Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado **
I had been so looking forward to the lauded debut short story collection of Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties. Unfortunately, I found that it fell far short of my expectations. Whilst the stories here are well written, they all feel relatively similar, as there is such a focus upon sex within them. Some of the tales did pull me in but had unsatisfactory endings; others did not really hold any appeal for me.
The style of prose here is varied. I ended up skipping the second half of ‘Law and Order, SUV’, as I did not enjoy the very fragmented style of it. My favourite in the collection was by the far the first story, ‘The Husband Stitch’, which was quite beguiling. On the whole, I felt as though the stories went on for too long, and were thus unsatisfying in consequence.
There is no real consistency to the collection, and the lack of realism in some of the stories really threw me off. Since I finished reading Her Body and Other Parties, I have found that very few of the storylines have actually stuck with me, and I cannot remember anything that happens in a few of them. Whilst there are some interesting ideas at play here, as a collection, it felt confused and a little unfinished.
Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile by Alice Jolly ***
I adored Alice Jolly’s memoir, Dead Babies and Seaside Towns, and was keen to try some of her fiction. Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile was the only work which I could source through my library, and it intrigued me very much. In this work of historical fiction, which is told entirely in free verse, Jolly introduces us to the elderly maidservant Mary Ann Sate, who is working at the turn of the nineteenth century. It is described as a ‘fictional found memoir’, and I found the approach which Jolly took to her story and protagonist most interesting.
I enjoyed Jolly’s writing; it feels both modern and old-fashioned, and reminded me somewhat of Nell Leyshon’s impactful novella The Colour of Milk. Gorgeous, and often quite startling imagery, is produced throughout, and the traditional approach of chapters within the structure does help to make the 600-page story a little more accessible. The style did take a little while to get into, as no punctuation whatsoever has been used, and there is little which denotes the changing of scene, speaker, or ideas. Jolly has also included a lot of colloquialisms, which help Mary Ann’s voice to come across as authentic. I very quickly got a feel for her, her life, and the time in which she was living. In some ways, Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile is a remarkable piece of fiction.
Whilst being very well researched, and having a strong historical foundation, there was a real drawback for me with Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile. It was rather too long, and I felt as though the repetition which exists throughout made the story lose a lot of its impact. Jolly has certainly demonstrated that she is a very talented and versatile writer, and she definitely maintained the narrative voice well. Had it been shorter and more succinct, I more than likely would have given it a 4-star rating.
Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ***
I very much enjoy Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fiction, which I find poignant and moving. Of late, she has published two pamphlets, I suppose one could call them, which take feminism as their central focus. I was rather disappointed with We Should All Be Feminists, which on one level provides a very good introduction to the topic, but does not really add any depth to its explorations. I thought that, due to liking her novels and short stories so much, I would still go on to pick up Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manigesto in Fifteen Suggestions. In fact, this was the first audiobook which I chose to listen to with a free Scribd trial; I have since cancelled this, as I enjoy reading at my own pace.
Dear Ijeawele is adapted from a letter which Ngozi Adichie wrote to one of her friends in response to the question of how she could raise her new baby daughter to be a feminist. In some respects, this was a powerful and insightful work, which gave a lot of good advice on raising a daughter, and tips for enabling her to see the world through measured, fair eyes. Ngozi Adichie definitely mentions some elements which are worth further thought; for instance, the prevalence of gendered baby clothing, and the continued use of the frankly antiquated societal expectations of ‘blue for a boy’ and ‘pink for a girl’. I liked the way in which the author had set out this book, in fifteen ‘suggestions’; it was, in this way, like a manifesto, but rather a simplistic one in many ways.
I must admit that I found quite a lot of Dear Ijeawele rather patronising. It may have come across this way due to the audiobook narrator I listened to, but a lot of what Ngozi Adichie points out feels obvious, and I did not think any of these things particularly needed to be stated. Her suggestion about teaching her friend’s child to read a lot, for example, felt like a generalisation, and one which the majority of parents of certain means would encourage, regardless of whether they want to raise their child to be a feminist or not. I failed to connect with the book that much, and felt as though it was a little old-fashioned, and quite underwhelming.