‘Three Women’ – Lisa Taddeo This book confused me. Pre-publicity led me to believe it was going to be an exploration of the lives of three American women, their ‘unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions.’ Hmmm, I’m not sure it delivered on any of those. Basically, the books follows three women at a crux in their lives: Maggie, whose teenage affair with a school teacher haunts her until, years later, she accuses the teacher of inappropriate behaviour; Lina, trapped in a dull marriage and now finding exciting sex with another man; Sloane, a woman with a lifetime of struggling with her body image, finds her happy marriage spiced up with sex with a third party. The problem is that we never really get further than detailing of events. What are the women’s thoughts on what is happening to them? What about the context of the situations, the thoughts of those who also form part of these stories? Without a complete picture the reader is forced to fill in gaps and come to conclusions which may, as a result, be groundless. And sometimes the book is a little confusing: For example, when Maggie’s former lover is in court, the trial descends into the now familiar tale whereby a woman is not believed because she isn’t good looking enough, she isn’t cultured and fashionable enough or that she is simply too bolshy to deserve sympathy:
‘The people who believe Maggie Wilken is doing it for money are often the same people who believe women who don’t keep themselves pretty will be responsible for losing their men.’
I’m not saying this conclusion is necessarily wrong, but how is this conclusion reached? Whose conclusion is this Maggie’s or the author’s? It smacks of lazy writing.
Also why were these particular women selected to be trailed for eight years in order to record their stories? Were these women selected because of the situations they were in and, if so, what is the author suggesting these stories tell us about women’s position in society? There is nothing unfamiliar in these women’s lives, their stories of being on the receiving end of both blatant and subtle everyday misogyny often told, and maybe that is the point. But without sparkling prose, bright and sharp analysis the reader is left with a huge ‘and?‘ by the end.
A confusing disappointment. I’ll stick with Nancy Friday.
‘Water Shall Refuse Them’ – Lucie McKnight Hardy. This book was always going to appeal to me: Great cover, lovely typography and folk-horror hints on the back cover.
Following the drowning of her younger sister, Nif and her family travel to a small Welsh village for the summer. It is 1976, hot and Nif is racing through puberty. The village is unwelcoming, blaming all new comers, including Nif’s near neighbour Mally and his mother, of being related to the witches who brought plague to the place, many moons ago.
Unfortunately for this book it the latest in a number of ‘coming-of-age’ stories set in the past and entangled with larger themes, possibly the best of these being Melissa Harrison’s ‘All Among the Barley’. This led to a little too much deja vu, but it was redeemed by the quite startling revelation(s) which hinted at a writer who, perhaps, could have written with more abandon and created something which is and of, itself. That said, I will definitely look out for her next book.