The Handmaid’s Tale: First Look

2017 has seen a resurgence in Atwood’s classic, partially as a staple in the feminist canon, and partly as a reaction to fears of such a dystopian future under the Trump administration. Hulu’s adaptation couldn’t have come at a better time.

Now that the first episodes have dropped, what can we tell about this long awaited series?

Colour is everything

If you have read the novel you will know how important colour is – the handmaiden’s red gowns for example. However, the series takes this a whole step further. Offred’s past is shown in fairly bland, real colours, while the present is almost Tim Burton-esque in it’s contrast. The symbolic reds of the handmaiden’s, blue of the wives and greens of the Marthas aren’t the only colours here, the brightness of the oranges, the greenery of the surrounding suburbs and the stark whites of the buildings are all used to create a vivid and too-perfect-to-be-real setting.

Young and beautiful

The commander and his wife, Serena Joy, are written as older in the book, with the commander even having silver hair. Joseph Fiennes certainly doesn’t fit the bill and the same can be said of his counterpart Yvonne Strahovski. There is definitely some Hollywood glamourising going on here but hopefully the change to the characters serves a better purpose than simply aesthetics.

Amped up violence

From the very first episode we see far more violence than in the book, with the ‘salvaging’ coming much earlier than expected – evidently for the shock factor. We also see a gruesome addition at the ‘Red Centre’ so this seemingly sets the pace for more violence as the show progresses.

An update for 2017 

There are subtle hints indicating a contemporary time period – from technology to passing remarks. Moreover, the series departs from the books which dealt with racism in a very specific way, instead employing a diverse cast.

What’s in a name?

The short answer: everything. We get confirmation of character names to a much greater extent than in the book and most importantly we find out Offred’s name – no spoilers here you have to watch! If you are looking for literary significance or hidden meanings, this revelation is HUGE. 

So basically everything is bigger, brighter and more dramatic, as is only to be expected from such a high profile TV adaptation. Only time will tell whether the series will do it’s book justice but it is looking pretty positive so far!

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Cambridge Literary Festival 2017

Last weekend I had the privilege of being able to visit Cambridge Literary Festival and seeing some of the best writers and academics discussing a range of subjects.

Although I saw a range of different talks, from literature to history to politics, there were some really interesting recurring ideas which came out of the weekend. In the panels on The Good Immigrant, Women on the March and Where are all the Women, the importance of representation was focused on; ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ pointed out Lennie Goodings.

Yet Darren Chetty showed us that for children of colour, even when they are encouraged to read diverse books in school, they exclusively write about white characters – based upon an assumption that stories have to be about white people. Equally, Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Stateman points out than when we think of professors, academics, politicians and economists we think of men. So these events were looking at what we can do to overturn these assumptions, by pushing harder for representation, to break stereotypes and create more opportunities.

Equally these talks also focused on the importance of speaking openly about sex and women’s bodies, particularly for women of colour, whether it is making sex less taboo as Coco Khan advocates for, or dealing with issues like FGM, which Nimko Ali argues is specifically gender based violence – you are only at risk of it if you are biologically female. With women such as they talking openly about these subjects, and encouraging others, and even politicians to do the same, it is the first step towards dealing with these issues. As Elif Shafak says these conversations are happening, but in homes and cafes, and we need them to happen in a political domain and in the media.

The range of talks show a clear concern about how geo-political history is affecting contemporary society, with talks on Russia from the fall of the Berlin Wall through to Putin, an examination of Trump’s first 100 days and Elif Shafak speaking on contemporary politics in Turkey. We are seeing a growing concern over relationships with Russia, divergent politics and the spread of populism throughout the Western world.

For both Sarah Churchwell and Elif Shafak polarising views and the inability to compromise is dangerous, and we risk diverging further by refusing to listen to and converse with our opponents. Equally Shafak and Coco Khan both demonstrate how nationalism is concerning. For Khan, it is alienating and threatening, while Shafak sees how in Turkey it is damaging free speech, academia and democracy.

Despite the apparent range in the subjects of the talks I went to, there were many recurring themes which illustrate common concerns within contemporary society, but these talks also aim to explore solutions, stoke debate and help fuel action and change.

Overall it was a great weekend and I was excited to see so many wonderful speakers, and be involved in such interesting discussions on literature and politics.

