Sunday, May 2, 2010

Book twelve: A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert.

I pretty much hated the first half of Kate Walbert's novel, A Short History of Women. It may be short but it reads really, really long.  In fact, this is the first book in a long time that made me question my commitment that once you start a book, you finish the book.  I was ready to ditch this after just three or four excruciating chapters. 

The book follows (or maybe I should say meanders through) several generations of women.  Many of those women share the same names but live in a variety of times varying from the 19th Century to the present. And that just leads to confusion.  I felt like I needed a book of remembrance to figure everything out.

The writing, particularly in the first half, is pinched and tight, coming off as angry, maybe even bitter.  But I guess that's OK if you're writing a novel about women and their rights (or lack thereof).  Let's face it, we've shafted women for a long time and we seem unable to stop.  Fortunately the book gets better about halfway through when the writing relaxes and story overtakes style.

There's a chapter about midway through that sets the characters free and finally helps the reader grasp the story arch.  It's as if you attended the family reunion of all these women and got to spend thirty minutes with the aunt who can fill you in on all the history.  From then on, the book improves dramatically.  I actually started to care about the characters.

While I still might not give this book a rave review, the second half sure did a lot to change my opinion for the better.  I started to feel for the characters like the aging mother who's protested war for much of her life, leaves her husband late in life, and starts a blog that challenges her daughter. Or the daughter who seems lost as a wine-drinking, stay-at-home home who lacks the support of her husband.  

However even in the second half, I struggled with the constant time traveling, the flashbacks inside of flashbacks inside of flashbacks featuring characters with the same names and situations. This may not be the best book to read on your Kindle, because I constantly found myself wanting to flip through previous pages in hopes of figuring out where I was. And that's difficult to do on a Kindle.

A Short History of Women offered an interesting take on feminism without ever preaching.  And that's no small accomplishment.  But isn't enough for me to recommend that you read it.

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