Category: Women Page 1 of 33

Hiroko Oyamada: いたちなく (Weasels in the Attic)

The latest addition to my website is Hiroko Oyamada‘s いたちなく (Weasels in the Attic). This book consists of three linked stories. In the first the unnamed narrator and his friend Saiki visit Shuzo Urabe who had an exotic fish shop which has closed. He now lives above the shop with his wife and daughter, The narrator is envious of the baby – he and his wife have been trying for a baby without success – but the focus is on the mating habits of the fish, Urabe dies and the narrator and his wife visit Saiki, now married and living in the country and plagued by weasels in the attic. The narrator’s wife tells how her father dealt with the problem. They visit again when Saiki and his wife have a baby and they get caught in a snowstorm and have have to spend the night in a room where the fish are kept, including the jumping bonytongue. The book is about fertility – humans and animals – and marriage but Oyamada’s skill is to insert little episodes which make us uneasy.

A. M. Homes: The Unfolding

The latest addition to my website is A. M. HomesThe Unfolding. Homes tells two linked stories relating to the Hitchens family. The family is the Big Guy (we never learn his real first name), a very successful and rich businessman, his wife Charlotte, an alcoholic who feels her whole life has just been as an adjunct to her husband, and their eighteen year old daughter, Meghan. The novel is set between the day of the 2008 US presidential election, when Barack Obama defeated John McCain, and Obama’s inauguration on 20 January 2009. The Big Guy and his friends are not happy with a black man as their president and plot to do something about it, though, initially, there is more talk than action. At the same time his marriage has serious problems, because of both his past and present behaviour, with both Charlotte and Meghan upset with him. This is all pre-Trump, though written over the past ten years with full knowledge of Trump and his dirty deeds but shows how a non-Trumpian faction might react.

Amélie Nothomb: Le livre des soeurs [The Book of the Sisters]

The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb: Le livre des soeurs [The Book of the Sisters]. The book tells of Tristane, born to parents who are more interested in one another than they are in their daughter so she is often left to her own devices. She teaches herself to speak, to read and to write. At the age of two she becomes the godmother to her cousin, daughter of her very irresponsible aunt Bobettea and, a couple of years later she will essentially manage Bobette and her four children. When her parents finally give her a sister, it is the four year old Tristane who looks after her while her parents are at work. The two sisters become very close, as Nothomb and her sister were and are. Though they start to diverge as adults, they still remain close while Tristane also struggles to break free of her mother’s not always positive influence. But, as the title tells us, it is above all the story of two sisters.

Sylvie Germain: Jours de colère (Days of Anger)

The latest addition to my website is Sylvie Germain‘s Jours de colère (Days of Anger). This book, a reissue by publishers Dedalus, is a classic modern French novel, mixing Gothic and Greek tragedy in a remote wooded area of France. Ambroise Maupertuis witnesses an altercation between Vincent Corvol and his wife Catherine and blackmails him into handing over his forests and his daughter Claude to marry Maupertuis’ son Ephraim. Ephraim prefers the gargantuan Fat-Ginnie and is disowned and disinherited by his father when he marries her and they produce nine sons, all born on 15 August. Maupertuis makes Marceau, his second son, marry Claude and they have a daughter Camille, the spitting image of her grandmother Catherine. However, when Camille finally grows up and meets the nine brothers, things go drastically wrong. This is a superb poetic novel which deservedly has a great reputation in France.

Brenda Lozano: Brujas (Witches)

The latest addition to my website is Brenda Lozano‘s Brujas (Witches). We follow the story of three Mexican women. Paloma is, in fact, a muxe, assigned male at birth but who dresses and behaves in ways otherwise associated with women. She starts off as Gaspar, following the family tradition of being a curandero, a traditional healer, before continuing as Paloma. The book starts with her murder. We also follow Feliciana, related to Paloma, who becomes a successful curandera, both of physical ailments and disease of the soul. By the time she is twenty, she has three children and is a widow. The third woman is Zoe, a journalist from Mexico City, who is subject to sexism, though we also follow the story of her family, particularly her more colourful sister Leandra, who, among other things, sets fire to her school. All women, like others in this book, are subject to male violence but all three show how women live their lives.

