Strange Girls and Ordinary Women by Morgan McCarthy

I first heard of Strange Girls and Ordinary Women by Morgan McCarthy over Twitter. One day I saw several bloggers whose taste in books I trust talk about the book with the publishers and I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. So, I asked the publishers and they kindly sent me a review copy. Thank you to them and the bloggers who made me notice the book.

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From Goodreads:

They say you know instinctively who to trust.

Alice is normal; she’d never do anything rash. But when she sees her husband one day with a younger girl, she knows at once that he’s having an affair. And it must be stopped.

Vic loves her friend Michael, more than he knows. He wants happiness, and thinks he’s found it with the magnetic Estella. But Vic feels sure she can’t be trusted – and she needs to make Michael see that too.

They don’t know Kaya; her life is tougher than they can imagine. But Kaya’s a survivor, and she’s determined to find a way out of her miserable world.

Three women, three lives that come crashing together in this dark, lyrical and utterly enthralling story of warped perceptions, female intuition and ‘the other woman’.

As you can see, this book was totally up my alley. Just of lately I have been craving non-crime fiction readings. Do not get me wrong, I am still passionate about crime fiction, but I wanted to read other stories and Strange Girls and Ordinary Women proved to be the perfect reading because of how it explores perception and “the other woman”. However, from a feminist point of view I would have a lot to say about the so-called “feminine intuition” when it is rather a consequence of being over-vigiliant and being taught to take care of and meet everyone’s necessities.

Strange Girls and Ordinary Women is written in divided into three parts each of them with a section devoted to each of the three characters and, each character, divided into sub-chapters. This organization makes reading easier and more addictive. I found myself reading the whole book in three sittings, because I thought the three characters’ point of view on an issue were a self-contained act and, therefore, should be read together. I also found a connection between each character and a feminist theme: Alice is suffocated by how space is constructed for women, Vic is constricted by religion and her body and Kaya is constructed by social class and society’s expectations of women belonging to that class which eventually affect Kaya’s mind. As a consequence, reading sometimes got more difficult because I could not connect with Vic and her narrative at all and it amounts to a third of the book, so I ended up seeing her as a necessary tool for the other two narratives to unfold.

I was mesmerized by Alice’s narration and her personal story. I am sure her middle-class, stay-at-home-wife-and-mom lifestyle resonates with many women who, when they were younger, thought how amazing their lives would be. But, social class restrictions are usually harder for women and even though middle (upper) class is a comfortable place to be, it is not a sane one for many women. Alice is completely shadowed by her husband, The Doctor, who also makes her feel miserable: not good enough cooking, not slim enough, not entertaining enough, etc. You know the discourse. Now that I am writing about her, she really feels like a modern Edna Pontellier, from Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. A good, but sad comparison taking into account Chopin’s book was published in 1899 and Alice is a modern woman.

But the character who made me fall in love with the book was Kaya. She is also constrained by social class rules and expectations, but she finds a way to break away from them, even if that means taking advantage of the sexism that rules our society. For me, Kaya is the perfect example of how young women should approach feminism: we are not completely free, because we are born into some circumstances, but finding the tool to defy them is what matters the most. And if that means playing with how the others construct you, then, do it. Of course, I am talking about a literary character and I think young girls like Kaya should never, ever, be subjected to what she was in real life. All she wants is an education and she is a really good student, but she cannot afford an education and those are the circumstances that trigger her narrative. She is also an avid philosophy reader and she is usually reading feminist and phenomenological philosophy, like Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Here is some of my favourite quote so you can see why I loved Kaya so much:

Kaya likes this crowd: Saussure, Lacan, Derrida; the way they seek to uncouple what had previously assumed to naturally follow, lifting meaning away from words, to reveal the spaces between. This isn’t necessarily this; that isn’t necessarily that. Her own instincts run towards the fluid, the ambiguous and the possible.

So, I would totally recommend Strange Girls and Ordinary Women to anyone looking for a quick, yet complex and very philosophical and feminist reading. McCarthy presents and deconstructs social class, feminism, women’s bodies and social expectations in a simple way, yet one that remains with the reader. I had never heard of her even though this is her third book, so I am looking forward to exploring her past works and cannot wait for her next novel.

