Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

(Originally published as The Scandal in hardback)

Genre: General fiction

Similar to: All of Backman’s other work like A Man Called Ove. 

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of ice hockey or overly wordy fiction

Publication date: 3rd May 2018

I’ve been putting off writing this review for a really long time because I thought I’d love this book but I just couldn’t get into it. It took me ages to read and because I didn’t fully connect with the storyline I really wasn’t sure how to review it. So apologies in advance if my review makes no sense – I’m still trying to process my thoughts. 

Beartown or The Scandal (christ, even the name is confusing) is set in a small town in a Sweedish forest. The town is in decline – industry is waning, people are leaving but those who are left all have one thing in common – a fierce love for their ice hockey team. But when their star player commits a terrible crime the town is divided – did he really do it? Is it really his fault? And should his alleged actions go unpunished for the greater good of the team and the town? What follows is an examination of the issue from about 35 different perspectives, all from characters with similar sounding names.

I found this book incredibly confusing. I really struggled to keep track of who was who and what their relationships were with each other, let alone how they felt after the incident. There seems to be something about the way that Fredrik Backman writes that I just don’t like (I also struggled to get into A Man Called Ove). I think it’s his scant character descriptions that initially throw me, plus the rate at which he cycles through each of them that kept drawing me out of the story to check who was who. 

I also found the pacing of the storyline incredibly slow. There’s very little action until a shocking event half way through, then a forensic examination of how the townspeople react. And that’s it. When you’re not sure what the difference between Bobo and Benji is, or where the fuck Lyt came from it’s kind of hard to care about what they think, especially when you’ve got no context for understanding why they might feel that way. 

I have to admire the way that “the issue” was explored. I liked how Backman presented different topics – class, race, privilege, power, money, the success of your children and blended them together to essentially explain the reactions of the town’s residents. Ultimately though, I found the novel really depressing. There’s no doubt that an incident took place (a horrible, illegal incident) but I didn’t feel like there was any kind of satisfactory resolution. It made me feel powerless, as I couldn’t see what the answer should (or even could) have been. I’m sure that’s what the author intended but urgh, it made me want to weep for humanity. Also, I’m not sure that threatening someone with a shotgun is a particularly responsible portrayal of the only way to get revenge on a criminal. What was it trying to say – the law doesn’t work so you need to take matters into your own hands? I can only hope that it doesn’t put anyone off from reporting a crime of this nature. 

Ultimately, I’m aware that everyone loved this book – and you probably will too – so please don’t be put off by my review. It just wasn’t for me.
You can all go ahead and tell me how wrong I am in the comments now 😂 

Rating: Two and a half not-so-jolly-hockey-sticks out of five. 

Confusing and depressing, I really wasn’t a fan.


Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!

 

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Review: Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn

A novella by Fairlight Moderns

Genre: Historical Fiction, magical realism

Similar to: An Eastern European Barbera Pym

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of short, kitschy, fantastical tales but with a dark side. 

Publication date: 11th July 2018

Whilst browsing through NetGalley, I came across four or five flash fiction novellas by Fairlight Moderns. I’d never heard of the publisher or any of the authors, but the books looked so cute and interesting that I chose one to read without even checking the blurb – something I never ever do. However, I’m really glad that I did because Bottled Goods is a tiny little gem of a book (with great cover art).
Set in 1970’s Romania, Alina grinds out a living as a teacher under a communist regime. Her loveless marriage and difficult mother compound the oppression of living in a dictatorship, so when Alina becomes a Person of Interest to the Secret Services it all becomes too much. After asking her Aunt for help, Alina uses the old ways to invoke the magic of her people to deal with her mother and make good her escape. Part terrifying portrayal of a communist regime, part Grimms fairytale, this pressure cooker of a novella is richly evocative of a history that is seldom talked about in mainstream literature.
 
I loved the way that Sophie Van Llewyn built the tension in this book. Although a fairly short story, Bottled Goods was so atmospheric I was completely taken in from the first few pages. The writing was brilliant; emotional but precise. Oddly, I found it reminiscent of The Bottle Factory Outing or perhaps something by Patricia Highsmith – there was something about the way that the tension was layered in with the mundanity of everyday life that was very reminiscent of those mid-century female authors. However, this book brings it’s own distinct Eastern European flavour that really worked with the almost dystopian theme – especially if your knowledge of the Eastern Block has been informed by the terrifying kids tv programmes that were shown in the 1970’s and 80’s (and which was parodied so well by The Fast Show).

