Anne Tyler (2015) – A Spool of Blue Thread

CALAM1I like Doris Day films.  Sometimes, life is ugly and injustice leads me to rail, so I escape into a Doris Day rom-com.  I choose Doris, however, because despite the whimpering-simpering storyline, she always sets her chin defiantly, pulls a funny face and provides character.  She is not alarmingly beautiful, but a talented comedienne who can belt out a tune and looks great in chaps.  This is also how I feel about Anne Tyler.  She is often accused of being ‘cosy’.  The world of her books is ‘small’ and ‘everyday’.  But Tyler can also poke her tongue out, display great comic timing and draw attention to strength as well as frailty. Continue reading


He Named me Malala (2015)

malala posterMalala Yousafzai is a remarkable woman, with a spirit and voice that needs to be acknowledged and heard.  What happens to this voice when it is mediated through the lens of a documentary maker?  He Named Me Malala is a fascinating film, through which Malala’s charm and courage shines, but it is not perfect.  It starts with the mythologised context of Malala’s naming.  Her father chose her name which is from the Afghan folk heroine Malalai who rallied Pashtun fighters against the British in 1880.   This provides a context of colonialism and conflict and a narrative of defiance.  There was a powerful scene, narrated by her father (over animation) where on seeing the family tree populated entirely by men, he draws a line and adds her name.  For me, this is what that act symbolised:

“Women’s history has a dual goal: to restore women to history and to restore our history to women.” (Kelly-Gadol, 1987: 15)

Continue reading

Karen Joy Fowler – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013)

karen joy fowlerSo the first decision I have to make in writing about this book is whether to disclose or not.  At the centre of the book is a “twist”, a secret, which the book only fully reveals about a third of the way through. I did not know this before I started reading and I think this enhanced my experience, so there are no spoilers here.  I loved this book and I want others to read it too.

This, however, makes the writing difficult.  How do I write about the book without acknowledging the weirdness of a central relationship?  Simple, I make it short.  Continue reading

Jenny Offill – Dept. of Speculation (2014)

dept of speculationDept. of Speculation is an intense delight.  It is also such a slight book (only 177 pages and lots of white space), that I didn’t think I would be writing about it on this blog.  However, as someone who claims ‘narrative’ as my preferred methodology, I am really interested in story-telling and I couldn’t ignore the way that this story is told. Continue reading

Anna Hope – Wake (2014)

anna hopeWhy can’t he just move on? 

Not just him.  All of them.  All of the ex-soldiers, standing begging in the street, boards tied around their necks.  All of them reminding you of something that you want to forget.  It went on long enough.  She grew up under it, like a great squatting thing, leaching all the colour and joy from life.

She kicks her dance dress into the corner of the room.

The war’s over, why can’t all of them just bloody well move on?

Continue reading

Margaret Drabble – The Pure Gold Baby

pure gold babyThis blog is not supposed to be a review of my reading; nor is it supposed to offer recommendations for others. This is just as well, because although I can see that Margaret Drabble’s novel is expertly written, it was an uncomfortable read that I would struggle to recommend, especially if your leisure time is short and reading is a part of your escape. Rather, this is a site for making connections between artistic portrayals of the world and the discipline of social policy. So, while I found this read sometimes frustrating and anti-climatic, what I want to explore here is my unease with the book.

This is the story of an anthropologist (Jess) and her daughter (Anna) who has learning disabilities. However, this is not told by either of the main protagonists. In some ways this is entirely appropriate as they form the polar opposites of a spectrum when it comes to the ability to tell stories. Anthropologists are often privileged to tell the stories of others, whilst people with learning disabilities are rarely allowed to have a voice. However, this was the source of my discomfort and possibly also the strength of the writing. As Czarniawska (2004: 5) says:

“… other people or institutions concoct narratives for others without including them in a conversation; this is what power is about

Continue reading