Regardless of your bookish tastes, when a novel carries a title like this it slaps you around the face, hard. Whether this slap will then make you sit up and listen and have a read is another matter. I had personally been orbiting this Womens Prize nominee for a while but, after a few little nudges in the right direction from various fellow bloggers, decided to take the plunge on a topic which is decidedly not (don’t judge me, I like my nicey nice escapism) my cup of tea. Problematically it took me almost three weeks to finish, purely through life getting in the way. Since this is a novel that begs to be read in, at most, a couple of sittings, this really wasn’t ideal. As a result I’m left wondering whether I really gave it a fair chance…
Our unnamed narrator is an outwardly ordinary, independent young woman; a writer, student and political novice who falls for a university lecturer and Marxist revolutionary who, initially attractive with his sharp intellect and ideological passions, once in the bubble of the marital home proves himself to be an angry, paranoid and violent man. She is all of us. She is not impoverished, friendless, uneducated or any of the stereotypes we may associate with victims of domestic abuse, associations that are deeply flawed when placed under scrutiny. The few words of her new local dialect she knows serve to isolate her in her new domestic role, a role where her cooking becomes a desperate tool to appease the man who eventually cuts off her contact with the outside world – mobile phone, social media accounts – beats her with her laptop cable (amongst other implements) and, eventually, amongst the horrific psychological abuse, rapes her.
I really don’t know what my expectations were of this book, was I, not being one to ordinarily go out of my comfort zone, looking for something to affect me more than it did? For such a hard-hitting topic and a book with some truly harrowing scenes (the graphic imagining of what the rapes are doing to her body sticks particularly in the mind) I was left feeling somewhat distant from the narrator… isolated. Is this intentional or does it highlight some lack of empathy or experience in me? I expected to be blown away, I wanted to be blown away but was instead left feeling rather flat. A feeling made all the more guilty by the fact that the novel is based on the author’s own personal experience.
Regardless of my own feelings and lack of engagement, this book is nevertheless incredibly important. Important because we experience this horror from the point of view of a woman we can relate to, who has, thankfully, not been silenced. A woman who was asked, bafflingly, by an audience at a feminist publishing house (no less), how she allowed her husband to abuse her. As much as we might condemn such an outwardly ignorant attitude, this novel forces us to confront our own ignorance and assumptions about the victims of domestic violence. With the what ifs and why didn’t shes crowding our mind despite ourselves, we are made to realise that this could, frighteningly, be one of us, and so much more easily than we might think.