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Archive for the ‘Literature Month’ Category

I have always wanted to sneak in a cricket book into a reading challenge, and so I was excited to read Gideon Haigh’sStroke of Genius : Victor Trumper and the shot that changed cricket‘ for ‘April in Australia’.

Gideon Haigh is Australia’s premier cricket writer and cricket historian today. This is my first book of his. In this book, Haigh gives us a biography of Victor Trumper, one of Australia’s greatest cricketers, who played before the First World War. Haigh also focuses on the photo which appears on this book’s cover, which is one of the most iconic cricket photos. Through this photo, Haigh explores the early history of cricket photography. Haigh also shines the light on the growth of the Trumper myth and legend across the decades, after his death.

Victor Trumper was one of Australia’s greatest cricketers. He played during what is sometimes described as the golden age of cricket, which ended with the advent of the First World War. He was one of the first Australian sportspersons to be loved outside his country. Since his time, there have been many great Australian cricketers who have come on the scene, especially the great Donald Bradman, who was frequently compared to him. But Trumper’s life story has assumed the state of a legendary myth filled with magical feats which seem to be beyond compare. This book describes some of those feats, some of those stories. There was a particular description that Gideon Haigh quotes from Arthur Mailey’s book – I cried when I read that.

Stroke of Genius‘ is a beautiful love letter to the great Victor Trumper. It is also a fascinating introduction to the history of cricket photography. I loved it and I am glad I read it.

Have you read ‘Stroke of Genius‘? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read Bruce Chatwin’sThe Songlines‘ for a long time. I finally got around to reading it.

Bruce Chatwin decides to go to Australia and do research on the songs of indigenous Australians and learn more about the history of the songs. It appears that the songs function as a map for indigenous Australians and when all the songs by the different tribes are put together, they describe the flora and fauna and the whole landscape of Australia. This is what I understood from the book.

The first half of the book is structured like a classic travelogue – Chatwin reads books on the songs and goes to Australia and talks to a few people and attempts to write the definitive history of the songs (which is next to impossible after talking to a few people). Suddenly, halfway through the book, it appears that Chatwin has run out of material and he suddenly starts sharing quotes from his notebook and his own notes, which are not at all related to native Australians or their songs. They are mostly about nomads in different parts of the world, quotes about nomads and travel by famous writers and stuff about human evolution. Towards the end he tries to make a link which is weak at best.

So the first part of the book is like a travelogue which anyone could have written and the second part is Chatwin sharing parts of his notebook.

The book was very disappointing. I had wanted to read it since my teens and maybe I had built up too high an expectation, but I felt that the book didn’t stick to its theme and even when it did, it wasn’t great. The native Australian characters all look similar (unlike Sally Morgan’s memoir where each person is distinct) and though Chatwin makes all the right liberal noises (‘The aborigines are great. I love them’ kind of thing), it sounds extremely unconvincing. The book was a bestseller when it came out and it got great reviews. I don’t know why.

But there was one silver lining. There was one page in the middle of the book which was absolutely beautiful. I am glad I read that page. I’m sharing it below. Hope you like it.

“I had a presentiment that the ‘travelling’ phase of my life might be passing. I felt, before the malaise of settlement crept over me, that I should reopen those notebooks. I should set down on paper a résumé of the ideas, quotations and encounters which had amused and obsessed me; and which I hoped would shed light on what is, for me, the question of questions: the nature of human restlessness.
      Pascal, in one of his gloomier pensées, gave it as his opinion that all our miseries stemmed from a single cause: our inability to remain quietly in a room.
      Why, he asked, must a man with sufficient to live on feel drawn to divert himself on long sea voyages? To dwell in another town? To go off in search of a peppercorn? Or go off to war and break skulls?
      Later, on further reflection, having discovered the cause of our misfortunes, he wished to understand the reason for them, he found one very good reason: namely, the natural unhappiness of our weak mortal condition; so unhappy that when we gave to it all our attention, nothing could console us.
      One thing alone could alleviate our despair, and that was ‘distraction’ (divertissement): yet this was the worst of our misfortunes, for in distraction we were prevented from thinking about ourselves and were gradually brought to ruin.
      Could it be, I wondered, that our need for distraction, our mania for the new, was, in essence, an instinctive migratory urge akin to that of birds in autumn?
      All the Great Teachers have preached that Man, originally, was a ‘wanderer in the scorching and barren wilderness of this world’ – the words are those of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor – and that to rediscover his humanity, he must slough off attachments and take to the road.”

