Feminist Sunday

feministsundays2Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.

Are you ready for the summer? I certainly am! I can’t wait to have free time, enjoy myself, go out with the puppy and the wonderful Mr.B&R and wear my favourite dresses, show off some skin!

But you know what it is time for? Go to the beach. I personally do not enjoy it very much, but I do go every once in a while. And do you know who – apparently – knows about going to the beach and exposing your body? The cosmetic industry. If you watch TV, you’ll see more ads than ever about super-slimming and reducing creams now than the rest of the year. I do not pay adds special attention, but one of these has made me want to buy the product for a few seconds. The images of Asiatic ballet dancers on a beach showed perfectly sculpted legs – mind you, they are ballet dancers! – moving slowly and being effortlessly lifted by the male dancers. And I want that cream.

Wait… What?! Yes, I did, for a few seconds. Luckily I changed my mind as quickly as possible. So, then it was time I asked myself: “Why would I need to look like the ballet dancers on the ad? Elena, are you Asian and/or do ballet? No! Then, what is happening here?” And do you know what was happening? A little bit of self-hatred that comes after centuries of reification of women’s bodies. The people behind the ad just took advantage of that and created a new need for women, even those with a healthy weight. I did some research and checked out the cream: it costs nearly seventy euros. A little fortune nowadays to reduce your body, and get rid of the bits that we are told we should not like, and above all, we should not have. Women are presented with Asiatic bodies, but not only that, Asiatic, ballet dancer-bodies.

During the same period I thought about this, a lovely lady I follow on Twitter called Rachelle Denton, Twitted these pictures:

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And then I remembered this amazing Tedx talk where model Cameron Russell talks about how the images we are fed are highly constructed and we do not realize it. I find this video extremely interesting because she compares pictures taken the same day: some personal, some modelling. And it is very hard to believe that the young woman in both pictures is the same, but she is. Take a look:

So, maybe we should stop considering the images we are fed as the standard or a representation of real life. Maybe. we could change the types of images we are exposed to. Blogger Brittany Gibbons has an inspiring TEDx talk on how to do that and it is so good, I won’t say anything more about it. Just watch:

So, apart from ranting a bit about the images we are fed, I just wanted to share how frustrating it is to be told your body – YOU! – has things that should not be there. I do not know about you, but I do not want to be told I have to look like a ballet dancer on an ad or any other media-constructed image.

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And this realization makes me happy. Because my career, my salary and my self-esteem do not  – and should never, ever – depend on restricting my body and fighting against genetics, my cultural inheritance and my perfectly healthy body. Women bodies seem to be constructed in two ways that, paradoxically, work together: a lack (why don’t you have that body?) and an excess (why do you have fat/wide hips/breasts/curves?). To back those ideas up, we are constantly exposed to constructed images of other women who had, or seem to have, those bodies. I ask myself, then, how is it we want to live our lives as if they were an ad? Why do we – working women with responsibilities, not enough time and many other problems – want to emulate static icons? Why do we want our lives to be image-perfect? Meanwhile, just remember to remain healthy, ballet dancer or not, because we should never want our lives to be an ad, and therefore, constructed by others. Why don’t we just enjoy our lives as we construct them?

Top Ten Books On My Summer To-Be-Read list

I have long waited for this post. I have great reading plans for the summer, basically to keep myself busy and therefore, sane. But time will tell if I do any of the readings here, because it’s a pretty ambitious and heavy list :)


Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because we are particularly fond of lists here at The Broke and the Bookish. We’d love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

1. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir.- I cannot call myself a feminist without having read this masterpiece. Also, after some talking I realized that my own ideas pretty much follow de Beauvoir’s without me knowing it.


2. The Murder of Roger Acrkoyd by Agatha Christie.- I read somewhere that this story has the best and most unexpected ending ever. I got the e-book, so I will be using my e-reader with whom I have a love-hate relationship.


3. East of Eden by John Steinbeck.- In Confessions of a Sociopath, the author described Cathy as a psychopath. I have no idea what the book is about, but I can’t wait to get to know one of America’s most well-known and loved novels.


4. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.- Everyone I trust loves Wolitzer, so it is about time that I give her a try.


5. The Magus by John Fowles.- This was a compulsory reading for my Modern English Literature course and I didn’t finish it, although I did a lot of reasearch to cover up for not having read it. Back then I thought I didn’t have the time, so what will happen now that I have it?


6. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith.- I loved The Cuckoo’s Calling and I’ve been promised a review copy by the publishers.


7. My Baby Shot me Down (anthology).- Last week I was sent an email by the publisher offering me this anthology containing prose and verse by ten new women authors. I can’t wait to discover new talent!


8. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.- Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters, recommended this to me and my wonderful boyfriend bought it for me. The problem? It is so inspiring I just wished to write and write and during the academic year I found this impossible. This summer I do hope to do some creative writing.


9. Something by Margaret Atwood.- Because she’s so amazing and inspiring. I am afraid of running out of Margaret Atwood titles to read, but it’s been more than two years since I read one of her novels.


10. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.- Another American classic, this time written by a woman and with a female main character. I know almost nothing about the story, but since I love the South so much, I know I need to read this as soon as possible. Also, I got the 75th anniversary edition and it’s wonderful.


Just a quick update to let you all know that I passed with honors my MA thesis yesterday morning. Thanks everyone who participates directly or indirectly on this blog because you’ve helped me remain sane. Also, I hope to get more posts up from now on and make this an amazing summer :)

Exclusive Interview with author Nicci French

As a fan of the Frieda Klein series, I was even more interesting in interviewing who is behind the character when I learned it was a couple: Nicci French is the pen name of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French who also happen to be married. I contacted them on Twitter last week and they kindly answered five questions exclusively for Books & Reviews. Thank you!

Credit: The Guardian

Credit: The Guardian

1. What was the inspiration for Frieda Klein? Most women investigators are Dis or DCs, so why did you choose a psychotherapist?

We’ve never really been interested in crime in itself. We’re more interested in the emotions that lead to crime, or result from crime. What is like when normal life suddenly goes wrong and becomes strange and frightening?

So we were always clear that we didn’t want to write police procedural stories. We started to think of the idea of a therapist who believed that the world is a dark and chaotic place that we can’t do very much about. What we can do is deal with the confusion in our own heads. That’s what therapy does. We thought of a woman who believes in solving problems in the controlled environment of her consulting room. What if circumstances dragged this woman out into the terrible world and forced her to confront real crimes, because – unfortunately for her – she happens to be good at it?

2. You write together. Could you tell us something about your process?

We’ve been writing together for almost twenty years now, and it still seems as mysterious as it did when we first contemplated it, in the autumn of 1994.

The basic ‘process’ is that we never write a single word together. We talk about ideas together and we plan the book together and we do any necessary research together. We travel around London together. But once we start the painful writing process, somehow that needs the freedom of solitude. So one of us will write a particular section, chapter, whatever, and then send it to the other, who is free to edit, add to it, subtract from it, or leave it entirely alone. Then they can carry on and the process continues until the book is finished. We constantly discuss and evaluate the story as we write. Then, when we’re finished, both of us, one after the other, go through the whole book.

 3. Your novels read like therapy because the reader is always presented with questions rather than answers. How do you achieve this?

Interesting question. The idea of therapy in these books felt natural because, in a way, therapists, detectives and writers have something in common. In different ways they all impose some sort of narrative on the messiness of existence. (One of the fascinating aspects of criminal trials is when witnesses suddenly have to narrate their lives and explain their motives as if they were literary texts.) The subjects that attract us are precisely problems, issues, that we can’t resolve, that we don’t know the answer to. In actual fact, our books generally have ‘answers’: namely, who committed a particular crime. But we’re always interested in what solving a crime leaves unsolved.

 4. Tuesday’s Gone is fantastic. I especially loved Frieda’s moral dilemmas and how she tries to navigate the world always taking into account everyone has their own perception of reality. How important are grey areas and self-perception for your writing?

Thanks very much! This is a big and complicated question for us. Briefly, one aspect of Frieda that is crucial to us is that she doesn’t want to be a detective. Frieda has a particular feeling for the secrets that all of us have. It’s both her gift and her curse. The germ of Tuesday’s Gone is that there is one other character who also had that sixth-sense for people’s secrets and weaknesses: the murder victim.

Grey areas are important to us but the areas aren’t just grey. Many wrong things are done in Tuesday’s Gone, but that doesn’t mean that all wrong things are equal. Some are just normal human fallibility, some are shoddy and corrupt, some represent a terrible cruelty and disdain for others.

Frieda is always torn between therapy as a detached, medical procedure and its equal important (though complex and ambiguous) moral role.

5. Some suggested reading for our readers?

There are many fascinating books about therapy and the strangeness of the mind. A particularly fine example is Darkness at Noon by Andrew Solomon. There are fascinating (and slightly alarming) books about therapy written by practicing therapists, such as Irwin Yalom.

As regards fiction, we read very widely, and by no means especially thrillers. And when we read different sorts of thrillers – from each other and from Nicci French. For example, Sean would recommend early George V. Higgins (‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’), mid-period Elmore Leonard and the non-Maigret Simenon books. Whereas Nicci would recommend the Gothic detective stories of Wilkie Collins, and then contemporary writers such as Imogen Robertson, Sophie Hannah….

