Category Archives: Feminist Fiction

Review: Wounding by Heidi James

Wounding by Heidi James tells the story of Cora, a thirty-something professional who shares her seemingly idyllic life with her doting husband and two children; everything a woman is supposed to aspire to. However, it soon becomes apparent that Cora is desperately seeking an escape from this prescribed lifestyle; guilt-ridden and unhappy, she seeks solace elsewhere…

The first thing that struck me about Wounding was the dual narrative of Cora, our main protagonist, and her husband. As we are privy to both perspectives within the relationship, we can sympathise with both parties and can approach Cora’s plight with some sense of continuity and insight. Whether Cora or her husband are indeed reliable narrators remains to be seen. Cora’s husband seems to agonise over the widening gulf in their relationship, and desperately analyses their past, before marriage and kids got in the way, in order to ascertain why Cora is drifting further and further away from the family unit.

Obviously, it is quite easy to sympathise with Cora; she is buckling under the pressure of society’s expectations of how women are supposed to live their lives; having a good job, marrying the right person and having kids, and all the while, being expected to ‘enjoy’ the confines and restrictions that having a family places on an individual. We are often bombarded by images of what the ‘perfect’ mother and wife should embody by the media, and so often, reality does not correlate with fabricated notions of the role of women and the various guises imposed on them. It seems to me that what Cora is experiencing is in part society-sponsored sadism; the things society tell us should make us happy often have the opposite effect, yet we still do them, despite our better instincts. There is no handbook telling women how to be the perfect wife/mother/citizen, yet it is expected of us regardless; as if we are subject to a kind of tacit social contract in which we perform our duties, and should never expect to complain.

All in all, I found Wounding to be a complex, sympathetic and visceral observation of Cora’s disintegrating sense of self and the effect that this has, not only on herself, but on those around her. Wounding asks difficult questions regarding the issue of motherhood, and what, exactly, makes a good parent, but it also explores the labyrinthine notion of self-hood and how our prescribed life choices can, ultimately, jeopardise our identity (-ies).

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Recent Shenanigans

New zine project:

Feeling inspired after the successful completion of my Stephen King fanzine, ‘Death Is When The Monsters Get You‘, I decided to embark on another zine making project; an as-of-yet unnamed literary zine.

There are no firm guidelines; there is no specific theme and contributors are welcome to submit pieces of fiction in any format they choose (short story, flash fiction, Twitter fiction, haiku, poetry, monologue, screenplay etc etc).

If you would like more details then please click here. The word count stated is just a guide; I’m willing to compromise!

Being interviewed by Radio Tircoed:

Cath Elms and I, founding members of Swansea Feminist Network, were invited to appear Radio Tircoed to chat about feminism on their Women’s Bits show.

We were pretty nervous about the whole thing, but all-in-all, it went very well!

The chat was an informal one and we were asked about the origins of Swansea Feminist Network, why we identified as feminists, our activism activities and campaigns and what the future held for our organisation.

I feel this whole broadcasting malarky is something that we, as an organisation, can really get into and it’s inspired us to start thinking about how we can use radio and podcasts as part of our activities.

Unfortunately, can’t link you to a podcast of the chat, as Radio Tircoed doesn’t currently offer them, but we’re hoping to get an MP3 sent to us, so keep you posted!

Cath and I with the presenter of Women’s Bits, Alison ‘Lenny’ Lenihan:

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Reviewing ‘Dirty Work’ by Gabriel Weston for The F-Word:

After responding to a call-out by The F-Word on Facebook, I have now joined their list of fiction reviewers! Books for free! Hurrah!

I am currently reviewing ‘Dirty Work’ by Gabriel Weston in audio-book format.

The synopsis is as such (from: Telegraph Author Interviews):

‘Dirty Work is about Nancy, a young registrar working in gynaecology and obstetrics, who is summoned before a panel to investigate why, at a crucial moment while performing an abortion, she completely froze and sat motionless while her patient almost bled to death.’

The novel broaches a very contentious and timely issue, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I am an hour in and I am really enjoying ‘Dirty Work’ so far. Weston’s descriptions of colour especially strike me as almost sumptuous.

I will post a link to the review when it’s done!

Swansea Feminist Network fundraiser: 

It’s that time of year again; the first of the bi-annual Swansea Feminist Network fundraisers!

Each year we hold two fundraisers in aid of Swansea Women’s Centre  (where I am also a trustee and volunteer); we ask local female-fronted musicians to perform for us and we sell our zines, vegan cakes and raffle off various goodies for an excellent cause.

Here is the Swansea Feminist Network committee in all our drunken glory:

I am in the white floral dress...

I am in the white floral dress…

We raised just under £300 for the Centre this time round and in November, we will be holding another event for the White Ribbon Campaign; a campaign ran by men to end violence against women.

Details of all our events and activities can be found on the SFN blog (link posted above somewhere…).

Books I have read recently:

Joyland by Stephen King.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.

NOS4R2 by Joe Hill (my review here, some spoilers!)

Changes to review policy:

Well, I don’t really have a review policy as such but I have made a decision to try and limit the amount of spoilers I use in any given piece. I feel perhaps it detracts from the review itself, and might discourage readers from checking the books out; something I would feel pretty bad about.

I also am thinking of self-imposing a word-limit on my reviews as they tend to go off on existential ruminations; maybe this is something that readers don’t like? Short and snappy best? Lengthy good sometimes?

Some feedback would be appreciated!