You can find Lisa’s (from ANZ Litlovers) review of the book here.

You can find Kim’s (from Reading Matters) review of the book here.

Have you read ‘The Songlines‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Sally Morgan’s memoir ‘My Place‘ when I was searching for books written by indigenous Australian writers.

Sally Morgan starts her memoir by talking about her childhood. She describes how life was hard for her and her family, how her mother took care of her and her siblings with the help of her grandmother, how her father (who fought in the Second World War) was either in or out of hospitals and how when he was out of hospitals he spent most of his time at the bar getting drunk with his friends. One day Sally’s classmates in school ask her where she is from, the dreaded question that all immigrants are asked. When she says she is from here, they change tack and ask her where her parents are from. When Sally comes home that evening, she asks her mother the same question. Her mother asks her to tell her classmates that they came from India. Sally is not very convinced but lets it be. Then later Sally’s sister Jill tells her that they are  indigenous Australians or Aborigines. Sally is surprised that this is the first time she is hearing about it and she decides to explore her roots. What happens after that and the secrets that tumble out of the Pandora box are told in the rest of the book.

My Place‘ is a beautiful, insightful memoir. It is heartbreaking to read about all the challenges that indigenous Australians went through, the inhuman treatment they suffered at the hands of the government and the law, and how sometimes they couldn’t keep their own children as they were taken away by the government. Sally Morgan’s story is interspersed by first hand stories narrated by her grandmother’s brother Arthur, her mother Glad and her grandmother Daisy. These stories were my favourite parts of the book. I loved Arthur’s story very much. I also loved the early part of the book in which Sally Morgan talks about her childhood, especially the part in which she describes the pets they kept in her family and how everyone in her family loved animals.

I loved ‘My Place‘. This is the first book by an Australian indigenous author I’ve ever read, and I am glad I discovered it.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“It was halfway through the second term of my fourth year at school that I suddenly discovered a friend. Our teacher began reading stories about Winnie the Pooh every Wednesday. From then on, I was never sick on Wednesdays. In a way, discovering Pooh was my salvation. He made me feel more normal. I suppose I saw something of myself in him. Pooh lived in a world of his own and he believed in magic, the same as me. He wasn’t particularly good at anything, but everyone loved him, anyway. I was fascinated by the way he could make an adventure out of anything, even tracks in the snow. And while Pooh was obsessed with honey, I was obsessed with drawing. When I couldn’t find any paper or pencils, I would fish small pieces of charcoal from the fire, and tear strips off the paperbark tree in our yard and draw on that. I drew in the sand, on the footpath, the road, even on the walls when Mum wasn’t looking. One day, a neighbour gave me a batch of oil paints left over from a stint in prison. I felt like a real artist. My drawings were very personal. I hated anyone watching me draw. I didn’t even like people seeing my drawings when they were finished. I drew for myself, not anyone else. One day, Mum asked me why I always drew sad things. I hadn’t realised until then that my drawings were sad. I was shocked to see my feelings glaring up at me from the page. I became even more secretive about anything I drew after that.”

You can find Lisa’s (from ANZ Litlovers) review of the book here.

Have you read Sally Morgan’sMy Place‘? What do you think about it?

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Continuing my exploration of Australian literature, I read ‘The Spare Room‘ by Helen Garner today. This is the first book by Helen Garner that I have read.

The story is narrated by the main character Helen. Her friend Nicola is coming to stay with her for three weeks. Nicola has cancer and all her treatment options have been exhausted and doctors have said that it was time to prepare for the next step. But Nicola refuses to give up and she is trying alternative therapy now. That is the reason she is coming to stay with Helen. What happens over the course of the next three weeks is narrated in the story.

I found ‘The Spare Room‘ moving and powerful. It almost read like nonfiction. Anyone who has taken care of a family member or a relative or a friend with a terminal condition or a longterm chronic condition will be able to relate to it – when you have to frequently wake up in the middle of the night for emergencies, when emergencies have a sneaky way of arriving only during the weekend or in the middle of the night when medical help is not easy to get or transportation is hard to organize, when you get up in the morning and the first thing you do is check how the person under your care is doing and that determines how the rest of your day is going to be, how the person under your care refuses to listen to you and refuses to do the simple things right or does things which are not good for their condition which makes you angry and howl with frustration, how you love this person and want to take care of them because they are suffering but you also hate them at the same time – all these are realistically depicted in the book. The narrator is portrayed as a complex, real, imperfect person and Helen Garner gets that pitch perfect and it is beautiful to read. Helen Garner’s prose flows beautifully and the pages just fly. It is surprising given the fact that the book’s subject is heavy.