Top Ten Books I’d Give To Readers Who Have Never Read Crime Fiction

I am very excited by this Top Ten Tuesday because although I am not sure there are many people out there who haven’t ever read crime fiction. But I know there are people who are not that into it. So, these ten books are IT. They are the best crime fiction, the most representative, the ones with the best characters. And above all, the ones that will get you hooked on the genre.

toptentuesdayTop 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 Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.-  This was the book that got me hooked on crime fiction when I was 12 and I have been trying to solve murders ever since. I think it is, along with Scandhal in Bohemia where Ms. Adler gives a masterful performance, the best Sherlock Holmes. You an now read it for free here.

2. When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson.- This is the third on the Jackson Brodie series, but don’t mind the order. One of the main characters in this novel makes for the most inspiring women in crime fiction I have ever read. Maybe what you’re going through in your life is not as bad as a crime, but there is some wisdom here.

3. Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell.- This is the first in the Kay Scarpetta series and was published back in 1990. If you have ever watched CSI, this novel will surprise you: no DNA, no mobile phones, no technology. Crime solving in the early 90’s was neither as easy nor as fashionable as it is said to be now.

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.- The first one in the Millenium series, I almost didn’t read it because all the hype surrounding the books. How silly! It is one great example of Scandinavian crime fiction.

5. Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly.- Daly’s second novel was published this year and it clearly shows the author’s talent at including crime-solving in the domestic, middle-class English life. No interrogation rooms, no footprints. This is a mom and a wife fighting for everything she cares for.

6. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith.- No one ever doubted J.K. Rowling’s writing talent, but her incursion in crime fiction shows that she is a wizzard of words in her own right.

7. Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives by various authors. Ed. by Sarah Weinman.- Weinman has collected the best crime fiction short stories from the 1960’s to the 1970’s and has put them together. I had no idea there had been so many women writing crime short stories, but they were all amazing. It was one of the best books I read last year.

8. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.- This is an obvious choice as well, but Flynn’s novel only has die-hard fans or die-hard haters. I am one of the fans and I think she wrote a very different, very interesting crime novel from two different perspectives.

9. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James.- Could you imagine a crime fiction sequel to Pride and Prejudice? Me neither, but P.D James has made a masterpiece of it. Same was with Gone Girl, this novel will force you take sides.

10. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.- When teenager Grace is accused of killing her employer and two fellow co-workers, she finds herself caught in the 19th century Canadian legal system where you’d rather be crazy than guilty. Or both? Or none? Read this masterpiece and see if you can find out the truth about Grace.

Bonus! 11. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.- Morton’s novels have a gothic, 19th century feel to them even though they are set in the present. Usually, a family mystery or a crime needs to be solved by a non-professional young woman investigator.

Updates

The blog needed some work done, and today was the perfect day to do a little revamp.

  • Now you can find all the ways to connect with me on the right column, under the “Hi there!” section. I hope this is a better and easier way to stay connected.

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  • I have also updated the Bookish Friends blogroll – down on the right column – to include the most interesting and relevant blogs I read. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

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Linda, as in the Linda Murder by Leif G.W. Persson

I first read about Linda, as in the Linda Murder by Leif G.W Persson at Crime Pieces, where Sarah Ward wrote a very interesting review of this newly translated Scandinavian novel from 2005. So, I contacted the publishers and they kindly sent me a review copy. Huge thank you to Transworld, yet again!

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From Goodreads:

In the middle of an unusually hot Swedish summer, a young woman studying at the Vaxjo Police Academy is brutally murdered. Police Inspector Evert Backstrom is unwillingly drafted in from Stockholm to head up the investigation.

Egotistical, vain and utterly prejudiced against everything, Backstropm is a man who has no sense of duty or responsibility, thinks everyone with the exception of himself is an imbecile and is only really capable of warm feelings towards his pet goldfish and the nearest bottle of liquor. If they are to solve the case, his long-suffering team must work around him, following the scant few leads which remain after Backstrom’s intransigence has let the trail go cold.

Linda, as in the Linda Murder is the first in the Evert Bäckström series of which I had never heard anything before requesting the review copy. What I liked about the novel is that it took place inside the police force. Usually, in crime fiction the police face the outer world where they can find both the victim and the killer. However, in Linda, the victim is an insider, and she is a woman, and not only that, but a police trainee. I thought this would be the first time that I got a glimpse inside the police as the complex, micro-society that it is.