 

April Round-Up! *trigger warning*

I wrote recently, albeit briefly, about feminist fiction which encouraged some positive feedback and recommendations from friends of mine. In all the excitement, I had completely forgotten The New Woman’s Broken Heart by Andrea Dworkin; a very small collection of tales with a stream-of-conciousness feel to them. The stories chronicle the wonderful, terrible life of Bertha Schneider and the abuse that she endures. Themes of women, abuse, birth, identity, tragedy, sexuality and the Holocaust all intertwine to create a multi-layered glimpse at the life and evolution of Bertha Schneider (most probably based on Dworkin’s own experiences of abuse and rape).

My own copy of the book has a wonderful inscription on the inside cover (I love finding things like that in second-hand books) which reads ‘7/21/91 one of my favorite writers-to one of my favorite writers!’ LOVELY.

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I recently finished The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (which I waxed lyrical about in my previous post) and Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines.

Pornland… provides a disturbing glimpse into just how far porn culture has infiltrated our lives. Our sexual relationships are being hijacked by the images we see on-screen and perpetuated by the mass media. I think Dines has, rather succinctly, unpacked some of the key issues surrounding the creation and consumption of porn; namely, how does it affect the lives and sexual relationships of everyday men and women? I found some of the descriptions of porn scenes quite…uncomfortable. Demands for more extreme and explicit forms of pornography (gonzo porn, as Dines calls it) have manipulated a whole generation of young men into believing that what they see on-screen is what actually happens in the bedroom and has them believing that the women on-screen deserve the degrading acts they may endure:

‘The first and most important way pornographers get men to buy into gonzo sex is by depicting and describing women as fuck objects who are deserving of sexual use and abuse. it is especially important for the pornographers to shred the humanity of the women in the images, as many porn users have sustained and intimate relationships with women in the real world…to erode any empathy that many men may have for the women in porn-an emotion that would most likely end up derailing the porn experience as they might feel sorry for her-the porn needs to construct porn women in ways that clearly demarcate them from the women that men know and love,’ (p.p, 63-64).

A typical example of this may be the female performer being called degrading names such as bitch, cunt, slut and being told that they deserve what they are getting, whether that be pounding anal sex, a cum-shot to the face, multiple penises in multiple orifices or ass-to-mouth oral sex. The male performers are usually emotionally distant, hyper-masculine and physically threatening. DINES-pornland-a

Body-punishing sex, such as that portrayed in gonzo porn, negatively impacts the way in which we govern our own sexual relationships. Men feel pressured to perform to standards they see on-screen and women often feel compelled to emulate the women they see in porn;  they might remove all their body hair or exercise excessively to achieve this fabled notion of bodily perfection for fear of rejection from a potential sexual partner.

Sure, the performers are being paid, but what is the real cost?

Dines argues that porn affect both men and women negatively and is keen to point out that men, in some ways, are just as much victims of the façade that gonzo porn creates; exploitation masquerading as liberation.

Dines also dissects the institutionalised racism of porn and the portrayal of men and women of colour, its role in big business and the link between excessive porn consumption, the ‘teen’ sex trend, or PCP (pseudo-child porn) as it is referred to in the book, and child pornography.

Regardless of your stance on porn, whether for, against or in-between, I think Pornland… is a thoughtful and interesting dissection of the porn industry and the affect it has on our relationships. Highly recommended.

Some idle ruminations on feminist fiction

So I have been reading a lot more over the last few weeks which is excellent, given my February slump. Sometimes you just got to do things that aren’t that fun, like work. I guess sometimes I just don’t feel like reading, especially when I have got a lot on my mind.

I am going to see Margaret Atwood in Bristol this summer! This is very exciting. I am a relatively new Atwood reader, having only read Oryx and Crake & Year of the Flood last autumn. I received The Handmaid’s Tale for Christmas and I recently just finished The Blind Assassin, which was fantastic. I also started The Edible Woman but I haven’t really enjoyed what I’ve read so far. It’ll be worth a second glance sometime soon, I am sure. 

I am surprisingly not that well-read in terms of what could be considered (modern) classic feminist fiction.

I read The Color Purple at school (the sense of despair at the injustices of life in particular is something that has stuck with me as I’ve gotten older; but also the sense of unparalleled optimism and the love of friends that shines through the brutality that Celie experiences).

I think one of my favourite books of all time is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. You just have to read it, trust me.

Written in 1937, it tells the tale of Janie Crawford, an African-American woman in Florida who throws off the shackles of society to become the mistress of her own destiny; taking lovers, leaving lovers, becoming financially independent.

I am definitely going to have to take a look at it again as I read it so fast the first time; I literally couldn’t stop reading it from the moment I bought it.

I have yet to start Beloved by Toni Morrison, which I acquired nearly a year ago.

I am mid-way through The Bloody Chamber by feminist favourite Angela Carter. I’ve never read anything by her before. I have to say that I am finding it akin to a sumptuous banquet of words that you just want to rub your face in. If you read some of the stories out loud, the prose would drip off your tongue like honey. Flesh, fur, hair, jewels, roses, snow, blood, ocean…and tigers! Dogs! Horses! Monkey butlers! Strange mechanised doppelgängers!

It’s almost arousing.

I took a little break from my crime fiction extravaganza recently as it was getting a little bit intense but I feel ready to start again soon! Once my eBay purchases arrive…

If anyone has any feminist fiction recommendations then please comment and let me know!