I really sympathized with Alina and appreciated how the author didn’t shy away from the horrors of investigation by the Secret Service. I also enjoyed learning a little about Romanian history and culture, as it’s not a country that I’m familiar with. The book really brought home what it must have been like to try to live an ordinary life under a communist regime and the reality of not being able to speak freely (even in your own home) or trust anyone (even your family). I loved how informative it was even though some elements were clearly fantastical.

I have to say that I did find some of the chapters slightly disjointed, especially in the beginning and the ending did feel a little rushed. I can absolutely see how some parts were published seperately, as they almost felt like stand alone stories within themselves.

Although short, this is an oddly charming, terrifying, interesting little book. Brilliantly written, I’d love to hear more from Sophie Van Llewyn – and I’m definitely going to check out some more Fairlight Moderns *watches NetGalley review percentage tumbling*.

Rating: Four tripe soups out of five.

Richly evocative, fantastical and brutally authentic; you’ll devour this treasure of a novella in one sitting.

Please note that I read this book for free via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks NetGalley!

 

Review: Elefant by Martin Suter

​​”True Friends Come in All Shapes and Sizes”

Genre: General fiction

Similar to: A Streetcat Named Bob, but with boring science thrown in

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of Fredrik Backman – it’s a similar style of writing

Publication date: 31st May 2018

Three words: Tiny. Pink. Elephants. 

I’m sold.

However

This book was not what I expected at all. I thought I’d get heartwarming magical realism, I actually got a clinical and scientific. Therefore, I thought there was only one way to review it*…

Elefant: An Analysis of Key Themes and Observed Effects on the Participant


By Lucinda Is Reading…


May 2018


Abstract

Elefant is a novel written by Martin Suter. For reasons unknown, it has become an international bestseller (Suter, 2018). The research aimed to analyse the key themes included within the novel and to explore the impact that these variables had on one participant (the reader). The reader recorded their thoughts and biological responses (emotions) to the novel and this qualitative data was explored in relation to the question “Is this book any good?”

Feedback was mixed and interpretation through a Likert scale resulted in an average score of three (It was ok).

Introduction

Many years ago, I was given some maths homework to learn about coordinates or…something, where you had to mark each one one a grid, join them up and then colour in the picture they created. You were left with four images of elephants, which naturally I coloured in pink. The classes work got put on the wall, but mine was the only one that wasn’t grey and I rembember my maths teacher telling me “that’s good, elephants should be pink”. Twenty five years later, I still agree.
So when I found a book about a tiny pink elephant called Sabu that goes on a wild adventure I was expecting lovely exciting magical realism. My hypothesis was that I would thoroughly enjoy the book.

Elefant is the story of Sabu, a tiny, pink, glow in the dark elephant. She is spotted by Schoch, a homeless alcoholic who assumes she’s just a hallucination. But when Sabu is still there when he sobers up, Schoch realises that she needs to be cared for – and the adventure properly begins. We find out that Sabu was actually genetically engineered to be pink and glow in the dark but that a genetic mutation caused her to be so tiny. Following her escape, the company that made her want her back, so it’s up to Schoch to protect her. Cue living in a mansion, private jets, GPS trackers and a patently unrealistic romance. 

Method

The novel was read over a period of a week and all thoughts and feelings were recorded. This data will be discussed in full in the next chapter.

Results

I thought that this book was a real mixed bag of positives and negatives. Based on a Likert scale of 1 (I did not like) to five (I really liked) I scored the following themes from highest (most positive) to lowest (most negative) thus:

  1. The characters (3/5) 
  2. The the scientific research (3/5).  
  3. The inclusion and representation of social and medical issues (3/5)
  4. The storyline (2/5). 
  5. The writing style (2/5).
  6. The inclusion of moral overtones (2/5).
  7. The inclusion of a highly detailed explanation of elephant insemination, including the procedure for manually procuring elephant sperm (1/5).

    Discussion

    1. The Characters

    Sabu gets bonus points for being adorable – I’ll say it again – tiny pink elephant – but it was difficult to connect with some of the others. Schoch was interesting but for such a short novel there were quite a lot of people involved and so I found most of them to be pretty one dimensional.

