Since Emily Bazelon first suggested reading Fleishman is in Trouble on the Slate Political Gabfest (one of my favourite podcasts ever), I have been excited to read it. I both like Emily and the general premise: divorce unfolds and man learns about emotional labour. Explaining emotional labour is emotional labour, so I’ll just let you read about it if you’re not super familiar. Continue reading
Tag Archives: feminism
The Power: Red Clocks is better, but everyone will tell you to read this one, so whatever. It’s fine.
Folks. I’m on a streak. Hahaha. You thought I meant sport. Okay, no you didn’t. It’s a book blog. I’m on a reading streak of great books and it is *so* good and owes to all of your wonderful suggestions, so thank you. Probably also a consequence of having for the first time in my life comfortable patio furniture and so there I am every night sipping red wine, reading a novel, out in the evening air like the spoiled middle class lady that you all know and love. Occasionally I think about higher aspirations and then… I return to reading.
So right, this one. Naomi Alderman’s The Power comes with a heap of comparisons to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (about Margaret Atwood, I will have more to say) in the way of some kind of instant dystopian classic. And I’ll grant you it is the kind of thing I can see appearing on a million reading lists, in part for its sheer simplicity of premise, and how incredibly powerful that premise is in helping rethink the present. Right, so the frame narrative situates the book itself as documenting the ancient human race and the time of the Cataclysm (or maybe the break? or the great change? I can’t remember) when girls began to develop electromagnetic powers that allowed them to – at the most basic level – use electricity to zap/kill people. Some more sophisticated ladies figure out how to use the power for mind control and wicked fun things like that. Once girls figure out they can share the power with women, the novel really takes off with the question: what if women had power? (I did warn you it was simple in premise. And title).
From this straightforward question Alderman takes wide range, unpacking domestic violence, sex work, religion, politics, the military, business and law. All in the shift from patriarchal to matriarchal control. In doing so the reader is offered (what really shouldn’t be, but is) a fresh view of how fucking bananas absurd the state of the world is in this real present for women. Where the novel sets up a state – and narrates the introduction of the laws – where men can’t leave their homes unescorted, can’t travel without a female guardian’s permission, the reader at once recognizes this law as utterly and entirely ridiculous. And then recalls that, of course, these same laws apply to women. Or if not in law, in societies where women are made, without the force of state violence, to feel, to be, controlled. At the same time, it is kind of a boring kind of feminism that just flips the tables and says okay now women are also rapists and murderers and anyone with power will exploit that power because absolute power corrupts etc etc. Or not boring, because it did give me occasional pause, but just not a particularly… revelatory set of ideas.
The shifting perspective of characters affords this wide ranging investigation into the branches of societal change a gendered power reversal might impact. I found the shifting a bit choppy in the earlier parts of the book and somewhat disorienting (and not in a purposeful dystopian sort of way, more in ‘who is that again’ kind of way). That said, once the character lines were more firmly established I appreciated the shifting perspectives and the scope they afforded. I would say that none of the characters on their own felt particularly well developed; rather they were stand-ins for their role in the society (the goddess, the military mom, the gangster capitalist). As a consequence, I found the moments of crisis and threat for these characters less riveting than I might if I was invested in their well-being. One notable exception is the male reporter, Tunde, whose motives shift throughout the novel in compelling ways, and whose introduction to the experience of fear is great.
I suppose where my complaint comes in – and this is hard to avoid, I guess – is that this is a book that wants to be be Big and Important and it reads with that sort of drive. Whereas Red Clocks explored the same themes, it did so subtly (and with better writing). I’m not sure whether that’s a legitimate complaint or not, so you can choose to ignore it or not, but when you do read it (or watch the inevitable movie/TV adaptation) you can recall this warning. You’ll feel on every page the sincerity of wanting you to get that this is a book about Ideas.
Oh right. Margaret Atwood. So Atwood selected Alderman to be her mentee. And Alderman dedicated the book to Margaret and Graeme, so I’m guessing they got on well. I’m a cynic, and I know I should just be happy for Alderman, and happy for Margaret that the partnership was so fruitful, but… a cynical part of me wonders if Atwood is so excited about the book because it will a) further drive up sales in the Handmaid’s Tale and b) might distract from the Bad Feminism hoopla of the past years. Or maybe I’m jealous. WHO CAN SAY.
Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion is a hot book of this summer. It’s getting all kinds of press, and hits on all the right issues to get people reading: Trump, feminism, Trump, millennials, Trump, feminism. And it does a few things that make it worth talking about, but it is generally bloated and boring and an unapologetic ode to white, middle class feminism (#notthatthere’sanythingwrongwiththat).
Our protagonist, Greer, is an up and coming millennial in search of her “outdoor voice” (I cannot even begin with the over used ‘metaphor’ in this book of the outdoor voice. There are chapters titled ‘outdoor voice’ in case you missed the point that This Is A Woman Claiming Her Right to Speak and Be Heard). She meets famous second wave feminist Faith Frank and believes Faith – her mentor! her vision of power! her inspiration! – can provide her life with direction and meaning. Faith, on the other hand, is busy making compromises and doing what needs doing in order to advance equality for women. She’s a stalwart of the old guard, and also an embodiment of the limitations of idealistic politics. Which come on. Let’s be clear with one another: compromises will be made. Need to be made.
Then there’s Cory and his relationship with Greer, and his mother, and his brother. And the sort of man we want feminist men to be. And the queer best friend who takes her time finding herself, but ultimately does because she’s true to her values and has an inner core of resilience we can only hope to emulate after years of therapy. And the mega rich philanthropist who tries to redeem himself by throwing money at the problem of inequality (without *cough* actually giving up any of his privilege).
There’s enough there that it should be good. I mean it’s all Zeitgeist all the time. And yet. And yet. It’s just so… boring. I found Greer insufferable. I mean I GET IT. You need to learn to speak up for your own ideas. You need to find your way. Bleh bleh bleh. I don’t know. It’s probably me and the circles I travel in, but no one is spitting their drink across the table when I let slip that I’m a feminist. And the millennials I know (fine fine, I’m a millennial, though C. would point out that I’m not a *real* millennial because I was born in ’84 and so am on the cusp and besides I have a proper middle class job and can barely use my smartphone and I loathe collaboration) are mad and should be that they can’t find permanent jobs, or buy houses, or pay for childcare (oh wait, none of these issues come up for Greer – her issues are all about whether her fancy pants job provides *enough* life satisfaction).
Uhh.. that wasn’t my point. Coming round to it now. The book also takes aim – through the guise of ‘cutting edge blogs’ – at the feminists who aren’t progressive or radical enough, aren’t keeping up with the times. There’s a sort of half-hearted apology for not keeping pace with changes within feminism, and then a return to the resolution of plodding forward on the same path. I’m not hip enough to feminist currents. What I do know is this: I’m a feminist and I did not like this book. But more importantly, I think, I’m a reader and I did not like this book. It’s politics didn’t bother me, what bothered me was the cement-drying-paced plot, the absence of real character development, and the reliance on Hip to the Moment politics for making a splash.
So if you’re assembling your summer reading list, let me urge you to pass on this one. Or not. Your novels, your choice.