 

Books for Change – Part 2

Virago Press did a social media campaign #BooksForChange designed to share inspirational books by women everyday throughout March. Here is my list for the last 16 days – check out my picks:

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16 I’d give to my younger self: The Woman Who Ran

A rewriting of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – this book would have been wonderful for giving me a very real and relatable female protagonist when I was younger.

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17 Exploring mental health: Mrs Dalloway

I love how this looks at the plurality of experiences with mental health and how much it can vary. It is nuanced and insightful – a must read!

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18 In the sisterhood: Feminism is for Everybody

hooks takes a wide ranging look at sisterhood in this collection of essays on intersectional feminism.

heroinecover19 My green spines: How to be a heroine

A look at some of the best heroines of literature, and what makes a great heroine.

C7X5twvWwAIh2ja20 Made me laugh: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

A real and accessible exploration of some of the issues that affect women, complete with snippets from Schumer’s own life. Absolute hilarity but don’t underestimate how serious Schumer can be either.

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21 Poetry: Rupi Kaur

I am very keen to read this beautiful book of poetry after seeing Kaur’s gorgeous instagram page!

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22 Feminist Dystopia: The Parable of the Sower

A book I discovered earlier this year which is at the top of my TBR.

C7mRrFQVUAEB4UZ23 Favourite Female Character: Amy

Amy is clever, manipulative, relatable, utterly unlikeable and a complete psycopath – but all of this makes her brilliant! She highlights the issues that many women face so completely and frames her own murder to escape the role she has been placed into.


C7rcQgmXgAEFTU824 Books to make you march: The Handmaid’s Tale

This book has almost been reclaimed as a political reaction to 2017 in the face of very real threats to women’s rights.

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25 Women in War: When I was a soldier

I read this when I was younger and the story really struck me – it is about a woman’s experience of conscriptionand was so unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life.

C71i0YsVsAAQV9F26 For an excellent woman: Homegoing

I bought this for my best friend who is absolutely excellent! I loved it so much and couldn’t wait to share it.

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27 In the City: The Girl on the Train

You can miss the importance of the city of you focus on the crime, however, Rachel’s life in the city is incredibly interesting and worth exploring.

C8AOAZ6WsAEMTcD28 From Page to screen: Beauty and The Beast

The original tale has been transformed into multiple adaptations – each more progressive than the next, with the new film starring super-feminist Emma Watson as our favourite bookish heroine.

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29 Back to nature: Women Who Run with Wolves

This is all about getting in touch with an intrinsic, natural sense of self – currently reading for Emma Watson’s book group ‘Our Shared Shelf’.

C8KiomSVwAAwkM630 Books to give you hope: Matilda

Matilda is the perfect book for when you think things can’t get any better – they really can, and it just takes someone special like you to make it happen – we all have a little magic of our own.

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31 Redefining he and she: Orlando

Woolf pushes the boundaries of what male and female means with a protagonist who changes gender overnight and suddenly has to experience the world as a woman.

Review: Beauty and the Beast

4.5 stars

The much anticipated Beauty and the Beast remake hit cinemas on Friday and for a 90s child who grew up wishing she was Belle, it was wonderful.

The film does a fantastic job of recreating the best moments from the original, while embellishing the story with elements from the original tale and introducing some new moments to make it original.

The cast was stellar; Emma Watson channelled the book-worm we all know and love perfectly, bringing the feminism she is so well known for into some wonderful moments which make Belle an even more feisty heroine. Gaston and Le Fou make a hilarious pair, with the blantant misogynism tempered by well-placed humour.

This version’s Beast is more cantankerous than terrifying, despite the CGI revamp with horns – but then it is easier to see why Belle can fall in love with him, as he becomes less her captor than a victim also.

The CGI was incredible, with the servant characters looking more ornate than ever and the castle truly magical. Stylistically, references to the period through costume, wigs and make-up helped to root the tale in a setting. The songs did justice to their predecessors, so much so that a stalwart fan might find themselves mouthing along. As a bookworm, I appreciated the small nods to the original tale, which help to unite and embellish symbols from the cartoon. Equally newer elements helped to bring out more backstory, particularly around Belle’s mother, giving the whole story more substance, which it really needs to carry as a more three-dimensional live action piece.

