Feminist fiction

All posts in the Feminist fiction category

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Master by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives of Women.

Published August 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Master all about?:

In Master, a hunter comes to the Amazon rainforest and purchases a female slave to accompany him on his travels and who he can abuse at will.

What did I think?:

I’m really glad that I purchased The Story: Love, Loss and The Lives Of Women for my Kindle. It’s the sort of collection where I’m finding so many fantastic female authors that I’ve either heard of and been meaning to check out or I’ve never come across them before and I’m getting the most insightful experience into their work. It is obvious that Victoria Hislop has chosen each of these authors and stories very carefully and so far, each short work has had something about it that has made me think, made me laugh and (almost!) made me cry. Obviously, Angela Carter is a huge name in women’s fiction, particularly feminist fiction. I’ve already read Nights At The Circus by her in my pre-blogging days and The Bloody Chamber and I was anticipating something whimsical, strong and special from Master which was exactly what I ending up getting.

Master is the story of one of the most despicable young men in literature I’ve had the displeasure to come across. We don’t really learn too much about his early life, apart from some stories of bullying younger students at school and references to his voracious appetite for violence. As an adult though, he discovers a real passion for hunting – not for love of sport but for the glory of the killing, you understand. (Let me just state that I don’t agree with hunting animals on any level so this story was always going to disgust me!). He decides to travel to the Amazon rainforest in search of bigger and better prey being particularly interested in the big cats, namely jaguars. While there he meets a local tribe and purchases one of their female members to be his personal slave as he continues his killing spree travelling through the forest. He treats her abominably with both physical and sexual abuse until she becomes a shadow of what she once was and has the appearance of something else entirely. Well, let me just say, it wouldn’t be an Angela Carter story if the man won at the end of the day, would it?

If you’ve never read any Angela Carter before and enjoy lyrical language, magical narrative properties and nonsensical events you’re in for a treat. This was quite an odd story but I wouldn’t expect anything less from this author. Along with its quirkiness and at times, shocking moments, comes a story filled with intense power and ferocity that kept me on tenterhooks throughout. I have to be honest and say that I don’t think Angela Carter is for everyone but if you’ve never read her before and you’re curious, I would really recommend one of her short stories so that you can get an idea of her inimitable style and flair which is certainly one of a kind. I have Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales on my shelves and this story has only served to remind me that it simply has to be a future addition to my Short Stories Challenge!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Possum by Matthew Holness from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Gather The Daughters – Jennie Melamed

Published July 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

For fans of Emma Cline’s THE GIRLS and Emily St John Mandel’s STATION 11, this dark, unsettling and hugely compelling story of an isolated island cult will get under your skin.

GATHER THE DAUGHTERS tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.

What did I think?:

Tinder Press are fast becoming one of my favourite publishers, they are bringing out some outstanding books this year so thank you so much to them and to Caitlin Raynor for sending me an advance copy of this unbelievable dystopian story in exchange for an honest review. Gather The Daughters is released today and believe me, you simply must get your hands on it because the narrative and indeed, the world that Jennie Melamed has created is truly stunning and you won’t regret a second you spend reading it.

The story is set on an island which is quite isolated from the rest of the world both physically, separated by a band of water and literally as the way of life experienced by the islanders is not exactly conventional. The society is patriarchal and there are very clear rules about what women can and cannot do, say, be exposed to etc according to “the ancestors,” whose strange rules are law and should never be questioned or disobeyed. There are strict guidelines about not touching daughters in the families until they have entered their summer of fruition i.e. got their first period. It is after then that they are married off and treated as little more than breeding machines with the sole purpose of increasing the population of the colony. However, every summer, the children are let loose on the island to run wild, play, have fun, fend for themselves and enjoy the small freedom that they have before entering a life of drudgery. It is during this one summer that one small girl, Caitlin witnesses something shocking happening on the island and from then on, nothing will ever be the same again.