    2. The scientific research

    Based on one episode of a Freakanomics podcast (Dubner, 2018), the science around CRISPR Cas appeared to be accurate, so points for that. However, I REALLY didn’t need to know so much about it. I find the whole area of genetic engineering fascinating but if rather read about it in a work of non fiction rather than having long boring passages thrown into a fiction novel. 

    3. The Representation of Alcoholism

    For a book that was so rooted in science I felt that it should have been realistic in other areas too – particularly for social issues such as homelessness or alcoholism. Making Schoch stop drinking *clicks fingers* just like that with no counselling or support was a weird way to develop his character and didn’t sit well within the context of the narrative. I also thought that it minimised the issue.

    4. The Storyline Itself

    I expected something adorable, along the lines of Amelie. I got a low rent James Bond thriller with boring scientific explanations thrown in, plus quite a lot of pointless dialogue. I also thought elephant poo was featured far too heavily. STOP PICKING UP THE POO GUYS!

    5. The Writing Style

    I found the writing really cold, clinical and descriptive without being emotive. I have almost no idea what any of the characters were feeling which really didn’t work well with the storyline. I didn’t like the way that the story started in the middle then went back to the beginning because even though the chapters were dated (honestly, who can remember what date a novel started on) many of them just said “the same day” which is handy if you’re picking the book up again after not reading it for a while.

    6. The Moral Overtones

    I felt like the author thought “shit, everyone is going to be so on board with genetic engineering if they think they can get adorable pets out of it. I’d better chuck in a counter argument”. Honestly, I thought the whole thing was so bluntly shoved into one chapter (never to be mentioned again) that it felt quite jarring. 

    7. The Bad Sex

    Call me old fashioned, but I didn’t need such detailed information about how to get sperm out of an elephant or how to get an embryo back inside one. Poor elephants. 

    Conclusion

    I had such high hopes for Elefant but unfortunately I was really disappointed. I didn’t like the unemotive language, the structure of the novel, most of the characters, the inclusion of the technical science bits, the shoehorned in morality or the elephant prostate massage. 

    Especially the elephant prostate massage.

    I liked hearing about Sabu and I did enjoy the ending but the rest of the novel was a bit humdrum.

    Rating: Three happy endings out of five.

    References

    1. Suter, M (2018) Elefant. 1st Edition, Harper Colins.
    2. Dubner, S (2018) Evolution Accelerated. Freakanomics podcast Series Seven, Episode Twenty. Broadcast 2nd May 2018.


    Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!



    *Yes, I know I’m not supposed to write a report in the first person but writing it in the third person just didn’t scan well, ok?

     

    Review: Girl With Dove by Sally Bayley

    ​​”A Life Built by Books”

    Genre: Autobiography, Memoir

    Similar to: A less extreme version of anything by William S.Burroughs

    Could be enjoyed by: Fans of Victorian literature

    Publication date: 17th May 2018

    You know when a book is trying too hard to be clever and innovative? Yeah. That’s exactly how I found Girl With Dove. I’m sure lots of people will praise the novel for it’s highly original style, but it just wasn’t for me. Frankly I found the whole thing confusing.

    Girl With Dove is the autobiographical (I think – it’s hard to tell) novel of Sally Bayley’s childhood. She seemed to grow up in some kind of large extended family home/commune (again, hard to tell) with some pretty disinterested/depressed adults and (possibly) quite a lot of siblings, although they’re not really mentioned. She seeks refuge from the chaos at home in literature, specifically Agatha Christie, Bronte and Dickins and uses characters from these works to explore what is going on around her. 

    The short version of this explanation is – I don’t really know what this book is about. When I say that Sally Bayley uses fictional characters to explore her life, she quite literally quotes them, daydreams about them and uses them as a kind of shield to view her life from a safer distance. As you can imagine, this gets incredibly complicated. It doesn’t help that there aren’t that many big events that occur for the first 75% of the book, so it’s hard to work out the timeline and to separate fact from fiction (literally). It sounds like an upsetting story of neglect, but so many of the details are lost through the odd narrative style that I don’t really know what to think.

