REVIEW: Girl, Woman, Other

‘If a woman has to cripple herself to signal her education, talent, intellect, skills and leadership potential then so be it.’

Why Did I Read This Book?

This book has been on my ‘To Be Read’ list since seeing such great reviews of it all over my social media feeds. Call me a sheep, but I wanted to see what all the hype was about. I wanted to be part of the craze. 

What Did I Think?

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, you will LOVE this book. Like Homegoing, the stories are entwined with each other’s, with Girl, Woman, Other featuring interconnected tales about a group of black British women.

Each character gets their own chapter and you are taken on a defining journey of different experiences, feelings, backgrounds and choices. Bernardine Evaristo grants us access to the stories of how 12 women move through the world in various decades and ultimately learn about the repercussions of being a ‘woman’. Each complex and flawed in their own way, every character shows us how to live life to the full, despite the problems you may encounter. 

Evaristo re-visits timeless questions about feminism and identity in the experiences she narrates. Feminist thinking is constantly challenged and explored through each character, whether they be rich or poor, gay or straight, sexually confident or sexually confused, fertile or infertile, loved or hated. 

You may find the way it is written challenging at first, but if you persist, it will become easier and easier to read, allowing you to move through each chapter effortlessly. The book encapsulates black women of different generations, faiths, classes, politics and heritages, whose stories are marvelously intertwined with one another’s.

Although this book may concentrate on the everyday struggles of black women living in modern Britain, it is safe to say that you cannot escape the fascinating tales of love, happiness and creativity that each account holds.

‘I learnt first hand how women are discriminated against, which is why I became a feminist after I’d transitioned, an intersectional feminist, because it’s not just about gender but race, sexuality, class and other intersections which we mostly unthinkingly live anyway.’

REVIEW: The Confessions of Frannie Langton

‘A man writes to separate himself from the common history. A woman writes to try to join it.’

Why Did I Read This Book?

As I’ve probably mentioned before, the Gothic genre has to be one of my favourite genres. So much so, I even did my dissertation on Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray. I could curl up with a late 19th Century Gothic any day given the chance. So when I read the reviews of The Confessions of Frannie Langton and the words ‘Gothic’, ‘terror’ and ‘horror’ were reappearing, I could not wait to get my hands on a copy.

What Did I Think?

The story follows a Jamaican slave who is brought to Georgian England and ‘gifted’ by her owner to his friend. She is accused of murdering her new master and mistress, George and Marguerite Benham and through Collins we are able to hear Frannie’s story, from beginning to end. 

Gothic elements run through the novel, with Frannie assisting her master with horrific human experiments. From this terrifying experience however, Frannie learns how to read and write. Through Frannie’s written account, the novel seamlessly gives voice to a female minority in a society that would have typically silenced her. 

Jane Eyre ‘tones’ echo throughout its pages, as Frannie is a powerless child brought up horribly in a terrible place. Yet, Frannie finds empowerment through books and reading which ultimately separates her from other slaves and even from the white servants.

‘She had the knowledge from her mother, old knowledge. So long as you carried it in your head they couldn’t take it away, she used to say. Not like weapons, or food, or clothes.’

There is an impressive variety of themes at play, including race, gender, class, sexuality, depression, science, education, drug misuse and the psychological effects of servitude. All of which, Collins encapsulates in their entirety. 

Upon finishing the book, I listened to a podcast in which Sara Collins discussed her novel and what I didn’t realise is that she was a lawyer before she embarked on her creative writing masters at Cambridge University. This may be why this Gothic novel begins at the Old Bailey. She goes on to say that she didn’t want this to be just another slave narrative that dehumanises the protagonist. And I’m so glad.

Frannie has this fire in her that differentiates her narrative to other historical fiction I have read. Her determination to be more than what society allows is truly admirable. Her story makes me question if Frannie is so strong-witted because Collins felt so passionately about allowing this character to come to life within the pages we flick through. 

Perhaps the only thing I can criticise about this novel is that it was slightly longer than it needed to be, yet if you prevail, the rewards are invaluable…and you’ll get a beautiful book sitting on your bookshelf too!

Shakespeare Week

‘Something wicked this way comes’

A WHOLE week dedicated to Shakespeare you say? Oh, what joys! I reckon the sadness that lengthened Romeo’s hours, was not having a national Shakespeare Week, do you agree?

If this is your idea of hell, just bear with me. This week (16th-22nd March) has been national Shakespeare Week which is aimed at primary school children to help enrich their early learning years with our Bill’s work.

Shakespeare is always something that seems incredibly daunting, even to the most avid reader but if you’re like me, once you read one of his plays and familiarise yourself with the language, you will find that Shakespeare was actually a pretty funny guy!

Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare play, having studied it in great detail and being such a HUGE fan of the Gothic genre. I love the depiction of Lady Macbeth and my heart always goes out to Macbeth whose mind was ruined with the thought of power. I would definitely be as mad as him if my tarot reading told me I was going to win the lottery. I would probably start spending the money in my head weeks before!

The website www.shakespeareweek.org.uk offers a great range of free activities, workshops and resources to help children learn and understand his works. From the retelling of his most famous plays to art and crafts activities, the website offers everything you need to keep your little ones busy during this crazy and uncertain time.

And I wouldn’t say that you have to be a kid to enjoy these works, Shakespeare should be enjoyed all!

REVIEW: Normal People

‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know why I can’t be like normal people.’

Why Did I Read This Book?

Named as the ‘literary phenomenon of the decade’ and deemed as a ‘future classic’, why in the world have I only just got round to reading Sally Rooney’s Normal People? I always tend to steer away from romantic novels and I have to admit that this book had never really excited me. That was until I saw an article on how Sally Rooney became the youngest novelist to be nominated in the Best Novel Category at the Costa Awards. So I thought it was time to see what all of the hype was about.

What Did I Think?

What I love the most about this book is the portrayal of relationships in the modern-day. There were times when I could completely relate to the events and thoughts of the two protagonists, Marriane and Connell. Perhaps that’s because I’ve had the pleasure (or not) of dating during the surge of social media and ‘casual’ relationships. 

The heartbreaking and honest depiction of being young and in love reassures you as the reader that what you went through when you were in high school and college was common amongst nearly everyone. Some of the relationships that both Marianne and Connell go through, not just romantically but with family and friendships, are far from perfect and it’s so fascinating to go along their journey to happiness with them.

‘Life offers up these moments of joy despite everything.’

What was truly upsetting to me was that both characters go through moments where they are struggling with where they are in life. That they feel they should have ‘normal’ lives as everyone else does. They should have a good job. A loving relationship. A house. Maybe even a family. But because they are far from achieving any of these, they feel disconnected from their friends and society. And that’s what makes this book so genuine because you know what Sally Rooney is talking about. You know you’ve had those moments where you’ve compared your life to others and perhaps thought that yours was as far from ‘typical’. 

Yet that’s what’s so magical about this elegant love story. Two people finding happiness when everything else seems lost. I hope that Sally Rooney never stops writing novels like this, and it’s safe to say that her debut book, Conversations With Friends, has earned itself a top spot on my reading list.

‘It’s funny the decisions you make because you like someone, and then your whole life is different. I think we’re at that weird age where life can change a lot from small decisions.’