blame yourself, surely you’re the one at fault…

I escaped when he decided that he wouldn’t allow me to further my education. That was my final straw. This goes along with three years of telling me what to wear, who I should vote for, what opinions I was allowed to have, how to do my hair, what to talk about, what career I should get into, what shops I could go into, who I could go out with… sound familiar? It’s all in YA and women’s lit of the Fifty Shades variety! And this is portrayed as okay. Even with E.L. James’ new novel from Christian’s perspective, it’s obvious that she has absolutely no awareness of how destructive and wrong the situation between her characters is. It’s sickening, and I think it does impact how young girls accept this kind of behaviour, and young men learn that it’s “romantic” or okay for them to behave in this manner. I read a Mills and Boon novel where the woman literally gets plastic surgery on her face and gets liposuction to make the man stop belittling her appearance and fall in love with her. She loved him, despite him constantly calling her names and using her sexually, because she thought he knew best and loved her. That is not love, it is abuse. Again, this is supposedly a romance novel. Needless to say, I absolutely raged over that and threw it in the bin so it wouldn’t be read again.

When I ended it, I felt a mixture of sadness and joy. I felt sad for what could have been- he wasn’t always so controlling, it didn’t begin that way. We did have good times, then we had really, really bad times. I was angry about his behaviour through those bad times. It had got to the point that I was cherishing any good time we had, because they were becoming so few and far between. I also felt absolute joy, because I was free. He had no power over me anymore. I could do what I wanted, go where I wanted and I could make all these plans for my future… plans from dreams I knew he wouldn’t allow to become a reality. I wish the women who write these novels and even the characters within them could understand  and experience this level of freedom. It’s liberating as hell.

This behaviour should never, ever be condoned in literature. The women cannot “change” him. He will not change unless he recognises he is in the wrong, which many refuse to do. While you’re fangirling over these characters, take a step back and think critically about their behaviour. If the main character was your best friend, would you tell her to run like the wind? Yes? Then this is not an okay situation. This mentality needs to change, and it needs to change NOW.