    It’s interesting that Sally Bayley chooses three female characters from literature to help her to try to make sense of her life. She relies on Miss Marple, Jane Eyre and Betsey Trotwood – three strong, sensible, stable  women who act as a weird kind of moral compass. I would guess that these characters appealed to her because she so obviously was missing a decent female role model (and also a decent male role model, but growing up in a house with no adult males this may not have even occurred to her). Unfortunately, filtering your life through fictional characters made me feel very removed from the storyline so I really struggled to emotionally connect with the book. 

    It didn’t help that I’m not familiar with any of the characters that she chose to feature so heavily in the story. Perhaps if I had been I would have found the novel easier to read, but without that knowledge I frequently found myself flicking backwards and forwards, trying to work out what on earth was going on (not easy on a Kindle).

    I don’t doubt that Sally Bayley has fantastic literary skilks, but unfortunately the narrative was so fractured that I feel like she tried a little bit too hard to be innovative and ended up with a confusing mess. I’m going to guess that the jilted narrative flow was done on purpose to reflect the turbulent childhood that she experienced, but I needed at least a few clearly defined events to hang the rest of the story from. I think that in the last quarter of the book, the storyline does become clearer and I enjoyed that far more than the preceding three quarters, but it just wasn’t enough. 

    Overall, I loved the idea of using books as an escape from real life (who hasn’t done that?) but I hated the execution. I read a book years ago called “A Fucked Up Life in Books” which used the same idea but in my opinion did it far, far better. As I said before, some people will love Girl With Dove, but it just wasn’t for me.

    Rating: Two WTF’s out of five.

    Confusing, difficult and overly ambitious, Girl With Dove makes literally no sense. I don’t even know what the title refers to. Best avoided, in my opinion.

    Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley! 

     

    Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

    AKA the review that nearly stopped me blogging.

    Guys, this is the THIRD time that I have written this review out IN FULL because WordPress decided to delete it from my drafts. Of course, it’s chosen to do this with the one review that’s complicated, uses loads of links and isn’t easy to piece back together from my notes. Why? No idea. Does anyone else have this problem? Just me? Aargh!

    Anyway, moan over. On to the review. 

    “You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret…is to press play”

    Trigger Warnings: Suicide, depression, rape, terrible writing

    Genre: Young Adult

    Similar to: I don’t know. I’ve successfully avoided anything this bad for a long time

    Could be enjoyed by: Hopefully, only people who don’t take inspiration from this novel.

    Publication date: 6th August 2009

    You know a novel is going to be problematic when the Samaritans produce guidance specifically for it’s readers. Thirteen Reasons Why is the story of Hannah Baker, a suicidal teen who takes her own life, but not before recording thirteen sides of cassette tape (ask your parents) giving the “reasons” for her death – essentially naming and shaming those who have wronged her and caused her to take her own life. 
    I can’t even begin to explain how mad that ridiculous premise makes me. The depiction of mental health issues in the book is awful; truly a dreadful way to depict depression and glorify suicide. I thought it was at best crass and unhelpful and at worst dangerous. So, I’ve made my own special little mixtape explaining my thoughts and feelings, called:

    Thirteen Reasongs Why I Did Not Care for This Novel 

    Side A

    1.Squeeze – Up The Junction

    (A blow by blow account of a doomed situation)
    Issue number one – the writing. 

    I hated the fact that the book was written as a continuous account of everything Clay did over the course of one night. I didn’t see the point of him wandering round his town, visiting the scenes of the events Hannah was talking about on the tapes. Also, as someone who spent their teenage years making hundreds of mixtapes, they’re always 90 minutes long. So that’s 9 hours and 45 minutes of continuous observation about a boy listening to a tape. No wonder I kept zoning out.

    2. The Smiths – Heaven Knows In Miserable Now 

    Issue number two – the characters. 

    I found Hannah to be a difficult character to like. Yes, she had a lot of really bad stuff happen to her, but the way that she talked about every single thing that had annoyed/upset her started to grate after a while. And I hated the way that Clay took the responsibility for something that clearly wasn’t on him. His inclusion in the tapes made me hate Hannah even more. Everyone else was basically a dick.

    3. The Manic Street Preachers – Suicide is Painless

    Issue number three – the glamorization of suicide. 

