Of Angels and Mermaids: Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder

Cross-posted from: Old Wives Tales'
Originally published: 31.12.16

On 17 December 1869 twelve-year-old Sarah Jacob, the daughter of a Welsh farmer, died of starvation and dehydration. She did so in the midst of plenty, watched over by several adults, including members of the medical professional, who were seeking to ascertain whether or not Jacob could live without food and drink.

In the two years leading up her death Jacob’s parents were insistent that their daughter required no earthly sustenance whatsoever. Her father even went so far as to claim that to feed Sarah would kill her. She became a national celebrity, receiving visitors who saw her as a living saint. Yet it took only eight days of observation, during which she could no longer access whatever nourishment she had till then been taking in secret, to kill her.

In her last days Jacob stole a bottle of eau de cologne from one of the nurses observing her, concealing it under one arm. She also managed to open a stone hot water bottle using her toe, but it spilled over her bed before she was able to drink the contents. She was clearly very desperate, yet under intense pressure from so many credulous observers, she could not reveal the most obvious of truths: that she was not a heavenly being, but an earthly child with basic physical needs. …

 

You can find the full text here.

‘Old Baggage’ by Lissa Evans – a review at Madam J-Mo

Cross-posted from: Madam J-Mo
Originally published: 20.07.18
For nearly a decade, I’ve kept my eyes open for books about the suffrage campaign (and written about many of them on this blog). And while I’ll happily devour both fiction and non-fiction with a suffrage bent, I’ve a strong preference for fiction – because it seemed so hard to come by until recently.
Last February, I stumbled upon a copy of Crooked Heart by Liisa Evans and absolutely adored it (you can read my review here). It followed ten-year-old Noel who had been brought up by his godmother Mattie, a former suffragette, and it was a smart, buzzy and interesting take on the suffrage novel. So it made sense that I was also going to love Lissa’s new novel, Old Baggage, which was published recently.  …
Madam J-Mo: Pop culture, feminism and women’s suffrage

Good biography, bad biography – two brief book reviews

Cross-posted from: Adventures in Biography
Originally published: 27.04.18

This year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography was Caroline Fraser, for Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

If, like me, you read the Little House on the Prairie books as a child, then you already know all about Laura Ingalls Wilder. She grew up in the 1800s on the American frontier, with Ma, Pa, blind sister Grace and little sister Carrie.  Ma was endlessly patient and good, and jovial Pa was wise and strong and brave. There were blizzards and locusts, danger and drama, all tempered by the family’s love for one another. I loved those books, but I’ve not been tempted to reread them, for fear that I’ll be disappointed.

So I was keen to read this biography, apparently the first ever written about Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m surprised at that – did other biographers assume that Ingalls Wilder had written so thoroughly about her own childhood and early married life that there was nothing more to say? In fact there was plenty more to say – and biographer Fraser says it all, in excruciating detail. Readers, I couldn’t finish this book. …

 

The full article (and a review of Victorians Undone: Tales of the flesh in the age of decorum by Kathryn Hughes) is available here.

Adventures in Biography: I have a young family and a demanding day job but in my spare time (!) I’m working on a biography of one of Australia’s first white colonists: Elizabeth MacArthur. So far in the course of working on the manuscript I’ve met some wonderful people and travelled to some amazing places. I thought it was about time to share the wonder and my amazement.

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma: a book review at Obscure & Unnecessary Drama (content note)

Cross-posted from: Obscure & Unnecessary Drama
Originally published: 26.03.18

Screen Shot 2018-08-09 at 07.50.19I have taken pride in saying that all my book reviews, for the most part, have been spoiler free. And today I am preparing to violate that.

It genuinely serves twice as hard to review a book like Forbidden when the reader feels a multitude of emotions on a particularly taboo subject. I scoured Goodreads reviews, blog reviews, Booktube reviews and debated whether writing about this book would make me seem like a lunatic to my readers or would they be intrigued.

All I can say at this point is to proceed with caution and with a good measure of open-mindedness. …

 

You can find the full review here.

