OH and I have been catching up with The Handmaid’s Tale (series 3), that dystopian Biblical Black Mirror where patriarchy reasserts itself viciously and mercilessly, forcing women to assume one of three roles: wife, servant (‘Martha’) or handmaid. The crisis which spawns this is a critical fall in fertility rates and the grotesque solution is to bring a ‘handmaid’ – a fertile woman – into each family to breed for them. The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of one such woman, June (known as Offred and then Ofjoseph as they take the names of their owners) forced to reproduce for Commander Waterford and his family. This is brutal slavery with a Biblical varnish and unsurprisingly the thoughts of many, if not most, women turn to escape. Canada is just across the border.
No matter how plausible, The Handmaid’s Tale is of course fiction. Or so I thought… but it turns out Gilead is alive and thriving in a tiny corner of the US. I kind of wish I hadn’t come across The Transformed Wife’s blog but I did, and its vision of ‘Biblical Womanhood’ is basically Gilead minus the rape and violence. St Paul looms large in this scenario (whenever I go to a church which emphasises St Paul I run for cover) and is little more than unreconstructed dogma. This woman is not only against abortion – which is to be expected – but also against contraception. God is in charge of your womb apparently; no matter that the planet can’t afford more people, nor that there aren’t the resources to go around, you must keep having as many children as you can conceive. But don’t worry about the planet – I expect God has all that in hand too.*
The concept that God equals the patriarchal vision set out in the Bible is one feminists (and Quakers) have spent generations countering but here it is again. It reminds me of bindweed; no matter how many times you root it out, back it comes again. Ah well.
I will say one thing for the Transformed Wife though – unlike many people on the internet, she knows how to debate respectfully.
*as it happens I agree; I just think the plan might involve the extinction of our race (if we don’t reform). People’s notions of God are much to anthropocentric in my view.
Yes, it’s Wimbledon fortnight and this year I’ve been mega-impressed by the quality of play from all quarters (with a couple of exceptions, which I’ll come to in a minute.) The women’s game in particular is brilliant with some great British players, and there’s the added bonus of having Andy (Sir Andy!) Murray in play, albeit not yet in the singles; he’s teamed up with Serena for the mixed doubles which should be terrific. So far there have been some standout matches: in Day one Venus Williams was dispatched by a 15-year-old and yesterday Hannah Dart, a young wild-card player, came through her first-round match in great style, as did Jo Konta. There are also a lot more black and mixed-race competitors: it’s a far cry from the old days when the British players were all from Surrey and went out politely in the second round (apart from Virgina Wade of course.)
Wimbledon requires some juggling of the timetable. At the moment I’m limiting myself to a bit of live viewing over dinner plus the highlights in the evening but as the tournament progresses I’ll no doubt be drawn in more and more. Here‘s the schedule for today and here are yesterday’s highlights on the Beeb: I gotta say the BBC do Wimbledon so well, they’ve got it down to a fine art.
Just one bum note: a big resounding boo for Greek player Nick Kyrgios who was boorish and arrogant and three-and-a-half boos for Bernard Tomic who played so lazily and badly that there are reports he won’t be paid for the match. Other than that the tournament is generally well-behaved and respectful – another reason I watch.
Spoiler alert: Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine
Un. Put. Downable. More readable than The Silence of the Girls, more compelling than Killing Eve, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was so addictive that I went to bed late and started reading again first thing. I didn’t even do the crossword, that’s how engrossed I was. Basically I read for four hours yesterday interrupted only by dinner and tennis, and then another hour this morning. Wow.
I’d had an unfair idea about this book, that it was basically light fiction (I’m trying to avoid using the term chicklit) with a twist. I was wrong. If I had to categorise it I’d say it was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time meets We Need to Talk About Kevin. OH has done an excellent summary here so I won’t sport with your patience (or mine) by recapping the plot, but will skip straight to the novel’s strengths and weaknesses. The best feature of this novel was its readability; not in any facile sense but in terms of engaging the reader with the central character who seems, like the narrator of Curious Dog Night-time (as we call it) to be somewhat autistic. She doesn’t understand social interactions and does her best to mimic others, hoping to pass for normal: I can relate to this so hard it makes my heart bleed. Like the narrator of Kevin, she is a survivor of horrific abuse and like her has continuing – and horribly difficult – contact with the perpetrator of that abuse. But this is a hopeful novel, one which starts from a low base and builds gently, gradually and at times amusingly (I laughed out loud a lot) to its conclusion. It reminded me of Goodnight Mr Tom in the way the central character is surrounded by loving, helpful, ordinary people who become her true family. Eleanor Oliphant treads the line between the facile and the grim and leads us towards the light.
If I had to make a criticism I’d say dialogue isn’t Gail Honeyman’s strong point. Eleanor’s speech is perfectly done as she sounds like a cross between a station announcer and the Queen Mother, but ordinary everyday dialogue doesn’t come across so well. But that’s nit-picking; I say this is an excellent read and I give it 9.5 out of 10! Get a copy today.
For my birthday I received an adult colouring book. I am fully seized of the benefits of adult colouring and feel no need to explain or justify it; however the author of the book may have felt such a need as a long list of qualifications succeeds her name, prompting OH to comment: ‘How many qualifications do you need to make a colouring book?’ before adding, ‘she probably felt she wouldn’t be taken seriously otherwise.’ That’s almost certainly true, but what struck me was the tag at the bottom saying ‘a zen colouring book.’
How is it zen? I’m not even sure I know what zen means – I suspect it’s one of those words which, if you think you understand, it you don’t – but I’m wondering in what way this is a zen colouring book as opposed to a non-zen colouring book? What particular qualities does it have that make it so? At first glance I can’t discern any, nor did the introduction give any clue. This does not, of course, make it any the less fun or beneficial, nor am I disputing that colouring can be a deeply meditative process, but zen? Hm.
One of the most disappointing books I’ve read is ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.’ Being at the time both passionately interested in motorbikes and also wanting to find out more about meditation, I seized a copy as soon as I could lay my hands on one, but was sorry to find little in it of either topic. It seems that zen is just a handy marketing term for something a little off-beat, hippyish or related to spirituality in a vague sort of way (and Robert Persig sure was vague*.)
Anyway whether it’s zen or non-zen, unzen or dezen, it’s a good colouring book, and that is enough. More of this anon and how it contributes to the writing process. In the meantime have a very happy Monday, stay cool if it’s hot where you are and don’t forget Wimbledon starts today! And Andy is playing again, as is Johanna Konta, so be prepared for a lot of match reports.
*to be fair, he does say so himself, but I still think it’s a highly self-indulgent book