Two Disturbing Books and a Re-Read

This month I have read two books, each of which disturbed me for different reasons. I also re-read a book that I have previously enjoyed.

The Widow by Fiona Barton

Fiona Barton was a journalist before she became a novelist, and this book brings to the fore the complicated relationship that the press has with its subjects. It asks why some wives support husbands who are accused of dastardly deeds, and in exploring that predicament also questions the role of the journalists who hound them.

Jean Taylor’s husband, Glen, is a bit of a creep. He enjoys viewing images online of adults who dress as children, but he convinces Jean that it isn’t “real.” She dismisses it as just “his nonsense” and convinces herself it doesn’t matter until she no longer can. A child, Bella, disappears and Glen is accused of abducting her. It is an indication of Glen’s control over Jean that she becomes firm in her defence of him and in asserting his innocence.

After Glen is killed when he trips and falls in front of a bus, the whole issue is resurrected by the press and the police. They see Jean as a vulnerable widow who might now be freed to tell them what they want to hear. In effect, she has gone from being subject to Glen’s control to now being subject to the relentless questioning of journalists and detectives. Her struggles with the push and pull of these powerful people are what I found most disturbing about this story. The unravelling of the mystery about Bella is, for me, just a background to the story of Jean’s personal redefinition.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai is renowned as a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize when she was only seventeen years old. She and her family were outspoken in their promotion of education for girls and women in Pakistan when Malala was a girl and teenager. Her notoriety brought her to the attention of the Taliban and as a consequence, at the age of fifteen, she was shot while taking the bus to school.

I chose to read her book now partly because the Taliban is in the news because of events in Afghanistan, and I am glad I did. It helped me to understand what it is like to live in a country that had been evolving to enhance the lives of girls and women but had that progress curtailed by an oppressive regime. Her descriptive writing makes it clear how much her life, and the lives of her friends and family, changed in a very short space of time.

After she was shot she was airlifted to Birmingham, England and her family followed shortly after. Since her recovery she has continued to promote the right to education and she has received a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University. This book, I Am Malala, contributes to the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization that advocates for girls’ education.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

I have reviewed this book previously and you can read what I thought about it in the blog post “Three Books About Belonging.”

When I was recently staying at an Air BnB in Nanaimo my suite did not have a television, so I was glad I had brought with me my Kindle e-reader. On it I had downloaded Girl, Woman, Other, and so I used my tv-free time to re-read it. Even though I had thoroughly enjoyed it the first time I read it, I got a lot more from the second reading.

There are a lot of characters in this story and the book covers about a hundred years of time. The connections between the different people and eras are fascinating, but I was not able to grasp them all on the first reading. This time, I got a much better sense of how all these lives intersected and how much the past impacted the present.

Rather than simply enjoying the same book twice, I found I was gaining new insights and a refreshing appreciation of the significance of kinship, contacts, and networks.

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