Obscure and Unnecessary Drama : Mehreen Shaikh, an Indian writer born and raised in Oman. Although I do visit my country of origin annually, I did spend a few years there studying. Not just academics but our society. Narrowing down further, I observed the relationship it had with women. I was brimming with observations and outrage. It took me a good while to tame my angst and harness it into proper valid arguments. Now I blog, where I feel free to rant about issues that I notice that most people would dismiss as minor but I know how the woman in that instance would feel. So many thoughts and so many incidents take place in a woman’s world that by no means are simple or easy to resolve.

The Blood on My Hands by Shannon O’Leary, a review via @Durre_Shahwar

Cross-posted from: Durre Shahwar
Originally published: 26.07.16

“Set in 1960s and ‘70s Australia, The Blood on My Hands is the dramatic tale of Shannon O’Leary’s childhood years, growing up with an abusive father, who was also a serial killer. No one, not even the authorities, would help O’Leary and her family. The responses of those whom O’Leary and her immediate family reached out to for help are almost as disturbing as the crimes of her violent father. Relatives were afraid to bring disgrace to the family’s good name, nuns condemned the child’s objections as disobedience and noncompliance, and laws at the time prevented the police from interfering unless someone was killed. “

 

 

The Blood on My Hands is a gripping read, with underlying tension throughout the book, right from the beginning. Every recollection is detailed and concise, be it the author’s memories of her pets and animals or her days at school. It is full of rich descriptions of the characters and the hot Australian setting. The book has a structured, chronological timeline of events, which works without losing the storytelling/memoir feel.

Yet this is not for the weak-hearted. The story is gruelling and traumatic, not for the shock effect, but because this is a story that needs to be told, and the detailed account is an evidence of that. It could be argued that it didn’t need to be so detailed and horrific, and the more traumatising recollections could have been toned down. However, while as a reader, I see the reason why others may feel this way, but as a human, there is credit to be given to Shannon for being so honest and vulnerable on the page.  ….

 

The full text is here. 

HerStory (Durre Shahwar)I’m a writer, a book reviewer, and an MA Creative Writing graduate. As a South Asian female, I’ve identified as a feminist, since a teen and to this day, I’m writing about what that means and trying to put my experiences into words. My blog was named ‘Herstory’ after my research into Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own during my degree. The term has been the driving factor behind my writing. We all have stories to tell, voices that need to be heard, especially from women of colour, and I hope to be one of them. On my blog, I write book reviews and other content related to the craft of writing and sometimes, academia. I’m interested in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, mental health, intersectional feminism, gender, religion, art, yoga – though not always in that order or mixture! I’m slowly getting my writing published, and trying to review more book by women/women of colour, for which, I am happy to be contacted for via my blog or on Twitter: @Durre_Shahwar.

 

‘A Petrol Scented Spring’

Cross-posted from: J-Mo Writes
Originally published: 02.02.18

A Petrol Scented Spring by Ajay Close

https://madamjmo.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/a-petrol-scented-spring.html

 

Wow! This book has been sitting on my To Be Read pile for well over a year. Thankfully, something made me finally pick it up to take on a succession of long train journeys at the weekend and I am now a) kicking myself for not having read it sooner and b) praising myself for picking such an absorbing and compelling and wonderful book to accompany me on my travels.

A Petrol Scented Spring by the Scottish author Ajay Close came to my attention via nothing more exotic than my periodic online search for novels about the suffrage movement. But this is far from your bog-standard suffrage novel; this is something quite, quite different.

Set in Perth, Scotland, we are offered a rare glimpse of suffrage life north of the border, which is a welcome change from the majority of novels that are London-centric. As such, the real-life characters who Ajay has used as the basis for many of her characters in the meticulously well-researched A Petrol Scented Spring are not ones I had previously known of, but have now becomes ones I want to know more about.
Read more ‘A Petrol Scented Spring’

Wild Politics by Susan Hawthorne

Cross-posted from: Mairi Voice
Originally published: 19.01.18

 

“What I hope for is a world filled with richness, texture, depth and meaning. I want diversity with all its surprises and variety. I want an epistemological multiversity which values the context and real-life experiences of people. I want a world in which relationship is important, and reciprocity is central to social interaction. I want a world which can survive sustainably for at least 40,000 years. I want a wild politics”.