    When people kill themselves, they leave a void. A gap in a photo. An empty place at the dinner table. A silence so loud it’s deafening. They do not die in a blaze of vengeful glory. I hated – hated- the way that Hannah’s death wasn’t discussed except in the context of guilt from those who had wronged her before she died. There was nothing about the physical pain, the dreadful, messy, gut wrenching last moments of Hannah’s life, let alone the impact of her death on her family and friends – the anger, the sadness, the lack of understanding, the sheer agony that her suicide caused. Her death was framed as a way of getting revenge and I worry that this could be inspirational to people who are struggling in real life.


    4. Tori Amos – Happy Phantom

    Issue number four – getting revenge from beyond the grave. 

    Similarly, the disembodied voice of Hannah getting her revenge from beyond the grave was incredibly worrying. Hannah. Was. Gone. She did not get her revenge. She wasn’t laughing it up in the afterlife. When she passed away, everyone lost – including her.

    ​5. Metallica – The Unforgiven

    Issue number five – the blame game.

    I really took offense to the idea that someone has committed suicide because they were perfectly happy but then you were horrible to them and now they’ve had to go and commit suicide.

    No.

    I’m sure there are many, many people out there who have had a loved one take their own life and have endlessly blamed themselves for the situation. I’m sure they’ve thought over and over about their actions, the things they said, the texts they didn’t send, the way they didn’t want to ask if everything was ok because they didn’t want to pry. If this has happened to you, I want you to know that IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. I hate that Thirteen Reasons Why totally ignored Hannah’s obvious mental health issues and made out that she would be perfectly happy if it weren’t for her classmates actions. 


    6. The Smiths – There is a Light that Never Goes Out

    Issue number six – the presentation of depression inevitably ending in suicide.

    Suicide does not have to be the end result of depression. There is always help out there and people who will listen to you (I’ve included links at the end of this post). I hated that Hannah only made one vague attempt to get help from a teacher but because he didn’t ask the right questions she completely gave up – and then blamed everyone for not noticing her depression (peak whiny moment – I cut my hair guys – you should have spotted the signs!) Again, there will be people out there blaming themselves for the suicide of a loved one and this book reinforces that guilt which is so, so wrong.

    Side B

    7. Metallica – St. Anger

    Issue number seven – I’m suicidally depressed but I’m going to present it as coherent anger.

    Just – WTF. People who are suicidal are literally not thinking straight. They’re certainly not coherently planning their revenge. I hated that anger was the only emotion presented by Hannah and that all of her sadness/lack of personal care wasn’t shown. At worst this could make someone not associate their own feelings with those of a depressed person and at best was plain unrealistic.

    8. Death Cab for Cutie – I Will Follow You Into the Dark

    Issue number eight – the romance.

    Hannah deliberately used Clay’s feelings about her to guilt him into thinking that he’d done something wrong. I thought that was extra specially messed up.

    9. The Cure – Boys Don’t Cry

     Issue number nine – the way the storyline backs up the lies mental illness tells you.

    Mental illness is like a little voice in your head, tellingly that you’re not good enough, that people won’t care about you, that they’d be happier if you weren’t here. I thought that Thirteen Reasons Why backed this up – Hannah was bullied and broken, she had no way of fighting back, therefore the only way for her to get her revenge was to die and leave the tapes as her legacy. This is all kinds of wrong. There’s always another way out. Hannah did not have to die to resolve this situation.


    10. Kate Bush – Hammer Horror

    Issue number ten – the portrayal of Hannah as a villain

    I really, really didn’t like the way that Hannah was shown as both a victim and a villain. She was clearly ill so I don’t think it’s appropriate to present her as some kind of evil genius, laughing in her grave. Horrible.

    11. Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere

    Issue number eleven – the crass depiction of the suicide game

    Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think that the tragic death of a teenage girl should be turned into a bloody treasure hunt. Someone who is suicidal is by definition not thinking straight and the idea that their death can become some kind of sick game seemed completely crass to me. 


    12. Nirvana – Rape Me

    Issue number twelve – the rape scene

    Ah, the rape scene. I hated everything about it – the way that Hannah does nothing then outs the raped girl on the tapes, the way that it’s written almost as an inevitability – drunk girl at a party, guess what’s going to happen next? and the way that there’s no follow up, no repocussions, no advice or help for the reader. I thought it was totally irresponsible way to portray something so serious. 