I loved my first Helen Garner. I can’t wait to read my next one.

You can find Lisa’s (from ‘ANZ Litlovers’) nuanced review of the book here.

You can find Kim’s (from ‘Reading Matters’) effusive review of the book here.

Have you read ‘The Spare Room‘? What do you think about it?

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Thea Astley is one of Australia’s greatest writers. She is a four-time winner of the Miles Franklin award. ‘Girl with a Monkey‘ is her first book. I discovered Thea Astley through Lisa’s (from ANZ Litlovers) review of her books.

Elsie is a teacher in a small town. Her time in the school is getting over and Elsie is leaving town to move to work in a school in another small town. The story describes what happens on the last day before Elsie leaves, how easy or hard it is for her to part from friends and from her school, how hard it is for her to break up with her boyfriend who is possessive and is obsessed with her. As the story describes that last day, we are also taken into the past, and we see how things were when Elsie moved to that town, how she met Laura, her best friend, how two men vied for her love, how she favoured one over the other and how this man turned out to be obsessive, even dangerous.

I enjoyed reading ‘Girl with a Monkey’. The story was interesting but what I loved most was Thea Astley’s prose. It was not the kind of prose you can push forward with or blitz through, you have to pay attention, you have to let the words come to you and work their magic. As Thea Astley herself says in the book in a different context – “Jostling and rushing were unknown in these northern latitudes because they were almost an impossibility under the vertical sun. Here one became a lounger, a lover of shade-patches and the cool gulfs of doorways.” In cricket language, we can’t read the book like we are batting during a T20 match. We need to read it like we are batting on the first day morning of a Melbourne or Brisbane test, waiting for the ball to come to us, navigating the swing and the seam and not rushing around but taking our time and enjoying the experience. I did that and it was very beautiful. Astley’s beautiful sentences were a pleasure to read and I loved that aspect of the book very much. I want to read another Astley book just for her prose.

I’ll leave you with two of my favourite passages from the book.

“There was some hardness in her that made her feel no emotion at all towards things she left, only to those she came back to. So many people and undertakings had abandoned her, or alternatively she had been forced to abandon so many, that a parting was no difficult thing. The very emptiness of the future gave a sorrowful pleasure. It was akin to travelling continually in space, tacking briefly towards some unattainable astral beach only to be swept away before anchoring safely.”

“There is a certain permanence of beauty and truth to be extracted from natural scenery. We all have those moments of crystalline perception when the flesh, divinely prompted, seems to melt into nothingness, leaving the mind nervously aware, apprehending, cut off from was or will be, swung from there to here: those times when pausing at night beside the weatherboard house, starved for real music, a piano cuts the stillness with melodic scimitars, boomerangs of tune; or being a new-comer to the stunning plainsong of mountain and valley sweeping down into green sunlight, the breath is held unaware.”

Have you read read Thea Astley’s ‘Girl with a Monkey’ or any other book by her? What do you think about it?

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The Family Doctor‘ by Debra Oswald is the second Australian book I read in April. I discovered this book through Kim’s (from ‘Reading Matters’) review of it.

Paula Kaczmarek is a doctor. Her friend Stacey is currently staying with her with her two kids, after Stacey moved away from her husband because of domestic violence. One day Paula comes home and finds the door open. Inside the house she finds Stacey dead, shot through the head. She searches for Stacey’s kids and finds them dead in the same way. While she is reeling in shock, she sees Stacey’s estranged husband enter the room with a rifle. While we and Paula are terrified about what he is going to do next, he shoots himself. After Paula recovers from this traumatic experience, she gets back to work. One day she notices that one of her patients has injuries caused clearly by domestic violence. When Paula offers help, this patient refuses. She says that her life will get harder if she complains against her husband. Paula thinks. She doesn’t want this woman to suffer the same fate as her friend Stacey. She doesn’t want to sit quiet and watch another woman get killed by her partner. She finally does something unconventional.

I can’t tell you more, of course. You have to read the book to find out what happened.