Read more Wild Politics by Susan Hawthorne

Surviving Sexual Violence – a review

Cross-posted from: Trouble & Strife
Originally published: 22.01.15
Ever since it began publishing in 1983, T&S has included an occasional ‘classic review’ feature in which a contemporary feminist re-reads an important text from the past. The latest addition to the series features Liz Kelly’s groundbreaking 1988 book Surviving Sexual Violence. Revisiting it in 2015, Alison Boydell finds it as relevant as ever.I first read Surviving Sexual Violence (SSV) in the 1990s for a postgraduate Women’s Studies dissertation about abusive men who murder their current/ex-partners. Today my understanding is informed by both reading and experience of working with survivors: I am involved in providing front line services to survivors of sexual violence, and will be shortly working in the domestic violence sector. I’m also studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Advocacy for Victims of Sexual Violence: SSV is on my reading list. Since it’s now more than a quarter of a century since it was first published, this is surely a testament to Liz Kelly’s work.

In the 1970s, feminists had analysed rape as an act of male power, raised awareness about its prevalence and deconstructed the myths that surrounded it. However, it was only later that literature about other forms of male sexual violence began to emerge. SSV focused on a wide range of manifestations: it was one of two ground-breaking books published in 1988 which forced childhood sexual abuse onto the public agenda (the other was an American self-help book, Ellen Bass and Laura Davis’s The Courage to Heal).


Read more Surviving Sexual Violence – a review

Ecstasy of a Feminist Tragedian in New York by @RoseAnnaStar

Cross-posted from: I am because you are
Originally published: 18.05.16

The New York StoriesThe New York Stories by Elizabeth Hardwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For me this collection divides along a line between story-driven episodes that unfold ideas & characters from a narrative, and pieces that dissolve these elements in a diffuse, intensely poetic, emotionally charged meandering. But perhaps I’m being overly convergent in seeing a line when I should detect a field of ambiguity and shade.

I often struggle with plotless writing but when I can feel a depth of glowing emotion as I can here I can appreciate. Hardwick conveys a moody, conflict-ridden yet implacable and transcendant love for New York City, partly (I’m not entirely sure how she achieves this shimmering web of effects) by piling images one atop the other in a profusion of witty contrasts. Another way she does it is by introducing vulnerable and unconventional personalities in a way that makes NYC seem like a sheltering haven where the fragile can survive. 
Read more Ecstasy of a Feminist Tragedian in New York by @RoseAnnaStar

Her Story Arc’s Best Feminist Books of 2017

Cross-posted from: Her Story Arc
Originally published: 29.12.17

This was the year Her Story Arc became F-BOM, the Feminist Book of the Month. Not to be conceited, but we consider ourselves pretty qualified to pick a good book! Working with self-published women authors to promote their work and give them more time and money to focus on their art has been an inspiring journey, and we are so looking forward to all the readers and writers we will meet in 2018, AND all the good books we’ll get to share.

Our Winter 2018 F-BOM author partner will be announced on January 1st, and we know you’re going to love her work! But first, let’s take a look back at the best feminist books of 2017. Like last year’s list, not all of these were published in 2017, but if we read and loved them in 2017, then they count. Here we go!
Read more Her Story Arc’s Best Feminist Books of 2017

Radical Feminism Today by Denise Thompson – a review at Mairi Voice

Cross-posted from: Mairi Voice
Originally published: 03.08.17

denise thompson

I have just had the pleasure of reading Denise Thompson’s book. It is my part of my personal on-going exploration of feminist theory and thought.

Although I have worked for many years as a feminist activist, particularly in the field of male violence against women and children, and have thus read and discussed feminism, I hold some trepidation in writing this blog.

I claim no expertise in feminist theory – but am in the process of learning and developing my knowledge and want to share my journey with you. I can only hope that I can do justice to Denise Thompson’s book which I highly recommend.

This blog is not going to cover all the range of issues that are discussed in the book. Rather I will attempt to focus on her understanding of radical feminism.