Wow. Just wow. I could already tell when I read the synopsis that this was a book I simply had to get my hands on and I was over the moon when it surpassed my already very high expectations. The writing is wonderfully sublime, the world-building one of a kind and the characters – like a dream come true. We hear from multiple daughters of the island including Caitlin herself, and the brilliant Janey whose actions when she hears what Caitlin has seen have huge consequences for everyone on the island. Some of the things that happen in this novel are truly horrific, others are nail-biting and it makes for the most amazing debut piece of fiction that I have read in a long, long time. Jennie Melamed has created such a frightening dystopian society that makes you think, gets deep under your skin and has a unique style and voice all of its own. This is an author to watch out for I’m certain and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next – I’ll be first in the queue to read it although I might have to fight for my place when everyone else reads this too!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Living The Dream – Lauren Berry

Published July 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A funny, satirical, sharp and honest look at modern British life from the perspective of two young women. The launch of an exciting new voice from Virago Press.

Emma Derringer is an assistant at a branding agency in London. Each morning she arrives at the office, types in her password (Fresh_He11) and shoves her jacket under her desk (DEAR ALL, Please keep your coats and bags out of sight and NOT on your chairs as they are unsightly. Thx). Most days Emma wears a mask of indifference that disguises either her boredom, her hangover or both. When her overbearing boss isn’t looking she pursues her career as a writer, sending articles, posting blogs and trying to get noticed for her talent, instead of mistakes on her PowerPoint presentations.

Clementine Twist arrives home from a stint in New York with a hefty overdraft, a crushed heart and a waning confidence in her budding career as a screenwriter. She moves in with her mum, gets a job in bar and spends her days composing emails to agents, producers and anyone who might help her onto the slippery ladder of the film industry.

As their 30s loom and the freedom and fun of their 20s gives way to the adult pressures of job satisfaction and perceived success, Emma and Clem realise it’s time to ramp up their efforts, and think about quitting the day job.

Amid life’s larger questions Emma and Clem have to answer to the daily challenges of big city life on a little budget, as well as inane questions about getting their nails did from their mutual frenemy Yasmin, the phone to increasingly technophobic parents and emails to ever more rejection letters.

Living the Dream is a razor-sharp comic novel of office life, friendship and the search for meaning.

What did I think?:

First of all happy publication day to author Lauren Berry with her debut novel, Living The Dream! Secondly, a huge thank you to Grace Vincent and Little, Brown publishers for allowing me to read a copy in exchange for an honest review. To be perfectly honest, I don’t normally read books within this genre. However, when Grace contacted me and I read the synopsis I was in the mood for something light-hearted and funny so I was happy to give it a shot and was intrigued to read a story about a group of twenty-somethings living the hectic, London life attempting to balance work, friendship, having fun and falling in love.

Our story focuses on two girls of a similar age and personality, best friends Emma and Clem (the latter of whom just happens to have a fantastic name – Clementine Twist). They both appear to have what the other one desires, Emma has the stable job in advertising with a steady, decent wage that enables her to pay her rent on the flat she shares with a friend, go out occasionally and treat herself from time to time if she wanted. Clem on the other hand has just come back from New York where she was studying film, getting involved and then breaking up with an idiot actor boyfriend and trying her hand at writing her own script, still to be commissioned as she touches back down on Earth (aka London).

Both girls are miserable. Emma is desperately unhappy at her job and wants to jack it all in to pursue her real dream – writing, but is terrified of making that big jump and losing that guaranteed wage that she has become accustomed to. Clem is attempting to set up meetings with directors and people interested in her script with varying degrees of success but is having to live with her mum and stepfather and is completely broke, forced to take up bar work just to get some money coming in. Living The Dream looks at both girls lives as they attempt to navigate the scary adult world of budgeting and chasing your dream whilst realising the grown up experience might not be everything it’s cracked up to be.

As I mentioned before, this isn’t the genre I would normally go for and, as a result, I didn’t fall head over heels in love with this novel. However, it does have some terrific things going for it and in the right pair of hands would be highly enjoyable I’m sure. I did sympathise with the plight of both characters and enjoyed the strong friendship between the two although also appreciated that the author wasn’t afraid to take the story to darker places on occasion, something I wasn’t expecting. I also liked that this novel didn’t harp on about “finding the right man,” which was a breath of fresh air in this genre and focused more on the interactions between friends than the dynamics of male-female relationships. I don’t really want to criticise the novel as I believe it’s purely a personal preference why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped to and there are no stand out writing flaws or character quirks that I out and out disliked. So even though I may have not been the perfect reader for this story, I can still appreciate the positive aspects of the narrative and am certain there is a strong readership out there who will love it.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Asking For It – Louise O’Neill

Published April 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

It’s the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma.

