Shame by Melanie Finn

When I read a quote from Shame by Melanie Finn on Elizabeth Preston’s and Simon Savidge‘s Twitter feeds, I knew I had to get my hands on it. After some research I found out that the book had been published last year and that the team behind it thought it was one of the best things they had ever published. Thanks to Weidenfeld & Nicholson for the review copy.

Ci_I94OWUAAyjrG.jpg_large

The first pages of Shame describe how the main character, Pilgrim Jones, sees a small gesture between her husband and an unknown woman in a meeting in Switzerland. It was something small, maybe a smile, maybe the way they were too close, but Pilgrim knows there is more there. Fast forward ten months and her husband has left her for Elise, who is now pregnant with their child, and Pilgrim has been left to live in a small Swiss village where she no longer feels comfortable. Fast forward a few months, and we find Pilgrim travelling through Tanzania, trying to make something of her new life after she did something terrible back in Europe.

Shame is one of the most powerful psychological novels I have ever read. Although I expected the African setting to be one of the main characters, Finn – who has been living in Africa most of her life – has managed to normalise it, yet she has included magic and religious traditions that will still make the narrative exotic. What we experience when reading Shame is Pilgrim’s own feelings with loss at its core, and the dread of the mundane and everyday life that comes from the grieving process. But, Pilgrim is not just mourning her marriage, she is also trying to hold herself accountable for what she did. Is there shame on it? Did grieve make her do it? How is she supposed to feel? I especially enjoyed the interrogation of how one is supposed to feel in those hard, crucial moments in life.

However, I had one big problem with Shame: it tells more than Pilgrim’s story. Although the first half is completely devoted to her, the second half tells the stories of the people she has been meeting during her journey. Among them is a female African doctor who has to do with almost no medicines, and who can only see her patients die while she holds their hands. Among them is also the detective investigating what happened to her in Switzerland, so that part of the second half of the novel feels like a crime fiction book:

Detail established the truth. The colour of the dog. Without detail, truth was a metaphysically unstable idea: too general, too big; cause and effect going all the way back to first dates, to ancestors surviving winter storms, to dinosaurs, to organisms in a puddle.

All of the other characters are also in Africa, and al of them are secondary characters during Pilgrim’s narrative, but Finn gives them the space to find their own voices and tell their stories. I think what Finn wanted to do was to show that everyone has a story, no matter their nationality, no matter their ethnicity. Grieve can be all-consuming and isolating, but also selfish. Pilgrim is trying to find her new identity as a young, American, divorced woman, but so are other characters.

Shame is a complex psychological novel that explores grief and self-understanding in a unique way. The text, haunting and suffocating, reminds the reader that feelings may be contextual, but are above all personal. We do not have to feel shame just because we feel we should. And that’s fine.

The journey is all, the end is nothing.

 

 

20 Books of Summer Challenge: My Reading List

I don’t usually join challenges. I usually have to schedule my life in order to get all the work I need to get done, so I like to give myself a free pass when it comes to leisure reading. But, Cathy Brown has invited me to join her 20 Books of Summer Challenge and I couldn’t say no. The real reason why I am joining is to return to the blogging community – as I have been a bit off of lately – and try to be more active over here.

Because Cathy is a very wise blogger, she offers three modalities to join the challenge: 20, 15 or 10 books of summer. Since I will be working on my PhD next July, and probably next August too, I am joining the 10 Books of Summer modality. All of them will be leisure reading and I hope they help me to relax and disconnect a bit from all the thesis reading and writing I will be doing.

In recent months I have discovered that in order to relax I need to read a bit of non-crime fiction in my leisure time. This has been hard, because I really, really love crime fiction, but as someone told me once: there is no clear line between your job and your leisure time. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it is a terrible idea that ends up with me binge-watching TV shows for 8 hours straight – I watched season 4 and 5 of Girls last Saturday – rather than picking up a book. So, in the spirit of taking things easier this summer, I have created an eclectic reading list that has one thing in common: all books have been written by women. I am also indicating where the books come from, as I find it very important to find a balance between review copies (mostly requested, but some offered by publicists), borrowed books from the library, and books I have bought or my beloved ones have gifted me.

10booksfinal

1. After You Die by Eva Dolan (Zigic and Ferreira #3) [Review Copy] .- This is a bit of a cheat, since I started this book the last week of May. But I have wanted to read the third installment in the Ziggic and Ferreira series for a long, long time.

25324108

2. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem [Bought/Gifted].– As a feminist, I can’t quite believe I have never read anything by queen of 20th century feminism Gloria Steinem. My Life on the Road is a memoir that starts with this wonderful and inspiring idea:

When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all these years, I always say: Because I travel.