There were a few moments where I was frustrated at moments from the original that were omitted, or missed opportunities to be just a little more feminist. However, it is an adaptation, not a complete transposition of the cartoon, and equally it can’t please everyone. All in all it was a wonderfully nostalgic trip down memory road and a fantastic new experience all at the same time.

 

Books For Change – Part 1

Virago Press is doing a social media campaign #BooksForChange designed to share inspirational books by women everyday throughout March. Here is my list for the first 15 days – check out my picks:

1 The book that made me a feminist: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall 

Anne Bronte’s tale of a woman who asserts her right to independence at a time when women were little more than property was the first thing that ever made me realise that the women were not treated equally, and it inspires me to be like Helen every day.

2 Hidden from History: Hidden Figures

I recently saw the chart topping film at the cinema and was blown away. I’m now keen to read up on these incredible women in more detail in the book that inspired the movie.

Image result for anne of green gables rachel mcadams3 Stories of Girlhood: Anne of Green Gables

A childhood favourite – Anne epitomises the struggles many girls go through, learning to become comfortable in her own skin. The recent Rachel McAdams narrated audiobook is a great way to revisit it!

Image result for We Should All Be Feminists4 Read in one sitting: We Should All Be Feminists

Adichie’s call to arms is a powerful demonstration of why we all need feminism and a must read.

Image result for bad girls throughout history5 #ShePersisted: Bad Girls Throughout History

This beautiful compilation of 100 remarkable women shows the tenacity and perseverance of women who fought to achieve success and change the world.


Image result for jane eyre6 Favourite first line: There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

This classic and unforgettable intro is from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, if you haven’t read it, stop what you are doing now.


7 Short Stories: The Garden Party

Mansfield was a pioneer of the short story and her isolated and frustrated characters give us a unique insight into human psychology.

8 The book that changed my life: The Bell Jar

This book broke my heart and when I finished it, I cried for days. But any book that has that much affect on you has to change your life and in hindsight it has a profound affect on how I view my body, my mental health and my hopes and dreams.


9 In Her Words: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I have never read Angelou but this is at the top of my TBR and a must read in any feminist book list.

10 Stories of Friendship: The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants

This series is probably fairly problematic for any number of reasons but it does prioritise female friendships which is not a common thing to see in children’s or YA literature.

Image result for gone with the wind11 Nasty Women: Scarlett O’Hara

Women do not have to be nice or likeable and Scarlett O’Hara couldn’t care less what you think of her. She is entitled, manipulative and spoilt, but she is real, relatable and damn well successful too.

12 Must Read Classics: Shirley

Charlotte’ Bronte’s Shirley is an uber-feminist version of Jane Eyre – she knows what she wants and no man will get in her way.

13 Ladies of Letters: Plath – Letters Home

Sylvia Plath struggled with depression all her life and this can be seen throughout her writing. I really want to gain more insight into the writer who has affected me personally, and what better way than through her letters.

14 Women who changed music: Lady Sings the Blues

A pioneering Jazz musician and singer-songwriter, Billie Holiday is nothing short of legendary and has been hugely influential in modern American music.


15 To open your eyes: The Second Sex

The inequalities outlined in this book will horrify you, but it also made me aware of the amount of misogyny I internalise, in a way I can’t now forget or brush aside.

Feminist February – Round Up

If you hadn’t already seen I’ve spent February reading a range of different feminist texts in order to learn more about the movement, diversify my reading and learn some intersectional feminist theory. Since the current political climate is looking dismal for women’s and minorities’ rights, educating myself is one of a number of things I can do to stand up for these rights, and hopefully by sharing what I’m doing I can encourage others to do the same.

So what did I read?

I haven’t read this much since I was studying literature! Over four weeks exactly I managed to make my way through:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Stay With Me
  • The Bloody Chamber
  • Ms Marvel
  • Bad Girls Throughout History
  • Bad Feminist
  • On Beauty
  • You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain
  • Feminism is for Everybody
I was so proud that I read so much – namely because I raced through a few which were just utterly brilliant. I was also glad I managed to get such a wide range – the books include fiction, essays, history, graphic novels and comedy.