I loved ‘The Family Doctor‘. The story is gripping, the action picks up on the first page and never lets go till the end. The friendship between Paula and Stacey and another friend Anita is beautifully depicted. The book asks some difficult questions on how the law works in domestic violence cases, on how it is possible for the perpetrator to get away with things. We can’t stop thinking of the first line from William Gaddis’A Frolic of His Own‘ – “Justice? – You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.” Dr.Kaczmarek, Paula to us, realizes that and she kicks ass and dispenses her own brand of justice.

I wondered how the book would end and I thought I wouldn’t be happy with it, but the author surprised me. It was a wonderful ending. It wasn’t the perfect ending I wanted (I always want good characters to live happily ever after), but it was a very satisfying ending. Brava Debra Oswald for getting it right!

Have you read ‘The Family Doctor‘? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read ‘A Fraction of the Whole‘ by Steve Toltz ever since it came out. I finally got around to reading it. It was a thick book, almost approaching chunkster-ish size at around 700 pages filled with tiny font, and while reading it, I was distracted by real life, elections, addiction to TV shows, temptations of slimmer books. But I persevered and I was thrilled when I crossed the last page today. It took me 21 days to read, and that is a really long time for a 700-page book, but I am glad that I stuck with it and didn’t give up.

The story starts with the narrator Jasper Dean describing his life in school and discovering one day that he had an uncle who was a famous outlaw and almost a folk hero. When Jasper asks his dad about his uncle, his dad, after some initial hesitation, tells the story. And we are taken on a roller coaster ride as the story moves from past to present through different time periods and things get crazier with every page.

Reading ‘A Fraction of the Whole‘ was like reading the literary version of a Coen brothers movie. The dark humour is amazing and I couldn’t stop laughing while reading the book. It was odd, because the story is mostly sad as bad things keep happening to the main characters, but the dark humour is so cool and stylish that it lightens the bleakness of the story. The book has a brilliant first passage which grabs our attention. I was thinking that as authors always give importance to the first passage and the first pages of a book, the first few pages will be gripping, but as the book progresses things will slip and the prose will lose its charm and become plain. But surprisingly, it was not the case here. The prose is cool and stylish and the pacing is taut even in page 200. It is hard to maintain that for hundreds of pages and Steve Toltz has done the impossible. I loved that aspect of the book.

The date on the first page that I have written says that I got the book in 2008, when it first came out. I am glad I didn’t read it then, because I didn’t understand dark humour then. Though I feel sad that the book lay on my shelf for years gathering dust, I am glad I read it now, because I could appreciate it better.

My favourite part of the book was the first part which is about Jasper’s father Martin and Martin’s brother Terry. It is a sad story, a realistic story, but the dark humour is at its most brilliant here. Later in the book, the events become more and more crazy and at some point we have to suspend our disbelief.

The book also makes references to real events like corruption in sports – the Shane Warne – Mark Waugh interaction with bookies is alluded to. There are even two characters who look suspiciously like the media moghul Rupert Murdoch and his son.

I loved ‘A Fraction of the Whole‘. It is one of my favourite books of the year. I am glad I finally read it. This book came out in 2008 and it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I wondered why it didn’t win. So I went and checked the shortlist. That year the Booker Prize was won by Aravind Adiga’s ‘The White Tiger’. I don’t know in which world ‘The White Tiger’ is better than Steve Toltz’ book. That is one more decision that the Booker Prize committee got wrong. Toltz’ book deserved the prize. Steve Toltz has written one more book since, but has otherwise kept quiet and slipped into anonymity. I don’t know whether he is one-book-a-decade writer like Donna Tartt and Jeffrey Eugenides, or whether that is all there is and he is like Patrick Süskind and has retired to a quiet life in the outback. I hope this is not the end, and hope he writes more.

I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite passages from the book. I hope they make you laugh.

“I was taking a 45-minute shower. I know I was being unforgivably inconsiderate of the environment, but I’d read in ‘New Scientist’ that in a couple of billion years the expanding universe will have stretched to breaking point and will start contracting like a rubber band, time will run backward, and (therefore) the water will eventually return to the showerhead.”

“The worst thing you can say about someone in a society like ours is that they can’t hold down a job. It conjures images of unshaven losers with weak grips watching sadly as the jobs slip free and float away. There’s nothing we respect more than work, and there’s nothing we denigrate more than the unwillingness to work, and if someone wants to dedicate himself to painting or writing poetry, he’d better be holding down a job at a hamburger restaurant if he knows what’s good for him.”

Have you read ‘A Fraction of the Whole’? What do you think about it?

