Thursday, 11 January 2018

Fickle and inconstant is woman, always

The Public Voice of Women

varium et mutabile semper femina – Virgil Aeneid V.569-570

Or, as rendered by David West, “Women are unstable creatures, always changing.”

A sort of wry smile would be shared around the room at university when we read sentences like this. A smug look that seemed to say, ‘ah, the ancients and their ways – of course we have come so far since then’. There was a sort of tacit agreement not to go too deeply into discussion about such assertions. You can’t call Virgil anti-feminist if feminism didn’t exist then right?

Well, what you can do is look at how some ancient views are embedded still in today’s society. Mary Beard has. In the first chapter of her manifesto, Women and Power, she highlights how some attitudes from the very earliest western literature still affect how we perceive women’s speech, particularly in public, today.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Go on, try it. Admit you hate your partner's best friend.

‘Can men and women ever be friends? Just friends?’

That is the rather uninspiring question apparently posed by Lionel Shriver’s The Standing Chandelier. In case you didn’t quite grasp its point, ‘just’ is printed in italics so that readers catch on quickly. Here is a question that magazines and romance novels can continue to puzzle over for years safe in the knowledge that there is no good answer so they won’t need to find a new question.

Given the vast wealth of political, social and economic upheaval in recent years, given crises in health, homelessness, hunger, given that Shriver is someone brave and articulate and controversial, I was excited to know: what would she write about next? Her previous book, The Mandibles: A family 2029-2047, was sharp and eerie in its predictions. Shriver created an all too real fiction in which the US dollar collapses and society falls irreparably apart. It is deeply complex and hard to read for all the right reasons.

Hence, some trepidation on my part at the premise for The Standing Chandelier. I should have known that it too would comprise both anthropological study and biting satire.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Inside the Living Mountain with Nan Shepherd

Around the country, but in Cambridge in particular, there is a growing and deserved interest in Robert Macfarlane’s books. Put Landmarks or The Old Ways on a nature/travel writing table and they go through the till pretty regularly. Most recently, his book The Lost Words, illustrated by Jackie Morris so beautifully as to make the cold-hearted weep, has garnered attention. It consists of acrostic spells about conkers, acorns, kingfishers; words that are just falling out of use as children and adults look less hard and for less time at nature, indeed avoid going out in it at all.

What's this all about?

Eighteen months ago, I arrived for my first day of working in a bookshop in Cambridge. The phrase ‘avid reader’ employs such a generic epithet that it has become meaningless but I suppose that is how I could have been described growing up. ‘Obsessive’ could work too. Something about the later teenage years and a less than enjoyable time at university cooled this obsession to a more tepid one and I read rather less for pleasure and remained in the comfort of well-known friends when I did read; Brideshead Revisited, Catch-22, Wuthering Heights and Tom Stoppard’s plays The Invention of Love and Arcadia were my safe retreats.

Fickle and inconstant is woman, always

The Public Voice of Women varium et mutabile semper femina – Virgil Aeneid V.569-570 Or, as rendered by David West, “Wome...