Read more Radical Feminism Today by Denise Thompson – a review at Mairi Voice

Mercè Rodoreda’s A hell below this one, at (I am because you are)

Cross-posted from: (I am because you are): Trying to Decolonise My Mind
Originally published: 08.12.16

The Time of the DovesThe Time of the Doves by Mercè Rodoreda
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

Lacking a mother to advise her, Natalia, whose ideas of romance and beauty seem to be symbolised by the colour white, which she loves to wear, is picked up by a douchecanoe so selfish and arrogant he takes her name from her and proceeds to arrange her life and possessions at his service. Eventually he fills their home with doves, another white creature coerced violently into confinement. Natalia is living in hell, but it seems there is a hell below this one because along comes the civil war and a famine that sucks the heart and spirit and flesh from the shell of the body 
Read more Mercè Rodoreda’s A hell below this one, at (I am because you are)

Favourite books of 2017, by @saramsalem

Cross-posted from: Neocolonial Thoughts
Originally published: 08.12.17

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 21.52.54.png

This year has been the year of fiction. Mostly because it was an especially intense year in terms of work, and when I find myself overwhelmed with academic reading, writing, and teaching, I find fiction a much-needed way of relaxing. There are two fiction books I am currently making my way through which I hope to finish before the end of the year, but I haven’t added them to the list; one is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and the other is 4321 by Paul Aster (1200 pages!) Pachinko in particular is just stunning, and it’ll be a painful one to say good 
Read more Favourite books of 2017, by @saramsalem

Magana, by @mttmfeed

Cross-posted from: More than the music
Originally published: 13.02.17

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.27.09When did you begin making music, and did you ever ponder a different career?

I’ve been singing ever since I remember. Though my first instrument was piano…I was probably 9 and my family ran a fruit stand all summer long, which meant long hours of sitting around in the sun or organizing watermelons. I went to the church that was down the road and started taking lessons from the pastor’s wife in order to escape the boredom. We paid her in fruit.
Read more Magana, by @mttmfeed

The Golem and the Jinni (small spoilers), at Her History Arc

Cross-posted from: Her Story Arc
Originally published: 05.11.17

During a long Sunday walk, I found the Golem and the Jinni in a Little Free Library. After reading the jacket, I was sold. I’m a sucker for mythology, so I just had to take the Golem and the Jinni home.

The book first introduces Chava, the golem. She’s a woman formed from clay, made to serve, protect, and be the “perfect wife” for a man who paid for her creation. However, this relationship doesn’t last long, as her “husband” dies on the voyage from Poland to America. Chava escapes into 1890s New York City and settles in a Jewish neighborhood, hiding in plain sight. 
Read more The Golem and the Jinni (small spoilers), at Her History Arc

THE ONENESS IS THE GREATEST – #SANCTUMBRISTOL, by @elizabethethird

Cross-posted from: Elizabeth the Third
Originally published: 19.11.15

Every time I have read about spirituality, and usually when I am reading anything vaguely self-help-y, and sometimes when I am trawling through the Internet, there is a message that keeps coming back. That we are one. All of life, all of the Universe is, or is part of, the same organism, essence, energy.

I’m not too interested in debating or justifying this though I’ll happily discuss it, and often do, when someone is willing to engage with the idea. But without any religion, I have always believed that somehow we are all connected. I don’t know why, and I can’t really explain it. I don’t need to.

My best friend believes that we are imbued with the Holy Spirit, the same spirit of her God; my other best friend is an atheist, but does believes that we each have a soul, or spirit of some kind, and that we are connected to each other through mutual dependence and a moral responsibility to each other, simply by being alive and in proximity.

I’m not sure I can describe my experience of ‘oneness’, other than to say that at times I feel a connection, an emotional mirroring, and a rush and pull so visceral that it’s frightening, as though the soul I haven’t yet decided whether or not I have is being clamped and dragged from my body. I often shut that feeling down, especially since this happens most often when I am faced with the pain of others. Pain I’d rather not feel with no power to act on it, that’s not mine to fully grasp anyway, that’s distorted and egged on by my imagination and my adrenal glands.
Read more THE ONENESS IS THE GREATEST – #SANCTUMBRISTOL, by @elizabethethird

How Game of Thrones Debunks Archetypes of Women, by @slutocracy

Cross-posted from: Slutocracy
Originally published: 04.08.17

It wasn’t so long ago that Game of Thrones was widely criticised for its initial portrayal of female characters as powerless victims. In my view, the disconnect between the books and TV series was the main factor in these concerns: scenes such as Sansa’s (Jeyne Poole in the books) abuse was shot for TV in a way which emphasised a male character’s (Theon Greyjoy’s) reaction; scenes critical of male-on-female violence were cut. Perhaps just as importantly, the books’ presentation of systemic oppression of the poor, disabled and even children- not just women- was not as apparent onscreen.