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A Man’s Place‘ is Annie Ernaux’ ode to her father. In the book about her mother, Annie Ernaux compares her father and mother and says this :

“He took me to the funfair, to the circus, and to see Fernandel’s films. He taught me how to ride a bicycle and recognize the garden vegetables. With him I had fun, with her I had “conversations”.”

Ernaux expands on that in this book, by going back to the beginning, to her grandparents’ time, describes the environment her father grew up in, how her grandfather hated people who read because he himself couldn’t read or write, how her father did well in school but was still taken off school when he was around twelve years old and made to work in a farm and earn his keep. And how because of this Ernaux’ father always wanted her to do well academically and was proud of her achievements.

A Man’s Place‘ takes us back to a different era, to early twentieth century France and makes us see the world through the eyes of a twelve year old boy who becomes a farmworker, then a factory worker, who fights in the First World War and later gets into the grocery and cafe business with his wife. I liked it very much. Though I liked Ernaux’ book on her mother, ‘A Woman’s Story‘ even more, ‘A Man’s Place‘ complements that perfectly, as we get to know about Ernaux’ father.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“He had to walk two kilometres to get to school…The teacher was a harsh man, rapped the boys’ fingers with an iron ruler, he was respected. Some of his pupils ended up among the best in their canton to have passed their primary certificate; one or two even made it to teachers’ training college. My father missed class when he had to harvest the apples, tie the straw and hay into sheaves, and sow and reap whatever was in season. When he and his elder brother went back to school, the master would yell : “So your parents want you to remain as ignorant as they are!” He managed to learn how to read and write properly. He liked learning. He liked drawing too…At the age of twelve, he was due to take the primary certificate. My grandfather took him out of school and got him a job on the same farm as him. He could no longer be fed without paying his way. “We didn’t even think about it, it was the same for everyone.””

“…it took me years to ‘understand’ the kindliness with which well-mannered people greet each other. At first, I felt ashamed, I didn’t deserve such consideration. Sometimes I thought they had conceived a particular liking for me. Later I realized that their smiling faces and kind, earnest questions meant nothing more to them than eating with their mouth shut or blowing their noses discreetly.”

I read this for ‘Reading Independent Publishers Month‘ hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life, an event which celebrates indie publishers for the whole of February. The edition of ‘A Man’s Place’ I read was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Have you read ‘A Man’s Place‘? What do you think about it?

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In ‘A Girl’s Story‘, Annie Ernaux takes us to the time when she was eighteen years old, when she had just graduated from high school and was joining a summer camp as one of the group leaders. It was the first time in her life she was staying away from her family, especially away from the constant gaze of her mother. How this sudden freedom impacts her life, how she is able to stay up late, go to movies, drink with friends, act on her feelings of desire for the first time, and how she lost her innocence and virginity – all these are told in the first part of the book. The second part of the book talks about her time after camp, when she tries to train to become a teacher and how it doesn’t work for her, and how she leaves that and goes to London with one of her friends to work as an au pair and how she comes back after that and enrolls in university to pursue the study of literature.

A Girl’s Story‘ is different from other Ernaux books in three ways. It is double the size of other slim Ernaux books. It has a new translator, Alison L. Strayer. (I miss Tanya Leslie). The most significant difference though is this. In this book Annie Ernaux has clearly amped up her prose. There are sentences like this :

“But she, no doubt, was forgotten more quickly, like an anomaly, a breach of common sense, a form of chaos or absurdity, something laughable it would be ridiculous to tax their memories with.”

And this :

“But what is the point of writing if not to unearth things, or even just one thing that cannot be reduced to any kind of psychological or sociological explanation and is not the result of a preconceived idea or demonstration but a narrative : something that emerges from the creases when a story is unfolded and can help us understand – endure – events that occur and the things that we do?”

I don’t know whether this is because Annie Ernaux changed her writing style, or whether the new translator rendered it this way. I am leaning more towards the first, though the second one could be the truth. I love the new style, the long sentences and the beautiful prose, but they feel very un-Ernaux. One part of me, the Ernaux fan in me, misses the prose of early Ernaux, the short sentences, and the deceptively simple prose which was powerful.