The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can’t remember what happened, she doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain. But everyone else does.

Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town’s heroes…

What did I think?:

I first came across the amazing Louise O’Neill with her debut novel, Only Ever Yours which won a host of acclaim and the YA book prize back in 2015. Just looking at the title, Asking For It, I knew this was going to be a raw, emotional read but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the feelings it would give me while I was reading it. The author approaches difficult topics, things we don’t necessarily talk about much (but SHOULD) with ease and panache and I finished this novel angry with the world but strangely quite empowered and wanting to do something to change it.

If you haven’t heard already, Asking For It is the story of eighteen year old Emma O’Donovan. Her life is pretty much perfect, she has a host of adoring friends, she is popular, beautiful and clever to boot and is the apple of her parents eye. A lot is expected of Emma, especially by her mother and it is interesting to note how the support network around her fails spectacularly after one night when her whole world falls apart. Emma is under the influence of alcohol and drugs when the event occurs and was so wasted that she has no recollection of it at all. Turning up a bit bruised and worse for wear on her doorstep might have just been another night partying a bit too hard? Until school the next day when her friends ignore her, mock her or just plain won’t meet her eye. For there are explicit photographs of Emma and what happened to her plastered all over social media and she has become the laughing stock of the school. Emma has had a bit of a reputation prior to the incident but she was obviously too drunk/high to give her consent… was she asking for it?

While reading this novel, I couldn’t stop thinking about the issue of consent and responsibility that the author has explored in such a visceral, honest way. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the amount of rape cases that actually end in a conviction i.e. very few and as a result, many women feel scared to come forward as they fear they won’t be believed. It is only widely known that the prosecution only need to get a whiff of “she had been drinking,” before the issue of consent becomes a very blurry one. This just makes me so angry. What right does anyone have to use alcohol as an excuse to not convict someone who has brutally invaded a private, personal space? In Asking For It, Louise O’Neill makes our emotions and attitudes whirl considerably more as Emma O’Donovan is not a likeable character in the slightest. She is rude, bitchy and a nasty piece of work and initially, she was so rotten I felt I couldn’t possibly feel sorry for her. Until the party. Until she becomes a wreck, a broken shell of herself, possibly ruined for life and intensely pitiable. Of course, no matter someone’s personality/past actions, absolutely no one deserves to be violated like that.

We have to start talking about this issue, we simply must try and lift the shame behind having this happen and treat victims the way they should be treated, as a human being with basic rights to their own body that no-one should take away unless they explicitly consent to it. This is why this book is so great – it makes you think, it makes you emotional, it makes you desperate to see change and it makes you worry about every single woman that this has happened to. Certainly nobody is EVER “Asking For It.” A huge thank you to Louise for writing such a strong, passionate story that really opened my eyes.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Faithful Lovers by Margaret Drabble from the collection The Story: Love Loss & The Lives Of Women

Published March 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s Faithful Lovers all about?:

Faithful Lovers is about a couple who, after promising to never see each other again, meet up by chance in one of the places that they frequented.

What did I think?:

I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read any Margaret Drabble before although I am aware of her writing, in particular The Pure Gold Baby which I have a copy of on my Kindle but haven’t had a chance to get to yet. This is why I’m absolutely loving my short stories challenge, I’m coming across authors either I’ve heard of but haven’t read or complete unknowns and when I read a story such as Faithful Lovers, where the writing is pure class, it makes me so excited to catch up with her other works.

The title Faithful Lovers is quite ironic in a way as the couple, Viola and Kenneth are actually illicit lovers who are married to other people yet embarked on an affair. They tried to end things between themselves many times unsuccessfully but eventually managed to break apart for the sake of their marriages. When we meet Viola, she is walking down a street very familiar to her as it hosts a little cafe that the two used to meet in. She goes into the cafe, feeling incredibly sad and nostalgic and sits at “their” little table, ordering the same thing as she always had back in the day. Lo and behold, who should walk in but Kenneth himself who was coincidentally just passing but lets Viola know that he had been in here many times hoping to see her. The two realise that things never really ended between the two of them and they are still hopelessly in love with each other.