I also had a wonderfully diverse range of authors, including women of colour and those who identify as LGBTQ+. The books explored feminism from these diverse perspectives, pushing me to see views outside of my own.

What did I learn?

I learnt so much this month. The issues covered were as diverse as motherhood, abortion, women’s representation, race, religion, class and sexuality.

Thanks to Phoebe Robinson I learnt how much politics is embedded in black women’s hair. Roxane Gay showed me the importance of language in both patriarchal oppression and feminism. Zadie Smith made me think about the beauty standards I still internalise, despite my intellectual position on these issues. Ann Shen gave me the women’s history lesson I never knew I needed.

I have a new feminist hero in Kamala Khan. I am inspired by how we can rethink women in fairytales and female sexuality thanks to The Bloody Chamber. Atwood and Adebayo both had me in tears with their explorations of female identity in relation to motherhood and the value society places on this.

All in all I have an awful lot to think about thanks to this challenge. I’m so glad I got to read these books and decided to do this challenge. I am keen to make this something I do regularly, and so I hope continue this challenge next Feb!

I also want to say thanks to those who got on board and also completed the challenge, it was great to see people so interested in what I’ve been doing!

Feminist February – Week 4

In case you missed it, I have decided to spend February reading exclusively on feminism! Check out the books I aim to read and the reasons behind my Feminist February Challenge


In my last week of this challenge I delved into the academics of feminism with Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and bell hooks Feminism is for Everybody. 

These books were a brilliant pair, looking at the different forms and perspectives on feminist thinking. Smith uses a number of black female characters in her book, all of which seem to be based on typical stereotypes but she complicates this, making making these women seem multi-dimensional, real and conflicted. She explores a number of issues around political and ideological extremes, but the novel centres around aesthetics itself, an issue central to the women and female identity in the novel. Kiki is overwieght, and while she seems happy in herself, doubts do seem to arise in relation to her marriage.

Her daughter Zora is fiercely intellectual but is unable to reconcile this with personal beliefs, obsessing over her appearance and aspiring to patriarchal beauty standards. She also illustrates how women themselves are capable of perpetuating misogyny, labelling Victoria, the 18 year old who subscribes to patriarchal ideas of sex, a ‘slut’.

By the end of the book Kiki and Zora both seem to have undergone a change, learning something about themselves in the climax of events, and it is clear that they come out empowered.

Feminism is for Everybody exemplified many of the issues Smith raised, with individual chapters on a range of different topics. Amongst the more interesting things that hooks explores are ideas such as global feminism, the insights that lesbian women offered to feminism, and the damage that women can do through exacerbating patriarchal structures, namely when it comes to violence against children.

I am so glad I read these books because they helped me to see things from different perspectives to my own. They also helped me to uncover some of the patriarchal values and standards which I have internalised, and by identifying these hardwired issues, I hope I can challenge them in the long run.

Review: Stay With Me

baileys-logo5 stars

Stay With Me tells the emotional story of the pressures society places upon women around motherhood and one woman’s desperate struggle to find her identity when all she wants to be is a mother.

Yejide desperately wants a baby, however her and her husband Akin are yet to conceive. Facing the pressures of Nigerian culture which values motherhood and offspring highly, the couple are forced to accept the polygamy which Yejide’s mother-in-law forces them into. Yejide is desperate to conceive, delving into superstition as she begins to clutch at staws.  Either due to unfortunate coincidence or the pressure placed upon her, Yejide develops from a ghost pregnancy, threatening to break her marriage apart.

What ensues is a tale of betrayal, deception, scandal and loss much darker than you would have ever expected. The novel is told from the perspectives of both Yejide and Akin as they fight to form a family and then literally fight to keep their family alive. It is also set against a backdrop of political unrest, which mirrors the tense atmosphere of the novel, up until the parallel climax  of both the context and storyline. Alongside its use as a literary device this also serves to ground the novel in a real sense of time and place.

The story is difficult and heart-wrenching. Seeing both perspectives complicates where your sympathies lie and all of the characters are at fault. Notably Yejide is not always sympathetic and likeable – but this was a good decision, as it made her far more real and relatable, as she struggles to come to terms with her identity and relationship to motherhood in a culture which places mothers on a pedestal and shuns women who cannot meet this standard.