15451058

3. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty [Review Copy] .- I love Liane Moriarty’s books, and I even wrote an academic paper on her previous novel Little Lies. I will probably end up writing something about this one too, but for now I just want to enjoy it.

26247008

4. Asking for It by Louise O’Neill [Bought/Gifted].- You couldn’t have paid me enough to read a YA novel until I discovered Irish writer Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours. In her second novel, she writes about rape culture and how a young victim of rape reacts the morning after within the Catholic Irish context.

25255576

5. Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman [Review Copy].- More crime fiction, this time from a great American author whose work I have never read, but comes highly recommended by fellow author Megan Abbott. The only thing I know about this novel is that the past comes to haunt the main female character in a small town.

26198780

6. The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown [Review Copy].- I read Eleanor Brown’s first novel The Weird Sisters years ago, and she was the first author I got to interview for the blog. When her publicist contacted and offered a review copy of her new novel inspired by her grandmother’s live I couldn’t refuse.

27833796

7. All the Rage by Courtney Summers [Bought/Gifted].- More on rape culture, this novel explores the psychological development of a rape victim in Canada. Quite a different context from O’Neill’s book if it not were for the generalisation of rape culture.

21853636

8. Charlotte Brontë: A Life by Claire Harman [Review Copy].- I was reminded of my love for Charlotte Brontë after reviewing Reader, I Married Him, a collection of short stories inspired by Jane Eyre. I realised then that I would love to know more about Charlotte, and this biography came highly recommended.

29598006

9. The Awakening by Kate Chopin [Bought/Gifted].- It’s been 6 years since I first read Chopin’s tale of feminist awakening and I still think of Edna Pontellier a lot. Maybe it is time for a re-reading.

483853

10. Three Guineas by Virginia Wolf [Bought/Gifted].- I read and fell in love with A Room of One’s Own a few years ago, and I didn’t get to read her other famous essay Thee Guineas. I think an essay will be perfect to read more than fiction this summer.

52229

Disclaimer! Because rules are meant to be broken, here are some alternative readings that I am also really looking forward to:

EXTRA 11: The Age of Innocence/ The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton [Library].- I have wanted to read a 19th century novel for a while now, and I can’t believe I haven’t read anything by Wharton yet.

17728

EXTRA 12: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood [Library].- Margaret Atwood and Kate Atkinson are my go-tos for comfort reading. I know I will love their works, and they will inspire me to keep writing and reading.

38447

EXTRA 13: A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson [Review Copy].- Everyone has loved Atkinson’s last novel so much that I haven’t brought myself to read it yet. But I know I should.

3722183

EXTRA 14: Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood [Library].- Just in case I need some writing inspiration, I can’t think of a better person to help me than Atwood.

832620

For more information on all these books, you can check my 10 Books of Summer Challenge reading list at Goodreads here.

Quick Personal Update: Summer is Here!

For the last couple of weeks I have been trying to post a review per week and visit your blogs as frequently as I could. But it somehow felt cold and distant, because I usually share more than just reviews here. This week I also have a book to review, don’t worry,  but it’s June already and I have realised I had not posted a Personal Update since February. Isn’t it about time?

The first thing I want to tell you is that I finished watching the first episode of Marcella last night and I am in love. I had heard wonderful things about both the TV show as a crime show, and Marcella as a female character. I even read this piece on The Pool about Marcella’s parka, which I desperately need right now even though it is summer and I would probably melt. Also, can we talk long hours about her fringe? It’s just perfect.

Marcella

I have been reading and writing lots for my PhD thesis, submitting papers, articles and proposals. So much so, that I have fallen into a writing routine that makes me feel productive and happy. The only trouble here is the 9 hours of sleep I need every night in order to remain nice and not a monster, and my incapability to get out of bed unless I have a train to catch because there is only one each hour and I can’t afford to lose it. Actually, losing that train could cost me a morning’s work. Staying in bed half an hour more? Is it really going to change much, isn’t it? (Yes, it is… I am learning it the hard way).

Puppy

Look out! It’s sunny and warm and everyone is passing their final exams – good luck to everyone taking them – and I am still working from morning til evening. I read and write every day, but I have been out of a job since December, so I am also trying to find any kind of job related to editing or writing. No such luck for the moment, I’m afraid. However, I have had some positive feedback on my CV, which is always a nice thing to hear.