    13. REM – Everybody Hurts

    Issue number thirteen – the completely wasted opportunity to have a decent, informative discussion of mental health issues

    Depression, anxiety, low self esteem and a whole smorgasbord of other horrible mental health conditions can affect anyone at any time. I really disliked the entire portrayal of mental health issues throughout this novel and thought that it was such a wasted opportunity to have a realistic portrayal of depression. I’m hoping that responsible parents/guardians/teachers/caregivers will use Thirteen Reasons Why to broach the subject of mental health with teenagers and I’m pleased to see that there’s lots of information out there – well written, professional, decent information – to accompany the series. However, it makes me angry that charities have had to respond in such a way specifically because Thirteen Reasons Why is so problematic. I hope Jay Asher has made some pretty hefty donations to these organisations.

    If you have read or watched Thirteen Reasons Why and you identify with any of the issues raised in the book, such as suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety etc. there’s lots of help available to you. Please, please, please talk to someone you trust, or if you’re unable to open up to someone you know, I’ve listed some helpful organisations below:

    UK & ROI 

    The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by emailing jo@samaritans.org. 

    USA

    The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be contacted on 1-800-273-8255.

    Rest of the World

    The International Association for Suicide Prevention has a great website that lists all of the crisis centres around the world.

    Review: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

    …in which Lucinda turns detective and discovers ALL OF THE SYMBOLISM.

    I had never heard of The Yellow Wallpaper before it was mentioned by the lovely Orangutan Librarian on a-guest-post-on-someone-elses-blog-that-I-now-can’t-find-the-link-for. My sincerest apologies to both the unnamed blogger and the orangutan, especially as it was a really interesting post about forgotten classics. I’m so sorry! 

    As I’ve been in a bit of a reading/blogging slump recently (despite being in the middle of some really good books – seriously, what is wrong with me?) I thought a short novella with a quick review might be the way forwards. What I hadn’t appreciated though is the depth that this tiny-creepy-weird story has. Seriously guys, there is so much symolism, irony, hidden meanings, metaphor, layers on layers on layers of subtext – quite how one author managed to pack so much into 6000 words is beyond me *gazes into the middle distance as that short review (maybe I could use bullet points!) disappears in a puff of smoke*

    On the face of it, The Yellow Wallpaper is a deceptively simple story. A young woman finds herself, upon the orders of her doctor (who is also her husband) in a yellow wallpapered attic room “for her own good”. We’re led to believe that she’s suffered some kind of breakdown in that kind of Victorian fainting fit/get the smelling salts/fresh air and bed rest type way that could be result of anything from wearing your corset too tightly to a full psychotic episode. As the novella goes on the seriousness of the unnamed character’s mental health condition appears to worsen, but so much is left unsaid that it’s entirely left up to the reader to work out what’s going on.

    The clever bit (there are loads of clever bits, but this is the cleverest of them) is the way that the novella is written. You almost don’t notice, but the whole thing is a journal entry so it’s effectively a single point of view monologue with no objective events or actions that you can use as anchor points to work out the “truth”. With such an unreliable narrator there’s huge scope for ambiguity and the author includes “evidence” for various different scenarios. I’m still unsure what actually happened but as far as I can see there are three potential options *with spoilers – look away now*:

    A) The main character is actually mad and her selfless husband/doctor is trying to help her (evidence: mention of a baby suggests post partum depression/psychosis, possibly loving relationship, clear symptoms of poor mental health, administration of drugs)

    B) The husband/doctor is coercively controlling his wife/patient to keep her locked away (evidence: babyish language towards her, I know best attitude, lack of informed consent, inability to stop the treatment by the patient, no knowledge of what medication she is being given (is she a test subject for his research?) conflict of interest).

    C) This is a horror story, everything is actually happening, the room is haunted.

    Or maybe it’s a mix of all three…is the author making a comment on the duality of a caring/controlling relationship – the gilded cage of marriage that so many women during that time found themselves in? Does living in a patriarchy drive you mad? Is a life of domesticity with a husband and baby actually a horror story?

    So. Many. Layers.

