I've finally read Fay Weldon's controversial What Makes Women Happy and I rather liked it. Aunt Fay weighs in on moral reasoning with her trademark wicked wry (rye!) and wit. The last chapters on 'Saints & Sinners' were particularly moving:

Death, bereavement, loneliness and shame: these are the four horses of the modern apocalypse. They circle our new reality, now we are people of the city and not the cave. Their riders, the horsemen, are a fearful lot: they are called despair, depression, isolation and self-doubt. But being so fearful they are easily unhorsed and its simple enough to get out of there way. It's just not nice to find them champing the grasses in your back garden. You need to do something.

What follows is a pragmatic guide to surviving inevitable mortal decay and moral contagion. If being good makes you happy and being happy makes you good a little solipsistic roll in the hay will not go amiss.

Read more... )
The NYTimes Book Review has a review of Fay Weldon's Chalcot Crescent today. I haven't read it, yet, but I do know that the review (and reviewer) are a little behind in keeping up. Crescent was published in 2009, her latest, Kehua! came out this past August.

Read more... )
Brother and I went to the mall to get a strip of photos from one of those instant photo machines. It's all digital now, which means the 'development' is almost instantaneous, but the process is still fun. You get two strips for $3. I seem to remember these being $1 for one strip when I was a kid, which means it's held its value. We sent a jokey card about 'family resemblance' with the pictures. Mom didn't get the joke, she commented on how much we looked like each other rather than our reference that our gawps and grimaces are a genetic legacy from her. But it was still very fun and appreciated and avoided some of the heavy sentimentality that often comes with the day. I sent her a book of poems about famous mothers and daughters (I also wrote a review to go with it, but for some reason they did not see fit to post it yet!) which touched her. Her FB update today was "To all of you who have mothers: remember to thank them for their strength and courage; their determination and audaciousness; and for their love for you! They did the best they could with what they had."

Fay Weldon's Rhode Island Blues )

Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman )
You might not find this post about this interview of Fay Weldon as funny as I did, but I thought there was something deliciously decadent both about the first's sincerity and the later's irony.

Several years ago, Weldon stirred the bog of controversy with her What Makes Women Happy a sort of manifesto in reactionary gender roles. Sure it's offensive, but at the same time, there is a kind of ring of truth about much of what she says. (Or the fact that she is hardly the only one toting such dreck. Evolutionary biology and Cosmo have a lot to answer for!) For people who feel their feminist icon has failed them, I dare wonder if they've read her books at all. Weldon's books are scathing criticisms of feminism at large and women more specifically. Most of them feature carping, bitching, or pathetically passive female characters first being screwed over by their men and then being screwed over by their friends who are also screwing their men.

I told you I would need to slip the leash now and then. Apologies in advance... )
I recently read Fay Weldon's The Spa [American version of the title], which is her take on Boccacio's Decameron. I was thinking about the various issues discussed therein and how important/relevant they are, even when presented in such a vulgar and sordid way.

Weldon is a rare writer of satire in these overly sincere times. One of her repetitive themes is how women aren't prevented from making good choices about their lives and well-being merely from the blinding or entrapment of circumstance, but are complicit through sentiment. The unraveling that often occurs for these women reveals secret, hidden, strengths that run contrary to what was both expected and suggested by their previous lives.

I especially liked the story of the Vicar's Ex-Wife, which is about a marriage/vicarage haunted by a poltergeist that is always breaking and hiding things. This is, unsurprisingly, indicative of both the abusive/controlling marriage and the wives (repressed) emotional state:

Read more... )
Splitting by Fay Weldon - Not sure what made me decide it was time for another dose of Weldon, (usually she's the antidote to overt sentimentalism) but this book about a divorced woman whose multiple personalities help her get through the crisis, bored me. Weldon is one of those writers who rewrites the same book over and over throughout her career. I love her sarcasmic wit and biting insight; but in the case of this particular book I recommend reading her autobiography Auto da Fay, instead. It's pretty much the same material, but worked over in a more interesting way. (Complete with narratorial split from those portions of her life that require psychological distance.)

Catherynne M. Valente: The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden - I've heard so many good things about this book, I read through my initial disgust at the overly adjective-laden style (purplish prose being one of my main objections to fantasy) and discovered I liked it. It was the Bear's Tale that won me over. I was kind of annoyed that there weren't more bears in the book total. I loved the idea of Bears-as-Astrologers. I enjoyed the nested tales. I liked Valente's pro-female read on fairytales. I liked the transformative element and focus on monsters. I would highly recommend the book to some of you ([livejournal.com profile] ashfae), but probably not mention it to others. I will definitely read the second volume, The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice, which is due out Tuesday.

But I'm also a little disappointed that this seems to be the only way that fairy tales can now be published. The nesting at times seemed a little contrived, and I wondered if I'd like the tales more or less if they stood slightly more independently. I guess I'll have to wait until finishing the second volume to make up my mind. Recommended for those who enjoyed the fantastical elements of Sharon Shinn's The Shapechanger's Wife, an elegant little volume that I recommended to a great many of you.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale - This 'true crime' book about the murder of a three-year-old in mid-19C England was interesting because of everything that was NOT the murder. Summerscale covers the inner-workings (and inventories) of a Victorian home, the emergence of the detective, and the influences of this case had on literature.

