Woman at Point Zero by Nawal el Saadawi translated by Sherif Hetata
Based on the true story of a woman the author met in the notorious Qanatir women’s prison, it paints a depressing picture of the lives of Arabic women. Important stuff, both then and now, but I found the writing style rather dull.
First published in Arabic in 1975, I read the English translation sometime in the 80s, either before or after I went travelling in Egypt. I loved it then but, on rereading, I didn’t appreciate it much more than the three of the author’s books I read the first time in 2019: Memoirs of a Woman Doctor is a semiautobiographical coming-of-age story set in Egypt over half a century ago; Zeina is a polemical novel about a woman who abandons her ‘illegitimate’ child; and Love in the Kingdom of Oil is a somewhat tedious surrealist novel about the subjugation of women.
After the Silence by Louise O’Neill
The murder attracted media attention and an Australian crew have arrived to make a documentary. Henry hopes this will put the affair to rest but Keelin, his wife, is anxious about what they will uncover. But then isn’t she always anxious? Having lost her job and her friends, she’s extra reliant on her husband and Henry isn’t easy to please.
Louise O’Neill’s author bio describes her as a feminist powerhouse and outspoken voice for change whose novels … start important conversations about body image and consent. After reading this intelligent crime novel, that claim seems less pretentious. I was interested to find echoes of her YA novel, Only Ever Yours, in Henry’s control over Keelin’s appearance, rendering her an expensively-dressed mannequin with nowhere to go.
Having escaped one marriage because of her husband’s physical violence, Keelin doesn’t recognise Henry’s non-physical manipulations as abusive. Or perhaps that’s the price she is prepared to pay to safeguard the secret of what happened that night. A page-turning narrative about the borderline between helpfulness and coercive control.
This week’s flash fiction challenge to write a 99-word story about shame could dovetail with either of these novels, since the bodily shame we are taught from infancy is how women are controlled. I’m more interested in the non-gendered shame which originates with parents who try to mould the child to fit their own preferences and prejudices, a theme at the root of my debut novel, Sugar and Snails. So I started my story from that perspective, but somehow it swung right back to the reviews.
I thought I was hungry, but Mummy laughed because only greedy-guts ask for second helpings. I thought I was tired, but Daddy laughed because only weaklings want to rest. I thought I liked algebra, but my classmates laughed because algebra’s not cool.
I’d have liked to buy the purple dress but my sister said I couldn’t carry it off. I’d have liked to date the shy guy but my friends called him a creep. I wore the clothes and married the man that met their approval. Every morning I paint a smile on my face and camouflage the bruises.