Obviously, I don’t recommend affairs to anybody but this was a touching, beautiful little love story that really had me rooting for both Viola and Kenneth. I warmed to them as characters and respected their decision to stop seeing each other but felt strangely glad that they still both felt the same way about each other, despite the long time they had been apart. I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic at heart (although I don’t admit it very often) but tend to steer away from the more cheesy romantic novels which normally leads to much eye-rolling and cringing, personally speaking! This story however was not cheesy or cringe-inducing in the slightest and it seemed like the world and fate had collided to bring these characters back together. Lovely, heartfelt writing that I thoroughly enjoyed and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from Margaret Drabble!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Double Room by Ramsey Campbell from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page

 

Talking About The Muse by Jessie Burton with Chrissi Reads

Published January 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The Sunday Times Number One Bestseller

A picture hides a thousand words . . .

On a hot July day in 1967, Odelle Bastien climbs the stone steps of the Skelton gallery in London, knowing that her life is about to change forever. Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, she has been offered a job as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous and enigmatic Marjorie Quick. But though Quick takes Odelle into her confidence, and unlocks a potential she didn’t know she had, she remains a mystery – no more so than when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.

The truth about the painting lies in 1936 and a large house in rural Spain, where Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, is harbouring ambitions of her own. Into this fragile paradise come artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half-sister Teresa, who immediately insinuate themselves into the Schloss family, with explosive and devastating consequences . . .

Seductive, exhilarating and suspenseful, The Muse is an unforgettable novel about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception – a masterpiece from Jessie Burton, the million-copy bestselling author of The Miniaturist.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: How does The Muse compare to The Miniaturist?

BETH: The Muse is Jessie Burton’s second novel after the roaring success of her debut, The Miniaturist which I thought was great but I actually enjoyed this one more. Physically speaking, they are both beautiful specimens with some gorgeous art but more specifically, they are both works of historical fiction that tell their stories from the perspective of strong women. In The Muse, we actually follow the stories of two women in different countries and time periods but who are strikingly similar in some aspects. There is a link between both stories which is brought together towards the end of the novel but part of the fun of this book is watching it all being brought together.

BETH: There are a number of supporting characters in this novel. Which one was your favourite and why?

CHRISSI: Ooh interesting question. I think my favourite character would have to be Cynth. I really liked their friendship and thought it came across really well in the beginning. It is their friendship that immediately hooked me in the story. I wish we would’ve seen more from her!

CHRISSI: The story is split between London in 1967 and Spain in 1936 – what parallels do you see between the two stories?

BETH: There are a lot of parallels between the two, one being as I mentioned above is the similarity between Odelle and Olive’s strength of characters. Both stories also feature a love interest that at some point in both narratives causes the women some concern for different reasons. Odelle and Olive are also both artists – Olive in the literal sense of the word is a very talented painter and Odelle is a writer. In both narratives they struggle with their art, being in both the thirties and sixties as something not many women did.

BETH: Discuss the character of Marjorie Quick and her relationship with Odelle.

CHRISSI: Marjorie Quick is an incredibly interesting character. I found her really intriguing right from the start. I think she saw something in Odelle right from the start which was really intriguing. Majorie really was an no nonsense character. She seemed incredibly protective over Odelle and I wondered why she was so keen to stifle the interest in the painting. She also seemed cautious over Odelle’s relationship. I found her to be an incredibly complex character and their relationship too seemed complex!

CHRISSI: Jessie Burton evokes two very different settings in London and Spain – how does she create the sense of place and time for both these storylines?

BETH: First of all, I loved that we got two such colourful stories with a multitude of intriguing and diverse characters. The author evokes the sense of London perfectly, from the fashions that were worn to places that were mentioned. It was quite a contrast between sections to be transported from a cold, dreary London to a hot, tempestuous Spain but the author’s use of descriptive prose meant that each setting was available in glorious and vivid detail.