A lot of new books have arrived, and I have not told you anything about them, but there is a reason. There is always a reason. Meanwhile, I am reading After You Die by Eva Dolan, the third installment in the Zigic and Ferrera series, and it is even than you could imagine. Dolan is mastering the art of writing diverse, complex and socially responsible crime fiction. No wonder her last novel Tell No Tales is shortlisted for the Theakstones Novel of the Year Award. Congrats, Eva!

Tell No Tales

By the end of June I will back in the UK and I cannot wait to reunite with my friends and colleagues. Also, let’s be honest, I can’t wait to spend a few hours in Waterstones. Are there any novels that I should be buying on the spot?

I will be joining Cathy Brown’s #20BooksofSummer this week. Cathy is challenging us to read 10, 15 or 20 books this summer. You can read more about the event here. I am signing up for 10 books, as I don’t usually count what I read for my PhD as ‘books read’.

10booksfinal

So, that’s everything for now. I hope it’s not 4 months until I post a personal update again because I want to keep the blog as updated with my reading and writing life as it is possible. Happy reading x

 

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Last summer I discovered author Ruth Ware whose debut novel In a Dark, Dark Wood made quite an impact in crime fiction in a year that had been mainly dominated by the success of The Girl on the Train. Back then I knew Ware was writing her second novel, to be published by Harvill Secker in 2016. Imagine my surprise when I was one of the lucky bloggers to get an advanced review copy of The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware’s second novel out on the 30th June 2016.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Cover of my ARC for Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10 follows In a Dark, Dark Wood‘s focus on a young, white woman who tells the story in the first person. Laura “Lo” Blacklock is a young travel journalist living in London who finds a stranger ransacking her flat late one night. Even though the intruder does not cause her any physical harm on purpose, she had drunk a lot that night and she finds herself unable to draw a clear line between fact and fiction, or so she thinks. A few days later she is supposed to board the Aurora Borealis, a super luxurious cruise for the 1%, and write a report, do some networking and fight for a promotion. As the cruise set sails from Hull to Norway and Lo realises she has left her mascara at home, she borrows some from the woman in the cabin next to hers. After dinner, and a bit drunk again, she returns to her cabin where she hears a splash on the water and comes out to her private balcony to find a big smear of blood on the glass separating the balconies. But the cruise security informs her the cabin has been empty since they set sail. Did Lo really hear the splash and saw the blood, or is she just suffering from PTSD?

Ware’s second novel fits into the neo-domestic noir tradition of lately, with an unreliable female narrator. However, these neo-domestic noir novels are doing much more for female characters than they seem to by portraying the supposedly unsuitability of young women for crime narratives. Like Rachel and Nora, Lo knows that she is not the best of witnesses, but at least she is one. The corpus delicti – the requirement of someone having witnessed a crime and not the presence of a corpse, like it is usually interpreted – is a gendered jurisprudence, and women are, more often than not, seen as unreliable witnesses and even victims. So, how does this affect women in fiction and in real life? How come many rape victims decide to not come forward for fear of not being believed? Thankfully contemporary crime fiction is calling attention to this gender-biased and it is forcing modern audiences to rethink their assumptions about women and crime.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is also very aware of the crime fiction tradition to which it belongs, and Ware not only plays with the role of women in crime fiction, but with more formal features. After all, a crime committed in a small, closed space pays homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and the locked room mystery. Ware updates this tradition so that it feels fresh, while keeping a line-up of exotic and bizarre characters that make Lo feel alienated and tricked. After all, not everyone belongs to the 1%. So, although the novel is quite dark and the alcohol and the cruise confer the text a dizziness that easily affects the reader, Lo’s rich and extravagant fellow passengers offer a quirky and funny tone to the novel.

In short, The Woman in Cabin 10 clearly shows the evolution of Ware as a contemporary crime writer, and it is a thrilling read for neo-noir fans this next summer. However, Ware’s novels are darker than they seem, being a bit overwhelming – in the way excellent crime fiction is. After In a Dark, Dark Wood was picked up by Reese Witherspoon for production, I can’t wait to see what the Hollywood stars will do regarding The Woman in Cabin 10. I would not think it twice.

UK and US covers for The Woman in Cabin 10

In case I haven’t convinced you yet, you can read an extract from the book thanks to DeadGood Books here.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is out on the 30th of June 2016 in the UK.

 

The Ages of Lulu (1989) by Almudena Grandes

Even though I am Spanish, I am not the biggest fan of Spanish literature. In fact, it is very seldom that I pick up a book either written by a Spanish author or translated into Spanish. However, last March I enrolled on a course about ‘Women in Literature’ that ended up being ‘Women in Spanish Literature’. Some of the authors rang a bell while others I knew: it is one of those times when you know the names and the titles of their works, but you have never read any of the novels. It was with this frame of mind that I realised I had to read The Ages of Lulu (Las edades de Lulú in the original Spanish), a novel written in 1989 by Almudena Grandes.