Tueday’s Gone by Nicci French

Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French is the second in the Frieda Klein series. I was sent the first three books by the publisher after she offered the third and I suggested I could do with the first two in the series as well.


From Goodreads:

Sometimes the mind is a dangerous place to hide.

The rotting, naked corpse of a man is found amidst swarms of flies in the living room of a confused woman. Who is he? Why is Michelle Doyce trying to serve him afternoon tea? And how did the dead body find its way into her flat?

DCI Karlsson needs an expert to delve inside Michelle’s mind for answers and turns to former colleague, psychiatrist Frieda Klein. Eventually Michelle’s ramblings lead to a vital clue that in turn leads to a possible identity. Robert Poole. Jack of all trades and master conman.

The deeper Frieda and Karlsson dig, the more of Poole’s victims they encounter . . . and the more motives they uncover for his murder. But is anyone telling them the truth except for poor, confused Michelle?

And when the past returns to haunt Frieda, she finds herself in danger. Whoever set out to destroy Poole also seems determined to destroy Frieda Klein.

I enjoyed Blue Monday, but I loved Tuesday’s Gone. For a start, the case was much more appealing to me: in Blue Monday, French explores fatherhood and childhood, but Tuesday’s Gone features one of my favourite themes in crime fiction: psychopathic traits and mental health. Michelle Doyce represents everything that is wrong with nowadays’ mental health care and women. I was once told by a psychologist that a men and a woman telling the same problem to a psychiatrist would be diagnosed differently just because of their gender. But things get even more complicated when you add poverty to the mix. Luckily, Dr. Klein makes a great job of understanding and providing the necessary arrangements for Michelle Doyce.

As for the main character, Frieda has become one of my favourite female investigators although her aloofness with other characters percolates to the reader. It is not easy to get to know her, but she is hard-working, capable, has troubles of her own and is extremely intelligent, all ingredients to make a great character in crime fiction. But, what I like the most is that she has everyday problems just like the rest of us and the author explores how to solve them  -and if not possible – at least, how to deal with them.

So, without giving away too much, this is it. I think that if you are interested in mental health in a broad sense, Tuesday’s Gone makes a perfect reading for you. Some issues are not easy to read about, but they need to be inscribed in literature so that we, as a society, get to talk about them and either pay them more attention or just simply acknowledge them.

And, finally! Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with author Nicci French :)

Exclusive Interview: Sarah Hilary

Sarah Hilary wrote one of the best crime novels I have read this year, Someone Else’s Skin, and created a kick-ass female character, DI Marnie Rome. In between such awersomeness, she had time to answer some of my questions. Enjoy!


Q. Someone Else’s Skin is your debut novel. Why did you start writing crime fiction?

A. I’d always read crime and a good friend (good enough to get away with pointing out what a very dark mind I have) said I should be writing it. It took me a long time to get to grips with the demand of the genre, but now I feel at home here.

Q. Marnie Rome is an amazing main character. I love how complex she is! I also noticed she has some of your features (e.g. migraines). So, how did she come to life?

A. Thank you, yes I love Marnie’s complexity too. She’s giving up her secrets very slowly, which is perfect since I’m writing a series. She walked into a scene I was writing in another story and she surprised me, which is exactly what I want from a character. I’m not at all like her, although a tiny part of me wishes I had her courage.

Q. Someone Else’s Skin explores some of nowadays’ most important problems, from domestic violence to hate crimes. Did they fit naturally in your narrative or did you want to specifically tackle those social problems?

A. I didn’t set out to write about issues, but since I set the story in a women’s refuge it was inevitable that some of the problems which drove the women there would emerge from their stories. It’s always the characters, though, rather than the problems that drive the story for me.

Q. I saw on Twitter your updates about the second Marnie Rome novel. What is your creative process?

A. Prowling libraries; I become very restless when I’m starting something new, searching for the spark of a story. Then I start scribbling in notebooks, lists of questions mainly and lists of twists. When the time’s right, I sit down and work hard: a minimum word count every day until I’ve done a first (thin, fast) draft which I’ll layer over time. One thing I discovered when working on the second draft of book two was how much time I need to let the story live and breathe in my head; sometimes you have to step away from the keyboard and just think. Walking helps enormously, too.

Q. You worked as a bookseller before becoming a writer. Any crime fiction novels that you’d recommend (present or past, doesn’t matter!)?

A. Stacks! For starters, the Patricia Highsmith books (not just the Ripley ones). The Collector by John Fowles, and Innocent Blood by PD James. More recently, the Adamsberg series by Fred Vargas. And The Wicked Girls, and The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood.