Category Archives: Feminism | Gender

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson (Review)

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⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

“This is Lancashire. This is Pendle. This is witch country.”

I wouldn’t have known about this book if I hadn’t randomly stumbled across it in my library. The sinister, brooding cover called to me! I have read one book by Jeanette Winterson before: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I was very impressed with her writing. After reading The Daylight Gate, it safe to say I can’t wait to read more from her.

The Daylight Gate is a historical fiction novel about the Pendle Witch trials that took place in 1612. Its cast of characters are borrowed from history but of course, they are fictionalised and reinvented for the sake of entertainment. It should also be mentioned that the writing is not for the faint of heart or young. I was surprised how nsfw and triggering some of the content is but overall it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the story.

Our main character is Alice Nutter, a suspected witch. She is known for her wealth, land and eternal youth. The local magistrate Roger Nowell is determined to bring her and the women she helps down. Coupled with this, he suspects Alice is hiding a conspirator of the Gunpowder Plot. Jeanette Winterson accurately demonstrates the mass superstition and hysteria against witchcraft and Catholicism during the reign of James I, a Protestant king. Just under 200 pages, this was a super fast and intriguingly dark read.

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Lullaby by Leïla Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐

(Mild spoilers)

lullaby
ˈlʌləbʌɪ/
noun
1. a quiet, gentle song sung to send a child to sleep.

Lullaby is one of the most creepiest novel I’ve ever read. “The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.” After this banging beginning, the novel takes a detour and sets up the lives of our main characters who live in Paris. Myriam, a French-Morrocan woman, and her husband Paul have two young kids: lively Mila and baby Adam. Myriam loses her sense of self after motherhood and yearns for her dreams of being a successful lawyer to come true. Paul is a musician and is very busy. Myriam runs into her old friend from law school who offers her a job to work with him.

Enter: the nanny. I knew how this story was going to end, but I couldn’t stop reading. Leïla Slimani doesn’t offer a concrete plot but a series of incidents and scenes that are gradually more unsettling and disturbing. Louise seems to be the “perfect” nanny. She is friendly with the children, caring, and is content to cook and clean for the busy couple every day. As Louise’s personal life is slowly revealed, we catch a glimpse of who she is and what her intentions are. The novel subtly conveys themes relevant to us now:

The world of nannies who are predominantly a group of immigrants, legal or otherwise. They make the lives of white families easier.

The sense of fear in motherhood. Of having to choose between home and work.

The children who die everyday from neglect or violence.

Lullaby isn’t a mystery in the strictest sense, nor is it a thriller. We, the readers, know where the story is going exactly. And that’s the scariest part of it all.

Fractured Masculinity in The Salesman (2016) & The Death of a Salesman

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The Salesman – originally titled Forushande – is an Iranian film that took inspiration from the American play The Death of a Salesman. It’s been many years since I read the play but I still think about it to this day. On a corner of the page, past me scribbled: “uplifting and off-putting at the same time” which (I think) perfectly characterises Willy Loman and Emad. Willy searches for the ever so elusive American Dream all his life and dies without ever experiencing it first-hand, and Emad searches for closure and struggles with his identity as a husband (and protector) in a patriarchal society.

The quest for middle class respectability ends with our male protagonists suffering from the hero complex. In The Death of a Salesman, Willy is in his 60’s and still struggling to have a comfortable and easy life and pay off his home mortgage. His sons Happy and Biff are struggling to find jobs. Willy is exhausted and frustrated after losing his sales job. He equates possessing wealth to happiness, freedom and being well-liked. During his lifetime, Willy doesn’t experience these. He forgets about his humanity and works like a slave in a machine that promises riches and acceptance only if you make it to the top.

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Powerlessness is the huge driving force. Emad is a teacher and part time stage actor. His wife Rana and he star in a production of The Death of a Salesman in the lead roles. One day their building (literally) collapses. They find a new apartment which was previously owned by a prostitute and, despite being aware of this, move in. Rana is mysteriously assaulted in the bathroom by a customer of the prostitute when her husband isn’t at home. She goes into shock and tries to deal with the trauma in her own way.

Emad becomes increasingly angry and paranoid. He feels humiliated because he couldn’t save his wife from the violence she experienced. Rana declines going to the police and retreats into a shell, rejecting her husband’s efforts to comfort her. Emad takes it upon himself to find the man who disrupted his peace & family life and seek vengeance. As revealed, the man in question turns out to be a sad old guy who has a wife, daughter and son-in-law. In one of the most tense and pathetic scene in my cinematic life, Emad slaps him. Rana demands Emad to let the man go after he apologises.

When masculinities are threatened, our male characters are driven to an extreme state of action. Willy drives his car into a wall and kills himself. Emad uses physical violence to counter physical violence. He doesn’t feel any less worse after that. He couldn’t singlehandedly defeat the Iranian male gaze. This doesn’t make them bad men though, they are good men who made the decision to act a certain way since society told them to. They conform and don’t want to let down the people they love. Therein lies the misfortune: the gap between reality and their versions of an ideal world. Rana and Linda (Willy’s wife) suffer silently, and they are memorable because of their endurance. They are the opposite of perfect but fully human and utterly horrified at witnessing their husbands disintegrating before their own eyes. The real tragedy is societies that extend false materialistic ideals and toxic masculinity be it in modern day Iran or America.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (Review)

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⭐ ⭐ (2.5 Stars)

I had high expectations for Her Body and Other Parties based on the blurb and reviews I’d seen floating around the internet. After I read it, all I could think was “meh” but no, I don’t think this is a bad collection of short stories. It just didn’t work for me. This book has elements of eroticism, queerness, horror, feminism, science fiction and magical realism – a seemingly perfect read for October… 

“Many people live and die without ever confronting themselves in the darkness.”

“The Husband Stitch” was my favourite story of the bunch. I didn’t know this but the story is based on a creepy story called The Green Ribbon. I interpreted this story as a feminist tale having interesting themes like body autonomy and self-worth. The second story “Inventory” is set in a dystopian world riddled with plague in which the narrator recounts her sexual adventures. “Eight Bites” and “Real Women Have Bodies” are horrific explorations of society’s obsession with thinness. Unfortunately, I didn’t ‘get’ or enjoy the other stories in Machado’s collection.

The women in these stories are multifaceted: some are beat down (literally and otherwise) and some rise above their predicaments. Some women encounter ghosts of their pasts or society’s present, and some women get consumed by their own madness. Carmen Machado is amazing at writing and writing ideas but I didn’t adore her plots. Her Body and Other Parties is shortlisted for the National Book Awards 2017, so it’s worth checking out if the blurb piques your interest.

Television Shows in the tradition of ‘The Female Gaze’

1. Fleabag (Season 1)

Phoebe Waller-Bridge created, wrote and starred in this quirky comedy drama set in London that is like Bridget Jones but not that glamorous and more depressing. I love everything about this show – its awkwardness, the hamster themed cafe (winning), and the fourth wall breaking dialogue. Her life is in shambles and the people around her are a mess but Fleabag is clever, heart breaking and not afraid to get real.

2. Chewing Gum (Season 1 +2)

This is another show set in London but its main character, Tracey (Michaela Coel), lives in a housing estate, where there are a maelstrom of characters. Michaela Coel is also the writer of Chewing Gum: is anyone sensing a theme here? Tracey grows up with a conservative and über-religious African mom and her little sister. With losing her virginity as the number one agenda, Tracey is a rebel cum laude (or she tries to be), Chewing Gum is heartwarming, funny and hilariously awkward.

Michaela Coel interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQPCyb4HoEk

3. Insecure (Season 1 +2)

Insecure (aptly titled) follows the lives of two African-American women who are navigating modern life in Los Angeles. I adore this show so much! Issa and Molly are in their late 20s and have successful careers but they provide a roadmap of ‘how not to fuck up your love life.’ Side note: the men in this show are exceptionally good-looking (*sips tea*).

4. I Love Dick (Season 1)

ILD is what provided inspiration for this post. This is the only show on this list that is based on a novel (of the same name by Chris Kraus). This is intellectualism meet feminism meet art meet relatable & awkward female protagonist. And it somehow worked! Set in Marfa, Texas, Chris, a filmmaker, accompanies Sylvère her husband who is a research fellow at the art institute. Chaos ensues after she is madly infatuated with Dick – the guy who sponsored her husband. ILD really made me think about the male gaze, objectification of bodies, originality (in life, in art, in thought) and is a wonderfully confusing and stimulating piece of work.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Review)

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⭐  ⭐  ⭐  ⭐

I went to the dentist today and had two of my teeth extracted (RIP teeth). What has that got anything to do with the review, you ask? Well, after my procedure (half my face was numb) I read pages 396 and 397 of The Essex Serpent for about 45 minutes. Does that ever happen to you? You zone out of the story but continue to read the sentences over and over again…

Just me? Okay 😂

You are a woman, and must begin to live like one. By which I mean: have courage.

The Essex Serpent is a historical novel set during the 1890s in… you guessed it, Essex! (and, by extension, London). Recently widowed, Cora Seaborne is finally  free to explore her interests in science and moves to a small town with her (feminist-socialist) maid named Martha and son who may or may not be autistic. Through friends, Cora meets a vicar called Will Ransome. They instantly get along and collide – this oddly paired man of faith and woman of reason. An unlikely love story, to be sure!

William Ransome and Cora Seaborne, stripped of code and convention, even of speech, stood with her strong hand in his: children of the earth lost in wonder.

At the centre of this story – which ties everything together – is the fictional legend of a serpent let loose. The town believes it to be an evil that heralds the end of the world, Cora believes it to be an undiscovered beast that still lives on and Will believes it all to be nonsensical fear. Every page of The Essex Serpent is a goldmine. The language is lyrical and expressive. I could describe this novel as being ‘cinematic’ (i.e. I saw the story playing out clearly in my mind) but that would be a lie. I felt not like a reader but a spectator of sorts… as if I was spying on these characters’ lives. Don’t even get me started about the themes! 

Faith and reason, religion and science, cities and towns, myth and reality, love and friendship. This was a really fascinating read, and I highly recommend it to everyone 😸 

Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, translated by Arunava Sinha (Review)

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Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay is a Bengali author and so far, Arunava Sinha has translated two of her works into English – Panty and Abandon. I can’t wait to get my hands on the latter. I find it problematic that Panty is categorised as “erotic romance” as it is neither of those things. Unsurprisingly, Bandyopadhyay’s writing caused a massive controversy in India. Sinha, guilty of being complicit with her crimes, has also felt the ire of the nation. Panty is a collection of two magical realist novellas, the first being Hypnosis and the second being Panty.

Hypnosis follows Ilona Kuhu Mitra, a 30-something woman who works as a journalist. Recently divorced, Illona spends her life in limbo. She meets Meghdoot a famous musician and they have a strange relationship. In Panty, an unnamed woman moves into her lover’s house. It is late at night and she gets her period and with no fresh underwear, is forced to put on the panties she found in the wardrobe earlier. When she slips on the panties, she slips on the memories of her lover’s ex. Needless to say, both the novellas are very surreal and strange.

Bandyopadhyay’s stories aren’t erotic, but her characters are liberated and sexual women. The stories explore identity, modern urban loneliness, midlife crises, poverty, and religion among other things. Ilona mixes up dreams and reality – an outer manifestation of her internal conflict. She suffers silently. In Panty, the chapter numbers are erratic – there’s a sense of disorientation. Cons: Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay tries to fit too many themes into what are essentially long short stories. Hypnosis and Panty had endings that I didn’t  completely understand. Or maybe that was the point…

Read an extract from Panty here: http://tinyurl.com/he4vkdw