Book Review: The Pregnant WidowPosted: June 5, 2010
I’m so upset that I’m not at Hay Festival right now. Because tomorrow’s line-up looks phenomenal. Not only is Stephen Fry doing a talk, but Zadie Smith and Martin Amis are both on the line up. Now Zadie Smith is awesome for all sorts of reasons, and coincidentally I actually read White Teeth at Hay Festival last year. But this year I’d be more interested in seeing Martin Amis. Which is surprising given that he is a grumpy old man with a penchant for misogyny. Or so the legend goes. He, in fact, denies it. And tells us that his book is a ‘very feminist’ book although he admits it will get him in trouble.
And indeed it has not been received particularly well from this group of lovely people at The Review Show. Supposedly about the feminist revolution and the destruction that it wreaked on the people that were affected by sexual liberation, I found (as it seems did Germaine Greer – *fan girl moment*) that there was an awful lot of focus on body parts. Scheherazade has big tits. Gloria has a big arse. And Keith’s girlfriend Lily has neither. And that seems to be all that matters for a lot of the book. Keith’s main mission is to sleep with as many of the girls as possible. And then *spoiler alert* he marries all of them in succession.
The characterisation of the female characters is weak. Scheherazade is a ridiculous appropriation of the poor little rich girl stereotype, lifted from piece of chick lit where marriage is the only goal (although that’s derogatory to chick lit, I am aware and am reading a book about that very subject at the moment and thus I present this long back-covering disclaimer). And she’s the only woman who ends up happy, because she does get married and have kids, ignoring the sexual liberation movement. Woop. Well done girl.
Violet, however, Keith’s free-spirited sister, gets destroyed. Killed off because she has too much sex. She is apparently based on Amis’ own sister Sally, whom Martin is convinced was killed by her promiscuity or some other such ridiculous. Well, maybe it was actually nothing to do with feminism. And neither is the demise of Violet who appears to have mental health issues and is dire need of some help. That’s why she dies. Not because feminists allowed women their sexual agency, and made it less (not completely) shameful to have sex as a woman.
Keith is an overly whiny character. He needs to get some courage and just deal with his issues. He always seems to want to blame someone else for his own failings in life. And it’s irritating. He is not a loveable character and quite honestly I’m not rooting for him for most of it. Or any of it, actually.
But despite all this, despite Amis’ desire to elevate his own (or Keith’s own, although it’s supposed to be semi-autobiographical. Sometimes you get the impression that this is Amis’ wet dream dressed up as literature) struggle to a higher level by associating it with 1970s feminism, I really enjoyed this book. The personal is not always political, which I think Amis might need to think about before he tries this sort of thing, but despite it making me angry every now and again (particularly the pretentiousness of Keith’s character) I liked it. It’s evocative and well-written and clever and the story is enjoyable (although I feel it tapers out a bit when we get into serious mid-life crisis territory). It’s not the usual ‘zomg look how postmodern I am’ offering from Amis and I really liked it. Maybe even loved it. Eep.
And here’s some people better qualified to talk about the book than me talking about it. Enjoy!