Ulrike Almut Sandig: Monster wie wir ( Monsters Like Us)

The latest addition to my website is Ulrike Almut Sandig‘s Monster wie wir (Monsters Like Us). The novel is narrated by Ruth, now a successful violinist to her almost invisible (in this novel) Finnish boyfriend Voitto. Ruth grew up in East Germany where she met Viktor at school and the two became friends. However, they have one other thing in common – both were sexually abused, Ruth by her grandfather and Viktor by his half-sister’s husband. They briefly talk about it but if you don’t talk about it, then it hasn’t really happened. That’s right isn’t it?. After the fall of Communism, Ruth gets on with her musical career while Viktor becomes a right-wing thug and then, improbably, an au pair in France where he recognises that the boy in his care is also a victim of sexual abuse and takes appropriate action. While the sexual abuse theme is key, we learn a lot about life in East Germany, from the founding to the fall and afterwards.

Hiroko Oyamada: 工場 (The Factory)

The latest addition to my website is Hiroko Oyamada‘s 工場 (The Factory)>. We follow the stories of three employees as they go to work at the Factory and are still there, in the same jobs, fifteen years later. Their jobs seem mundane – one shreds documents one proofreads and one is meant to be developing moss for green-roofing the factory. But why is a sophisticated factory using humans to shred? What is being proofread and for whom? And why has the moss man made no progress in fifteen years? What does the factory produce? We have no idea. Why does Goto seem to manage everything? And what are the strange animals seemingly only found on the Factory site? Oyamada tells a strange tale of a seemingly normal working environment which is perhaps not entirely normal.

Rachael McGill: Fair Trade Heroin

The latest addition to my website is Rachael McGill‘s Fair Trade Heroin. Gwen is an aid worker in Afghanistan in the 1990s, just as the Taliban are taking over. While other aid agencies are moving out, Gwen wants to help the people of a village and, in particular, the women, by offering them alternative employment to the opium poppy trade. As the Taliban move in and she tries to set up a handicrafts school and then a way for them to sell their opium by cutting the middlemen, i.e. the drug warlords. Things do not go well when the Taliban march in and Gwen is dragged out of the country and to safety by Roshan, who works for her aid agency, but not before a quick fling with Syed, one of the drug dealers. Back in the UK, sixteen years later, Nadia, the result of her fling, is now fifteen and mother and daughter clash. When Gwen, working for a charity that helps immigrants, learns that Roshan is in the UK (illegally) and is involved in a drug deal gone wrong, inadvertently witnessed by Nadia, can she help?

Najwa Barakat: مستر نون (Mister N)

The latest addition to my website is Najwa Barakat‘s مستر نون (Mister N). Mister N is a failed Lebanese writer who currently lives in a hotel, rarely leaving it. We gradually learn his story – horrors of the Lebanese Civil War, a mother he hated as she much preferred his older brother, Sa’id, now a successful businessman and a father who was a doctor, helping the poor and whom Mr N saw die. He has had two long-term relationships – the first dumped him and the second was with a Nepali prostitute whose pimp did not take kindly to him. One day he does leave the hotel (looking for a spare part for his toilet) and comes across Luhman. Luhman was a Civil War thug and murderer who died. More importantly, he was fictitious , a character in one of Mr. N’s books. Luhman keeps reappearing, his neighbours have serious mental health issues and he himself is increasingly unable to cope with life, language and people. Gradually we learn of his past and how he ended up in this hotel and who he and Luhman might really be. It is a splendid, complicated, colourful book.

Montserrat Roig: Ramona, adéu! (Goodbye, Ramona)

The latest addition to my website is Montserrat Roig‘s Ramona, adéu! (Goodbye, Ramona). The novel tells the story of three women, all called Ramona, from three successive generations. Ramona 1 lives in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century and feels her life as a wife and mother is boring. She almost has an affair to liven things up. Ramona 2 had an affair before marriage but it did not work out and now she is married to Francisco. She is very concerned when she thinks he might have been killed in a terrorist attack in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War but, later, she is not happy in her marriage. Ramona 3, living in the 60s, is more liberated but she has man trouble with her boyfriend Jordi and, like her forebears, feels patronised and unhappy with her family, with Barcelona and with her life. Roig makes her point clearly, that women in Catalonia (and obviously elsewhere) were expected to follow the marriage-motherhood path and do little else, even though they would have liked to have a more fulfilling life.

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