But I had no idea what I was getting into. I am very much a fan of female investigators, so meeting Evert Bäcström was a shock. Imagine your typical male detective, and I mean this in the worst way. Bäcström is lazy, egocentric, a drunk, a racist, a misogynist, patronizing and he constantly steals his team’s achievements as his own. If you know me, you may be wondering if I finished this novel: I did and I loved it. Persson does never ever take his main character seriously and he is constantly proving the reader that everything Bäckström thinks – which is sadly, not that crazy in our society – is simply not correct. I was also very pleased with his double narrative: Bläckstrom thinks and acts differently. Mind you, if he did what he thought, he would probably be behind bars! He is actually made fun of, and I found myself – for the first time ever laughing while I read a crime novel. Actually, Bäckström very much reminded of the Irish movie The Guard. Here is the trailer so that you can get a very similar impression to that of Evert Bäckström:

Regarding the case, I thought Persson did a great job at exploring society’s ideas and preconceptions about young women, and especially, young women in the police. Persson himself is a criminologist, so I think he knows what he is talking about: the double narrative between what a young woman is thought to be and what she becomes when she is killed and, therefore, reconstructed by the team investigating her killing. Not only that, but the author also paid special attention to the connection between the women investigators and the victims, although this does not mean that other male and responsible investigators did not connect with Linda. Actually, the more mature and gender-educated did amazingly at researching Linda’s past. Also, the epilogue – only a few pages long – has some of the most convincing and insightful reflections on women’s reification by the media in big cases.

So, I would totally recommend Linda, as in the Linda Murder to anyone looking for a different crime novel. I gave it 5 stars at Goodreads because, for me, the novel has the perfect, and very difficult to find, mix of darkness and fun situations. I was also glad to add a male investigator to the list of crime fiction characters that I want to read more about.

UPDATE: After visiting Persson’s Facebook page, I have discovered that Bäckström is being adapted into a TV show – also called Backstrom- by Fox starring Rainn Wilson (The Office). It will air in 2015, but you can already check the trailer and visit its IMDB site.

July Reading

Although I enjoy free time in both June and September, I very much consider July and August to be my summer months. And being already 31st of July, this means that summer is almost over. Well, not exactly, that was one big exaggeration, but the 1st of August marks the middle of the summer and it is time to check on what I wanted to do this summer and face it with what I have actually done.

Back in July I wrote a Top Ten list of books that I wanted to read this summer knowing that I wouldn’t read them all, but writing that list helped me sort my reading priorities. You can revisit the post here. Ouf the 10 books, I have read only one: East of Eden of which I wrote a study guide I’m pretty chuffed with. However, since I wrote that list on the 17th and it’s summer, I’ve decided not to give myself a hard time about it. Plans are made to be broken and adapted! In July I read 4 books:

  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck.
  • Linda, as in the Linda Murder by Leif G.W. Persson.
  • Strange Girls, Ordinary Women by Morgan McCarthy.
  • The Fever by Megan Abbott.

These four books pretty much stand for the diversity of stories that I wanted to read this summer: a classic, a Scandinavian crime novel, a story about women’s lives and a contemporary American author. Now I only have to review three of those books!

I also reviewed Top of the Lake, a crime fiction show that breaks away with masculine traditions on the genre thanks to an amazing female police as a main character who investigates the rape and pregnancy of a local 12-year old in her hometown in New Zealand. Could it be more different?

I was lucky enough to be interviewed by Marina Sofia about my passion for crime fiction. Big thank you to her for making one of my dreams come true!

I received some awaited review copies and some other unrequested ones. Because I do not live in the UK, I do not get as many unrequested review copies as other bloggers do, so I am always thankful for the extra-bookish love. These were the books I received this month:

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So, now that August is already here, I’m thinking of allowing myself to read what I want, because I feel like it. Since I am to start my PhD next September and I’ll be reading on a tight schedule, I think the best way to wave goodbye to the amazing summer 2014 is by reading as much as I want and whatever I want to.

What have you planned for August 2014? Are you following any Summer 2014 reading plan?