Obviously, all that changed during Season 6. Now, with Sansa as acting ruler of the North, all the contestants for the Iron Throne are women. (Unless Gendry shows up to stake a claim as Robert Baratheon’s bastard). However, Game of Thrones has gone further than simply having powerful female characters. Intentionally or not, both the show and the books take down classical archetypes of women which have existed in the west for centuries.
Read more How Game of Thrones Debunks Archetypes of Women, by @slutocracy

The Goddess “Wonder Woman”: A Feminist Review at Her Story Arc

Cross-posted from: Her Story Arc
Originally published: 06.05.17

It’s hard to know where to start. When it was announced that Wonder Woman would be getting her own movie years ago, I was excited that the debut would coincide with the year I anticipated graduating from my MBA program. A year and a half ago I was excited that the movie debut would coincide with having the first female President of the United States. What a year 2017 would be, I thought.

My MBA graduation has ended up being delayed a year, and that’s fine. But we all know how the presidential election turned out. We march. We protest. We persist. We aren’t sorry.

And we needed Wonder Woman. I needed Wonder Woman. 


Read more The Goddess “Wonder Woman”: A Feminist Review at Her Story Arc

Broadchurch, Call the Midwife, Vera – Male Violence Against Women

Cross-posted from: Mairi Voice
Originally published: 07.03.17

There is not much in the way of quality programmes on TV, so it was with some delight that I looked forward to last weekend when three of my favourite programmes – Broadchurch, Call the Midwife and Vera  were going to be on ABC TV in Australia.

And each of them dealt with male violence against women.

In Broadchurch, Trish, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh is a victim of sexual assault. She portrays the trauma of rape very realistically and sympathetically, forgetting her name and many of the details of her experience.

We see the detail of the forensic investigation, such an intrusion in itself. The detectives, Ellie Miller played by Olivia Colman and Alec Hardy played by David Tennant, respond to Trish with compassion and sensitivity.  The whole ambiance of these scenes acknowledges the trauma and pain of sexual assault.

“The considerable effort they have put into portraying the trauma of sexual assault sensitively and accurately is hugely welcome. Broadchurch, along with the likes of the BBC’s Apple Tree Yard, is helping to make significant strides in dispelling the myths and stereotypes around sexual violence.”  Rowan Miller
Read more Broadchurch, Call the Midwife, Vera – Male Violence Against Women

A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging- Dionne Brand

Cross-posted from: Les Reveries de Rowena
Originally published: 23.10.16

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I have not visited the Door of No Return, but by relying on random shards of history and unwritten memoir of descendants of those who passed through it, including me, I am constructing a map of the region, paying attention to faces, to the unknowable, to unintended acts of returning, to impressions of doorways. Any act of recollection is important, even looks of dismay and discomfort. Any wisp of a dream is evidence.- Dionne Brand, A Journey to the Door of No Return

There’s a short list of books that I’d say have recently changed my worldview and how I view things. This is one of them. From my research into the black diaspora through literature, art, and stories, etc, I always marvel at is what was saved and what was lost. This book goes a lot into what was lost and I read it from a personal place, identifying strongly with many of its themes.

The main premise of this book is the Door of No Return in the Black diaspora. The door in the book’s title is defined as “a place, real, imaginary and imagined…The door out of which Africans were captured, loaded onto ships heading for the New World. It was the door of a million exits multiplied. It is a door many of us wish never existed.”  I think I’m fortunate to know where my “door” is; but for others in the diaspora this relationship is much more fraught with confusion. Because The Door is not an imagining for me,  I initially felt that the book was more suited to North American and Caribbean Black people who might not know their origins, but the more I read the more I saw that oppression was universal and the Diaspora has a strong connection: 
Read more A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging- Dionne Brand

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