The book was compelling and exquisitely written, making it emotive, frustrating and ultimately heart-breaking. If this is Ayobami Adebayo’s debut, then surely there can only be better to come from such an exciting new author.


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Image from Amazon. 

Feminist February – Week 2

In case you missed it, I have decided to spend February reading exclusively on feminism! Check out the books I aim to read and the reasons behind my Feminist February Challenge

The second week of the challenge was a lot slower than the first. I should have rocketed through the next few books on the list as they were so short but unfortunately life got the better of me this week. On the plus side I finished two books which made another great pair, as well as starting two seemingly different books without realising that they actually had a similar theme.

Genre Bending

My first book of the week was The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, a series of short stories which rework well known fairytales. These stories are often pinpointed as feminist due to advocating female agency, and dealing frankly with, and embracing, female sexuality. The stories presented show a range of women from heroines to victims, including women who openly undergo sexual awakenings and come to terms with their bodies. Many stories, for example those based around Beauty and the Beast or Red Riding Hood, use transitional states to explore the significance of the body in female sexual identities.

I decided to read a graphic novel alongside The Bloody Chamber for the way it deals with genre; Ms Marvel reworks conventions of superhero genre. Kamala Khan is the first female Muslim lead of her own comic. Her origin story follows the typical trajectory of feeling at odds with the world and so assuming a superhero identity and larger purpose. She discovers the ability to shapeshift and initially starts to save people in the guise of her hero Captain Marvel. However, rather than hiding behind a blonde Captain Marvel – which she could do if she desired, she chooses to embrace her Muslim identity, with a costume based upon the traditional ‘salwar kameez’ . As in Carter’s stories, transitional states become a symbol of Kamala’s struggles as unlike her hero, her super-power is to shape-shift. This also breaks typical conventions of idealised and sexualised female bodies in the genre, as she is often depicted disproportionately and she can manipulate and use her body the way she wants to.


Reclaiming ‘Bad’
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The next two books I have started Bad Girls Throughout History and Bad Feminist are both non-fiction. The first is an illustrated compendium of the stories of 100 remarkable women who changed the world, while the latter is a series of essays by Roxane Gay. Both reclaim the word ‘bad’: Ann Shen looks at how all of these women broke rules and pushed boundaries to make change, while Roxane Gay uses it in acceptance of the fact that there is no one perfect form of feminism. Either way these books make being ‘bad’ not so bad after all.

I’ll be ploughing on with these books over the next week and hopefully also starting On Beauty to complete my original list. Stay tuned!

Review: Three Daughters of Eve

5 stars

The last thing I was expecting from a novel with a blurb introducing a Turkish housewife at a party, was a campus scandal plot worthy of The Secret History.

The novel has multiple narrative strands – almost all focalised around Peri, a bright Turkish woman, at three different points through out her life, as a young girl, as a student at Oxford, and finally as a woman with daughters of her own. Peri constantly battles with her religion, her identity and most crucially to the story, God.

Her parents are both foils and facilitators for the opposing views which tear her apart. If she thought she could escape this at Oxford, she was wrong – the two friends which the reclusive Peri makes serve to replicate this. More importantly however, is Peri’s involvement in the seminars of a Professor Azur – an exclusive club for which she is handpicked, centring on the exploration of ‘God’.

A conflicted Peri takes the opportunity to search for answers, at great costs. We see the incongruity between the different versions of Peri at 18, and in her 30s, only being able to piece together what could have changed her slowly as more and more of the narrative is revealed.

Shafak knows exactly how to get you hooked on a plot without over-egging it, her prose was beautiful, and the extent of literary and philosophical references allowed it to be literary and clever, without ever being inaccessible. You didn’t need to know Rumi to understand what was being referred to as it was always subtly laid out, allowing the reader to simply appreciate the beauty of the references. The novel doesn’t force you to think about the issues it deals with – you could very easily skim these and focus on the plot, but if you want to look deeper the debates it explores are fascinating musings on feminism, ethics, philosophy, politics and religion – not to mention how these all intersect.

A wonderful exploration of what it means to be a Muslim woman – this book absolutely captures the idea that identity politics is just not that simple. It was fascinating and wonderful, and a must-read for 2017.


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Image from Penguin Books