Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Women's Room by Marilyn French

In one of those odd synchronicities, I was midway through the first half of this book when my husband and I watched the second-to-last episode of From Earth to the Moon, The Original Wives' Club. What struck me about the women in the episode was that, although the show painted it as the extraordinary sacrifices these women made to support their astronaut husbands, most of what they showed was exactly mirrored in The Women's Room as the things that most suburban housewives did.

I have to say that I fell in love with this book, with the sprawling cast of characters, and their struggles and difficulties in a time that in some ways is so different from my own, and in deep, unsettling ways, so similar. Surely every woman in the 1950s and 60s cannot have had it as hard as every character in the book did, but many did struggle to hold up their end of a deeply unequal bargain.

I also love the joy, and newness and discovery of creating a community, and I never loved the character of Val more than when she expounded on her idea for a utopian community, and at the same time acknowledged the ephemeral nature of community, the value of impermanence, of making things better for individuals, knowing that what you build may not last.

But because I loved the characters so much, it hurt when horrible things started to happen, when that impermanence made itself felt.

I also enjoyed the varieties of experience the book explored, the choices different women made, and why some decided to compromise, some stood their ground, some were driven into extremism.

I imagine most men would find this book deeply uncomfortable. That is, of course, their right. But that's not my problem.

And one of my favourite quotes: "Isolde sighed. "I hate discussions of feminism that end up with who does the dishes," she said. So do I. But at the end, there are always the damned dishes."

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