    I loved how considered each aspect of the story was, and how there were so many double meaning and metaphors. For example, I could spend hours researching and talking about the choice of yellow –specifically yellow – wallpaper as a title for the book and as a central theme. The decision to name the book after such a symbol of mundane domesticity and to not make it about the central female character speaks volumes – the woman is forgotten, the appearance of the home is key (indeed, she’s unnamed within the text – even when her husband refers to her it’s with silly pet names) her place is quietly within the home. The choice of the colour yellow conjures ideas of sunshine happiness but the main character describes it as being a sickly colour, suggesting a metaphor perhaps for her own ill health, the state of her relationship or perhaps how she views the state of society at that time. Yellow is also the colour of cowardice (is she afraid of her husband? Has her fear of standing up to him got her into this situation? Is she at all self aware of her condition and is perhaps afraid of it – or is it a fear of judgement? Is she afraid of motherhood – and does she feel cowardly for not being able to look after her own baby?) and it’s also the colour that items (specifically paper) turns to as they age – again, is this a metaphor for her own ageing and/or her feelings about the deterioration of her physical and mental health post childbirth? 

    The wallpaper itself is described as having an initial obvious pattern, but a less obtrusive sub pattern (that can only be seen under certain circumstances) with what looks like hidden, creeping women who have tried to break through the pattern but had their heads chopped off in the process. I don’t think it takes a genius to see that again, there’s a clear feminist message here – symbols of creeping women (perhaps suggesting servitude, perhaps suggesting pleading, perhaps suggesting hiding) trying to break free of a dominant pattern (patriarchy? Society in general?) but being executed in the process (metaphorically being shut down, quite literally dying in the case of the suffaragettes). This could also apply to the feelings of the main character – is she oppressed by her marriage and looking for a way out? Or is it her own mind that she’s trying to get away from – is she scared it will kill her?

    I loved the way that the main character describes her marriage, her situation and her surroundings in oh-so-subtly ironic terms. Her ideas that perhaps the room was a nursery (the children have certainly gnawed this bedstead! Look at the bars on the windows preventing them from having accidents!) or as a gymnasium (there’s hoops and suchlike on the walls) when clearly the room (perhaps the whole house – we don’t venture outside) has been used to restrain mentally ill people – I suspect it’s a disused asylum. “But we were so lucky to rent such a large property at such short notice!”

    Similarly, the description of her husband and the reality of their relationship (he cares so much/he’s taken my child and keeps me locked in a room) is presented in overly positive terms. Is the main character wilfully ignoring these facts? Or is it a deliberate attempt by the author to show the ease at which you can make a situation appear normal purely with a few suggestions and clever semantics? I also think the choice of a nursery or gym is interesting – both places where perhaps the main character feels she should be (with her child or working to improve her health) and both happy, healthy places – in direct contrast to the room’s real use.

    The deterioration of the main character’s mental health adds to the overall creepy tone of the story and adds to the sense of foreboding dread. It also means that she becomes less and less reliable as the novella progresses – have the ripped wallpaper, teethmarks on the bedposts and marks on the walls been done by her (and she’s forgotten – perhaps because she’s in the middle of a psychotic episode) or are they evidence of the malign influence of the wallpaper on the room’s previous inhabitants? 
    Although the ending of the book is fairly abrupt and the story is ultimately unresolved I thought it packed a pretty good punch. It’s definitely a story that will stay with me for a long time.

    Overall, I really enjoyed this brief but hugely multi-layered novella. It feels remarkably modern given the subject matter (I think because it’s so sparse) and is so cleverly written that you’ll be thinking about it for weeks – in fact, the more I think about it, the more I find myself reading into it. It’s a perfect short story and as it’s free to download (out of copyright due to it’s age) I’d recommend everyone goes and reads it right now.

    Rating: Five patriarchal symbols of oppression out of five.

    A haunting, creepy, short story with so many layers and hidden meanings you’ll still be seeing hidden metaphors weeks later. Can’t recommend highly enough.

    Similar to: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (for hidden meaning), Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl (for being a bloody good short story).

    Could be enjoyed by: Literally everyone.

    Review: Misogynation by Laura Bates

    This afternoon, I went for a walk. There’s some trees by my house with a path that runs through them to the main road. The road is paved but the trees are quite thick and its quite dark. I automatically went to high alert, put my phone away and put my keys in my balled up fist, just in case.

    As I walked around my local area, three separate van drivers beeped their horns at me. The first time was a man laughing at me. The second time was three men making jeering noises. The third was a man staring intently.

    On my way back to my house, I walked past a carpet shop. Three men were outside loading the van. They all stopped what they were doing to stare at me. One of them made a comment (I’m not sure what he said); the others laughed. 

