Helen Dunmore – Birdcage Walk (2017)

birdcage walk coverWhen I first started this blog I wrote that I wanted to use my reading, cinema viewing, theatre and exhibition visits to help me with understanding the discipline of social policy and my place in the world.  This blog aims to be an inter-disciplinary space using culture to understand the practicalities of politics.  Helen Dunmore does something similar with her fiction.  She asks ordinary people to cope with the dramas of history and politics.  For example, The Siege (2001) focuses on the Levin family trapped inside Leningrad while Hitler’s army surrounds the city.  The Lie (2014) gives a raw portrayal of a soldier’s return from World War 1.  Exposure (2016) examines a marriage under the strain of the Cold War.  This novel does something different.  The big event is the French Revolution.  However, the triumph and horror of the ferocious events of Paris are experienced vicariously as the action of the novel is set in Bristol. Continue reading

Naomi Alderman – The Power (2016)

The PowerInequality is everywhere.

Evidencing inequality is the easy part.  Exposing the injustice and ridiculous consequences of inequality is important.  But, understanding the reasons for its ongoing hold on social life is where it gets difficult.  This novel Naomi Alderman’s The Power runs with the suggestion that the reason for gender inequality is as banal as physical strength.  Continue reading

Margaret Atwood – The Heart Goes Last

heart-goes-lastI have an academic interest in utopias.  Imagination is often underplayed in social policy, but, to me, creating future worlds is an inevitable product of redistributing resources in the present.  A current fantasy of mine, in a near-future Utopia is that one of my favourite authors has read my blog and deliberately uses the motif of Doris Day as a ploy, so that I write about her work.  Atwood understands the technology, the communication networks and the soft power of blogging.  The tens of views my blog regularly receives means she could find a new audience of social workers and policy researchers previously considered ‘hard to reach’[1].

My imagination is not complete enough to detail fully the symbiotic relationship between academic and author that would flourish in the near future, but I can at least flatter myself that Atwood (or Margaret as I call her when we text and email) have a shared understanding of the complexity and nuance that the seemingly innocent image of Doris Day can evoke. Continue reading

Cynthia Bond – Ruby (2015)

rubyReading plays a number of roles in my professional and private lives.  Sometimes I read fiction to transport myself out of the present.  I read fiction at night to provide for that gap between the switched on working mind and the sleeping one.  However, writing this blog means I make connections between the theories and explanations of social policy and the fiction I read to escape.  This was most acute when reading Ruby.

The social policy academic side of me, would describe Ruby as a novel about racism, sexism, their intersection, child abuse, child sexual exploitation (CSE) and poverty. The social work educator might use it as an example to study the impact of grief, bereavement and trauma.  Yet none of those terms would be found in Ruby. The vocabulary of the novel and my day job are very different, even if the content is shared. Continue reading

Tess Hadley – The Past (2015)

the pastAfter the trauma of reading The Tidal Zone, Tessa Hadley’s The Past was a welcome retreat.  A mildly dysfunctional family in a cosy, mildly dysfunctional setting.  It was a charming, knowing read.  It understood the point of fiction and the number of roles it can play.

One aspect of the story is the romantic relationship between Molly and Kasim, in which the slightly older Kasim casts himself as knowing seducer. Of course, it is not as simple as that:

“Don’t be anxious about this, he said – I’ll be very gentle.  I’ve had quite a bit of experience.

– I’ve had some too, Molly said, – so I’m not anxious”

Continue reading

Sarah Moss – The Tidal Zone (2016)

The Tidal ZoneI would never have read this book had it not been recommended by a friend whose judgement I trust.  I certainly wouldn’t have taken it on holiday, without that recommendation.  This is a book about a Dad whose daughter inexplicably collapses and (momentarily) dies from an anaphylactic shock.  I am the mother of a child who had a serious reaction to a walnut (that I’d fed her) and had to watch as doctors stuck needles into my frightened, half-breathing girl to save her life.  Being on holiday with that child is a negotiation – health insurance, systems, languages, resources.  For example, earlier in the year we went to New York rather than Borneo, because I knew I could be understood if I needed to shout at doctors.  Continue reading

Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch (2013)

gold finch bookMy first blog in a long time and there is a good reason why it has taken so long – I have been reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and it is huge and I have very little time for reading for pleasure.

I have finished reading the novel at much the same time as the #7daysofaction campaign has been launched.  #7daysofaction is a social media campaign to raise awareness of adults with learning disabilities who are being warehoused in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) across the UK.  When I first started research disability in the 1990s, I was particularly inspired by Jenny Morris book – Pride against Prejudice and when considering the right to family life, I am always reminded of these words:

 “Powerlessness characterises the experience of residential care and the nature of institutionalism affects even those of us who are not in residential care. The possibility of institutionalism hangs over many disabled people living in our own homes, fuelled by the fear that one day the support which makes our independence possible will disappear, or that an increase in functional limitations will prove too much for whatever resources are available to us” (Morris, 1991: 127) Continue reading