BETH: Did you find any parts of this book difficult to read and why?

CHRISSI: If I’m honest, as I got further into this book I began to lose interest in it. I find Jessie Burton’s writing to be quite flowery and sometimes that doesn’t capture my imagination as much as I want it to. Don’t get me wrong, she is a brilliant writer, she’s just not my cup of tea.

CHRISSI: What was your favourite part of this book?

BETH: That’s such a hard question as I really loved every single minute from start to finish. There wasn’t even a narrative that I preferred, both were perfect and equally fantastic. If I had to choose though it would be a certain scene in Spain when a certain shocking event occurs that I was NOT expecting. (no spoilers!)

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I don’t think so. A great writer- sure, but not one that I’ve connected with during both of her books.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Yes!

Star rating (out of 5):

BETH:

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CHRISSI:

3 Star Rating Clip Art

The Natural Way Of Things – Charlotte Wood

Published December 17, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of a desert in a story of two friends, sisterly love and courage – a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted.

Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls, forced to wear strange uniforms, their heads shaved, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a ‘nurse’. The girls all have something in common, but what is it? What crime has brought them here from the city? Who is the mysterious security company responsible for this desolate place with its brutal rules, its total isolation from the contemporary world? Doing hard labour under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what links them: in each girl’s past is a sexual scandal with a powerful man. They pray for rescue – but when the food starts running out it becomes clear that the jailers have also become the jailed. The girls can only rescue themselves.

The Natural Way of Things is a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted. Most of all, it is the story of two friends, their sisterly love and courage.

With extraordinary echoes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies, The Natural Way of Things is a compulsively readable, scarifying and deeply moving contemporary novel. It confirms Charlotte Wood’s position as one of our most thoughtful, provocative and fearless truth-tellers, as she unflinchingly reveals us and our world to ourselves.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to New Books Magazine and the Real Readers program for sending me a copy of The Natural Way Of Things which was not only a stunning piece of cover art as you can see from the image of the book but was also a thought provoking and, at times, terrifying read. The horror in this novel isn’t from anything supernatural or paranormal however, the monsters in this case are humans that commit the most atrocious crimes and appear to be completely lacking in moral fibre or decency. These are the scariest creatures to encounter, because it reminds you that these type of people do actually exist.

The Natural Way Of Things was inspired somewhat by The Hay Institution For Girls, a real life prison in Australia in the 1960’s that locked up young girls that wouldn’t comply with the strict regime in the Parramatta Girls Home. The routine that the girls had to go through was completely inhumane. They were forced to keep their eyes on the ground at all times, they were kept in cells better fitting an animal and made to undergo hard labour on a daily basis. This is pretty much the situation that two of our main characters, Yolanda and Verla find themselves in when they wake up drugged and isolated with just the Australian outback and a high electrified fence for company.

The two girls find they are part of a larger group of young women whom have all been taken away from the lives they once knew because of some sort of sexual scandal. Each girl is punished immediately by having their heads shaved and their diet severely restricted whilst undergoing back-breaking work in the vicinity of their prison. Their jailers are Teddy, Boncer and Nancy (who masquerades as a nurse, but believe me, doesn’t have a caring bone in her body!) and the girls are constantly mocked, threatened and even beaten if they step out of line. I don’t want to say too much more about the plot but I will say that things are not always as they seem. The jailers themselves end up in a tricky situation that they hadn’t anticipated, one girl becomes a plaything for brutal Boncer in order to receive greater favours and other girls start to go slowly and irrevocably mad.

There is so much darkness and despair in this novel, I fear it might not be for everyone. Some parts you’ll need quite a strong stomach, other parts might make you shake your head in disbelief at the humanity (or lack of) it all. What I can guarantee is that you won’t be able to stop thinking about this book. Parts of it might re-play in your heads for nights to come and the shocking ending might have you wondering, like me, what on earth would happen next if the author chose to continue the story? I haven’t read anything by Charlotte Wood before and this is in fact her fifth novel. What I am certain of is that I’ll be checking out her back catalogue now because if her previous novels are half as disturbing as this one, I’m in for one hell of a ride.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0