    This was all in the space of an hour. It is absolutely typical of what happens to me every time I leave the house. 

    I know a lot of people don’t think that street harassment is a serious issue. I’m continually told that a wolf whistle or someone beeping their horn at me is a compliment. I’m told that men telling me to “cheer up love” are just being friendly. I’m told that men grabbing my bum, slapping me on the arse or just having a quick grope on a night out is “just a joke” or that its OK because the person doing it was drunk. If I complain, I’m told to lighten up, to stop being a feminazi, to understand that it was done as a bit of a laugh. 

    Frankly, I’m tired of it all. I’m tired of being expected to play along. I’m tired of being intimidated. I’m tired of people making excuses to shift the blame to me – I’m wearing makeup, I’m wearing a skirt, men can’t help themselves. I’m tired of policing my own behaviour – I can’t walk through those trees, I can’t go into a pub on my own, I can’t talk to a man without it seeming like I was flirting, like I was leading him on, so what did I expect when he pinned me against the wall and tried to ram his tongue down my throat?

    Until fairly recently, I’d felt completely powerless to stop men from treating me like this (I know it’s not all men, but a woman has never harassed or sexually assaulted me – despite being friends with lots of gay and bisexual women and often going to gay clubs when I was a student). The problem is partly that harassment of women is so commonplace that an isolated incident is never going to seem that serious. But that’s the thing – it’s never just one isolated incident. Its the repeated comments, the constant judgement, the myriad ways in which society tells us, over and over, that women are to blame for their treatment by men.

    So thank god for Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism project. By asking people (not just women) to tell her about their experiences with low level harassment, sexism and intimidation she’s managed to shine a light on what many of us have struggled to put into words – how persistent, low level sexism not only affects every single woman I know (and a decent proportion of men) but how the frequency and scale of the issue forms a foundation for sexism to pervade every echelon of our society.

    Misogynation is a collection of Bates’ Guardian articles that were based on the thousands of personal testimonials received by the Everyday Sexism Project website. Bates has taken some of the main themes (street harassment, stereotyping, being patronised, gender pay etc.) and investigated further, pulling in some extrodinary facts and figures to back up her claims. Despite the seriousness of her work, she’s made the book really lighthearted, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek comments and ironic metaphors. I thought that this worked really well to get the message across whilst remaining engaging and accessible. 

    I’m not sure how Bates/her editor/the publishers decided on the order of the essays but I did feel that they were a bit all over the place. It would have been nice to see them grouped by topic (although I did find there was quite a lot of repetition) – perhaps the book would have worked better if the essays had been amalgamated or summarised by topic into individual chapters? Although this would have involved actually writing a book and not just re-publishing articles that have already been put into print (something that always feels to me like a bit of a cop out). 

    I did like the fact that because the essays were short you could dip in and out of the book – it’s an easy one to read if you’ve got another book on the go. I found that despite how hilarious it was, the facts and figures (along with some of the comments which showed the general attitude to what she was writing) could quickly get depressing so it’s great that you can read it in tiny chunks without losing your way. Some of the best parts were the clapbacks to sexist behaviour that people had sent in on twitter – one girl loudly narrated how a man was trying to feel her up on the tube, one girl, when asked if she was on her period replied that if she had to bleed every time she found someone annoying she’d be anaemic by now, and my favourite -a woman who was loudly harassed by builders from a rooftop who, after asking them to stop and receiving a barrage of nasty threats simply took their ladder away. 

    I also loved the element of hive mind support – there were many examples of other people offering practical solutions to problems that others had written in about. I personally felt far less alone in my experiences and more supported in speaking out against misogyny. 

    Overall, I thought that Misogynation was a good, empowering read that really opens your eyes to all of the low level, unreported behaviour which goes on every day. The fact that every story is real and is backed up by hundreds of others all saying the same thing really adds weight to all of Bates’ arguments. The content of the book could have been better defined but I loved the humour, ingenuity and resilience shown by the contributors. I thought it was a great way to showcase an issue that’s so often brushed off or minimised by society. 

    Rating: 3.75 burnt bras out of five (incidentally, did you know that feminists burning their bras is a myth? Thanks, patriarchy!)

    Empowering, eye opening and often hilarious but with a serious message that comes across beautifully.  

    Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!