Needless to say I adored the trivia in this book including the extremely high statistics on child murders in this era and how many people got away with it, weird legal proceedings, outrageous newspaper reports, and generally the sense that life then was not any better then it is now and was in many cases a heck of a lot worse.

But the best part of the book is the author's discussion of the impact this case had on literature from the period. (And of course early rumblings of what was to become the birth of psychology. I need to learn more about 'alienists.') This is one of those books that is the payoff for being a well-read person. I couldn't be written or read by anyone who didn't have some passing familiarity of 19C literature and it opened up some of those global connections I like to explore.

It also gave me nightmares about being a nanny in a household where children had been repeatedly murdered or disappeared. My job was to protect my charges from murder or vanishment; but as no one knew WHY the previous children had been harmed (or by whom) it turned me into a paranoid wreck. It was not unlike Turn of the Screw... I was afraid to sleep or let the children out of my sight for a second; but the dream offered one aspect of humor: Russell Crowe played some kind of visiting somebody who's always turning up at these country homes. The question was whether he was a sympathetic ear intended to soothe the nerves of a restless and over-imaginative governess, or a MURDERER!
Okay, guess how I spent my day? Doing absolutely nothing and absorbed in the nasty world of Fay Weldon.

She May Not Leave by Fay Weldon )

Abandoning Erica Jong's 'Fear of Flying' )

A partial list of least-liked books. )

And if that weren't enough criticism for one day, now I have to go find a way to find a way to write a positive book review about a crappy book by an author I like. For some reason I don't find British Imperialism amusing on a solar system level. We are supposed to root for the Queen, and boo for the spiders, while the other alien civilizations are given status with Nesbit's Irish cooks and cannibals. At least she was LIVING in the British Empire when she wrote it. There is no excuse for creating this imperialist nonsense in this day and age. It seems especially dangerous when it's cute-ified for children to read.

Oh well, I didn't find Pullman's anti-religious rants easy to take either, but I still liked elements of His Dark Materials, though as an answer to Paradise Lost it was still a stretch. Why can't anyone understand that the key to Paradise is Lucifer's longing?
I have no reason to adore Fay Wheldon aside from her marvelous Letters to Alice Upon First Reading Jane Austen, which is a book I would recommend to ANY reader who enjoys Jane Austen. An epistlary novel, the book bridges the gap between fiction and essay and really puts the work of Jane Austen into context.

Fay Wheldon's autobiography was recently released, and I managed to score a copy at the public library. I gobbled it up in a weekend, which was probably reading too fast. I'm used to reading children's books and finishing them quickly. Sometimes I forget it takes a little more time and mental fortitude to conquer a book for adults.

The first half of the autobiography deals with Fay's family history and her childhood spent in New Zealand. She comes from a family of bohemian intellectuals who were into Free Love, Fabianism, and all that sort of Life Force nonesense at the turn of the last century. It made for an interesting and rather unstable family life. Although she was born in the early 1930s, her parents divorced shortly after her birth and she spent the majority of her childhood living in relative poverty with her mother. They moved frequently, usually from house to house, but Fay felt stable, spending her summers with her father, and attending one of the three different schools based around the own square.

After the end of WWII, her mother received an inheritance from a wealthy relative. Rather than buying a house, she used the inheritance to buy passage back to England for the entire family. The England they returned to was not the England her mother left 15 years before. The country was wartorn and impoverished. They went from relative poverty in a warm climate to more extreme poverty in a cold country with limited resources.

At this point, Fay is 15, and the book, along with her life, takes a turn for the worse. Fay manages to put herself through college, receiving a degree in Economics and Psychology. But the year of her graduation, 1952, is not a progressive time. She has problems finding a job, and winds up pregnant, in a time and place not friendly towards single mothers.

Wheldon, who claims to feel little affinity with herself from that time, refers to herself in third person for this portion of the book, discussing the many upheavals, hauntings, and self-destructive sexual behavior that took place as she tried to pull her life together and keep her family from falling apart.

Finally, Fay, who goes through a number of name changes throughout the course of the book as her marital and professional status changes, meets her future husband, by the name of Wheldon, and sends out what is to become the beginning of her writing career, and the book ends abruptly.

The details, names, places, etc. in this second half of the book are muddled and unclear. I found the material to be uncomfortable, as does Wheldon herself. As to the eventual breakup of her marriage to Wheldon, and her subsequent pairing with husband #3 (Fox), nothing is said. The second half raises more questions than it answers, and I almost wish I hadn't read it, since it seems to ruin what came before.

Anyway, I imagine this book could interst those who are not already fans of Fay Wheldon, but I think it is best suiting towards those who know her life and literature better than I do myself.

Overall rating: B - intriguing, but frustratingly incomplete.

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zalena

June 2015

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