I enjoyed reading ‘A Girl’s Story‘. It is about a time when a girl becomes a young woman and the kind of changes she goes through as a person and how she navigates that transformation. I liked the way Ernaux looks back at her past and treats her past self as a different person and tries to look at that person from the distance of perspective that time gives. It is fascinating to read.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“The time that lies ahead of me grows shorter. There will inevitably be a last book, as there is always a last lover, a last spring, but no sign by which to know them. I am haunted by the idea that I could die without ever having written about ‘the girl of ’58’, as I very soon began to call her. Someday there will be no one left to remember. What that girl and no other experienced will remain unexplained, will have been lived for no reason.
No other writing project seems to me as – I wouldn’t say luminous, or new, and certainly not joyful, but vital : it allows me to rise above time. The very thought of ‘just enjoying life’ is unbearable. Every moment lived without a writing project resembles the last.”

I read this for ‘Reading Independent Publishers Month‘ hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life, an event which celebrates indie publishers for the whole of February. The edition of ‘A Girl’s Story’ I read was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Have you read ‘A Girl’s Story‘? What do you think about it?

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This is the third consecutive Annie Ernaux book I’ve read. In ‘Happening‘, Annie Ernaux takes us back to the year 1963. She is a young university student. She is 23-years old. One day she discovers that she is pregnant. She doesn’t want to have the baby. There is one small problem though. Abortion is illegal in France. Doctors don’t even mention the word while speaking to patients. Doctors can go to jail and be permanently barred from practising medicine, if it is revealed that they helped a pregnant woman in any small way to get an abortion. As Ernaux tries to come to terms with her condition and tries to deal with the situation, she finds that people around her can’t be relied upon. But she also finds help in unexpected quarters, especially from a religious classmate who thinks that abortion is evil. As every kind of method to induce a miscarriage – including medicines, injections and even inserting a knitting needle inside herself – fails, Annie Ernaux is pushed into a situation of finding an abortionist who is working outside the confines of the law. If she or the abortionist are caught, they both will go to jail. What happens after that is told in the rest of the book.

Happening‘ is a powerful, moving book. Though it talks of a time which is nearly sixty years back, and we have come a long way since, as the law has changed and abortion is not illegal anymore in many places, in practice things are still complex and freedom of choice exists only on paper. Ernaux’ book describes how things were once upon a time, and how she survived to tell the tale, and she further goes on to ask some tough questions.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“The fact that my personal experience of abortion, i.e. clandestinity, is a thing of the past does not seem a good enough reason to dismiss it. Paradoxically, when a new law abolishing discrimination is passed, former victims tend to remain silent on the grounds that ‘now it’s all over’. So what went on is surrounded by the same veil of secrecy as before. Today abortion is no longer outlawed and this is precisely why I can afford to steer clear of the social views and inevitably stark formulas of the rebel Seventies – ‘abuse against women’, etc. – and face the reality of this unforgettable event.”

“Somehow I felt there existed a connection between my social background and my present condition. Born into a family of labourers and shopkeepers, I was the first to attend higher education and so had been spared both factory and retail work. Yet neither my baccalauréat nor my degree in literature had waived that inescapable fatality of the working-class – the legacy of poverty – embodied by both the pregnant girl and the alcoholic. Sex had caught up with me, and I saw the thing growing inside me as the stigma of social failure.”

“Girls like me were a waste of time for doctors. With no money and no connections – otherwise we wouldn’t accidentally end up on their doorstep – we were a constant reminder of the law that could send them to prison and close down their practice for good. They would never tell us the truth, that they weren’t prepared to sacrifice their career for some young doe-eyed damsel foolish enough to get knocked up. Or maybe their sense of duty was such that they would have chosen to die rather than break a law that could cost women their lives. They must have assumed that most women would go through the abortion anyway, in spite of the ban. All in all, plunging a knitting needle into a womb weighed little next to ruining one’s career.”

“The law was everywhere. In the euphemisms and understatements of my journal; the so-called forced marriages; the shame of women who aborted and the disapproval of those who did not. In the sheer impossibility of ever imagining that one day women might be able to abort freely. As was often the case, you couldn’t tell whether abortion was banned because it was wrong or wrong because it was banned. People judged according to the law, they didn’t judge the law.”

“The next morning I was back in my room, which I’d left early the previous afternoon with all my books for class. The bed was neatly made, nothing had been touched and almost a whole day had gone by. This is the sort of detail that tells us our life is beginning to fall apart.”

Happening‘ is a powerful book and is a must read. I am glad I read it.

I read this for ‘Reading Independent Publishers Month‘ hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life, an event which celebrates indie publishers for the whole of February. The edition of ‘Happening‘ I read was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Have you read ‘Happening‘? What do you think about it?

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