Category: Women Page 2 of 31

Maria Judite de Carvalho: Os Armários Vazios (Empty Wardrobes)

The latest addition to my website is Maria Judite de Carvalho‘s Os Armários Vazios (Empty Wardrobes). The novel tells the story of Dora Rosário, who marries Duarte young and has a daughter . Duarte, however, is totally devoid of ambition, despite being pushed by a forceful mother, and has a low-paying job and will not allow his wife to work. When he dies while still young, she is left destitute. After a long while, she finds a job managing an antique shop and is able to help her daughter, who wants to be an air hostess. However, she still remains devoted to the memory of Duarte and makes no effort with her appearance. Then, one day, her mother-in-law tells her a secret and she changes, spending time and money on her appearance and seems to capture a man from the narrator. But things do not always work out well. Maria Judite de Carvalho gives an excellent portrait of a woman who is, for all too long, merely seen as a piece of furniture, an empty wardrobe.

Sarah Hall: Burntcoat

The latest addition to my website is Sarah Hall‘s Burntcoat. Our heroine is Edith Harknesss. We follow her life from when she was ten and her mother, a successful novelist, had an aneurysm but survived though much changed. Edith decides to become an artist, focussing on monumental works using shou sugi ban, a Japanese charred timber technique and has considerable success. However a pandemic strikes – seemingly worse than covid just as she is starting the love affair of her life with a Turkish chef and the pair hide out in her huge converted warehouse called Burntcoat. The pandemic leaves Edith with the equivalent of long covid, though this form seems it be generally fatal, as she works on her final monumental work. It is another superb work from Sarah Hall and confirms her as one of Britain’s leading novelists.

Hanne Ørstavik: Presten (The Pastor)

The latest addition to my website is Hanne Ørstavik‘s Presten (The Pastor). The eponymous pastor is Liv. She had worked in southern Germany where she had befriended Kristiane but when Kristiane killed herself, she had applied for and got a job in the far North of Norway. However, things do not go well, not least because she had trouble fitting in and clearly does not have the right temperament to be a pastor, finding it difficult to comfort people in distress. She has also been working on a doctoral thesis on a Sami rebellion in 1852, which took place near where she is now working, and realises that the connection between the two cultures is Christianity – the Sami seemed to have adopted a more fervent Christianity at the time – while language, ultimately the language of the Bible, not at that time available in Sami, is also important. However the struggles of Liv and other women characters are the key to this book.

Petra Hůlová: Stručné dějiny Hnutí (The Movement)

The latest addition to my website is Petra Hůlová‘s Stručné dějiny Hnutí (The Movement). This is a feminist dystopian novel. In this New World, men are sent to a institute – in some cases voluntarily but often at the instigation of their spouses or even simply snatched from the streets, where they are retrained – often fairly harshly – to think of women as people and not as bodies. The training includes masturbating to pictures of ugly older woman and having sex with them. The story is told by Věra, a guard at one of the institutes who seems a lot of her time looking at and handling penises. Once she gets away from the city on a tour, she finds it is women rather than men who are of the most resistant. The book seemed as much a manifesto against men’s view of women as a novel but Hůlová makes her point about the objectification of women and excess pornography.

Ana Schnabl: Mojstrovina (The Masterpiece)

The latest addition to my website is Ana Schnabl‘s Mojstrovina (The Masterpiece). The novel is set primarily in 1985, five years after Tito’s death but with Slovenia still part of Yugoslavia and the communists in control. Adam, a university lecturer, has written a novel (called Masterpiece) which he has submitted to Ana, an editor at a major Slovenian publisher. She has obtained her position by agreeing to spy on potential dissidents for Sofia and Vitomil, a married couple working for the secret police. They now want her to spy on Adam but she and Adm (both married with children) start an affair. How will the novel, Sofia and Vitomil and, indeed the respective spouses affect the affair? Schnabl tells a superb story about a love affair made complicated, analysing it psychologically in some depth and also the complications the novel and Sofa and Vitomil bring to the situation.

Sara Stridsberg: Kärlekens Antarktis (Antarctica of Love)

The latest addition to my website is Sara Stridsberg‘s . This is one of those novels where the narrator is dead. Kristine, drug addict and prostitute, but also mother, sister and daughter, struggles with her life – both parents are drunks and her adored younger brother drowns when he was seven. Her only escape is heroin and when she is joined by Shane, father of her two children, things do not improve. They give up their daughter after her birth and their son is taken away and fostered. When the murderer finally comes, she is almost expecting him and not too sad about dying. She tells the story of her life but also watches her children, her parents and the murderer for quite a long while after her death. It is a very sad tale – no-one is happy – but superbly told.

Ingeborg Drewitz: Eis auf der Elbe [Ice on the Elbe]

The latest addition to my website is Ingeborg Drewitz‘s Eis auf der Elbe [Ice on the Elbe]. An unnamed West Berlin woman keeps a diary (in 1981) about her not entirely happy life. She is a lawyer and sees the unpleasant side of life – refugee women who are struggling, for example, but she is also defending a (male) murderer. She has three adult daughters whose lives are not always perfect, particularly her eldest Christine, whose husband is a drunk who hits her. Our narrator is not particularly fond of her controlling husband Heinrich, though looks after him when he has cancer. She does not like the weather, the traffic, the crime. The only thing she does enjoy is the monthly lunch she prepares for her daughters and their families. She looks back at the war, when her father was killed and their house burned down. She wonders how the young generation cope with the guilt of being German. But, as the title implies, life is always cold.

Pat Barker: The Women of Troy

The latest addition to my website is Pat Barker‘s The Women of Troy. This follows on from Barker’s previous novel, The Silence of the Girls, where we followed the story of Briseis, a captured royal who became Achilles’ trophy. At the beginning of this novel, Achilles, rightly fearing his impending death, marries her off to Alcimus. The events in this novel takes place after the events described in The Iliad, starting with the Wooden Horse and the fall of Troy, with the focus on what happens to Briseis and the other Trojan women after the fall. We see the men drinking, holding games and having rough sex with the women, while the women suffer, burying (or, in the case of King Priam, trying to bury) the dead, tending the sick and trying to survive. As always in war and its aftermath, it is, as Barker clearly shows, the women who are the greatest victims.

Amélie Nothomb: Premier sang [First Blood]

The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Premier sang [First Blood]. The book starts with a man facing a firing squad and moves to his childhood in an unconventional Belgian aristocratic family. We gradually realise that it is, in fact, the story of Nothomb’s father, Patrick, a diplomat who served in the former Belgian Congo where he did, indeed, face a a firing squad. Patrick died last year (2020) so presumably Nothomb had to wait till he died to reveal some of his secrets or, perhaps, her imagined secrets, though the account is generally a very sympathetic one.

Almudena Grandes: Los aires difíciles (The Wind from the East)

The latest addition to my website is Almudena Grandes Los aires difíciles (The Wind from the East). Juan Olmero, a successful, unmarried orthopedic surgeon is moving from Madrid, with his his ten year old niece, Tamara, and his mentally handicapped brother, Alfonso to Jerez. Tamara’s parents have both died as the result of a car crash. We gradually learn that Juan has something of a past which is a key theme of the novel. Opposite the Olmeros is Sara Gómez, also unmarried, also from Madrid and also with something of a past, another key theme of the book. Can these two redeem themselves and their past by taking care of Tamara and Alfonso, as well as of their joint cleaner, Maribel and her son Andrés? And will the past come back to haunt them? Grandes tells a superb tale with a difficult moral conundrum.

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