The Ages of Lulu by Almudena Grandes

What Goodreads says:

At just fifteen years old, Lulu, a “round, hungry little girl,” finds that her erotic cravings are already powerfully established when she is seduced by a family friend, Pablo, twelve years her senior. This initial encounter incites the violent power play that drives an adult Lulu through a series of increasingly titillating sexual exploits. Always fascinated by the thin line separating decency and morality from perversion, Lulu gains the courage to explore the darker side of her carnal desires—but as her forays become increasingly desperate, the world of illicit and dangerous sex threatens to engulf her completely.


A groundbreaking novel of sexual exploration, The Ages of Lulu sparked international controversy and was an overnight sensation when it was first published in Spain fifteen years ago. It won the Sonrisa Vertical Prize for erotic fiction, and was made into a film starring Javier Bardem.

The author:

Spanish author Almudena Grandes

Almudena Grandes was born in Madrid in 1960. She is known for her columns for the centre-left wing newspaper El País, where she explores current politics, friendship, family and whatever issue she thinks fit. She is also a member of Izquierda Unida (‘United Left’), Spain’s traditional left wing party. She writes novels, but has also published a few short story collections and plays.

Historical context:

The Ages of Lulu is an erotic novel and its importance for Spanish literature comes directly from the time of its publication. Spain was subjected to a fascist dictatorship from 1939 to 1975 under the rule of Coronel Francisco Franco and his party, the ‘Falange’. His dictatorship was informed by Catholicism and a national movement based on the Castilian culture, and he tried to erase local traditions and languages. Opposing the dictatorship meant risking your life, and as a consequence many people just tried to survive as they could. Just to establish a parallel, think of early 20th century Ireland, and you will get a glimpse of what it was to live in Spain during the dictatorship.

This very brief historical context is important for the analysis of The Ages of Lulu due to the imposition of Catholic imaginary upon women during the dictatorship. Pilar Primo de Rivera – sister to the Falange founder – was in charge of the ‘Sección Femenina’ (‘Female Section’), an organisation that prescribed adequate behaviour and lifestyle for women. Due to the importance of Catholicism, the most influential image for women during the dictatorship was Virgin Mary, embodying the contradictions of being a virgin and a mother at the same time. For Spanish women born in the 20th century this meant a total lack of sexual education – except for a few who came from left-wing, powerful families and managed to buy the pill and condoms under the counter, risking imprisonment – and the imposition of virginal and supposedly pure values. This lead to a normalisation of a troubled relationship with female sexuality in which female desire was seen as dirty, and the label ‘whore’ was easily impossed on anyone who did not supress their libido. There was a high rate of teenage pregnancy, single motherhood was forbidden and despised and the image of the Angel in the House was expected of married women and mothers.

Once Franco was dead and Spain slowly caught up with the rest of the West, a new cultural movement emerged in Madrid called ‘La Movida’ in the 1980’s. To put it briefly, it was time to party after so many years of oppression, and ‘La Movida’ promised happiness and liberation along with parties, drugs, sex, and a lot of music. It was also a celebration of fluid sexualities and homosexuality – punished by the regime with the death penalty – and it aimed to break away with traditional gender stereotypes and role models with the celebration of travestism.

La Movida (Spain, 1980's)

The Ages of Lulu (1989):

When Grandes wrote and published The Ages of Lulu in 1989 Spain had been enjoying a democracy for 14 years, but moral values and certain codes of behaviour inherited from the regime were still very much present in everyday life. Sadly, they still are in 2016. So, the publishing of an erotic novel, narrated on the first person by a sexually active and desiring teenage girl became a national sensation and success. The novel is a bildungsroman told from a sexual perspective and follows Lulu from her first sexual encounter to a final one. In between you can find stories about being a daughter, a mother and a friend.

Las edades de Lulú

It is now time to come clear about the novel: it is very dated and dependant on the context it was written on. I found it provocative just for the sake of being so, and some scenes surprised me in a bad way. Lulu’s relationship with Pablo, the boy she has her first sexual encounter with, is still quite patriarchal and victim to an imaginary in which grown women’s sexual desire is not quite developed yet. That is, Lulu is aware of her sexual desire and she satisfies it with men and women alike, but the novel portrays this sexual desire as a rebellion against her Catholic and conservative education. As Foucault would say a rebellion does not make you free since it compels you to do the exact opposite of what you have been told to do. It just a masquerade, a reversal of the dominant discourse. But, at the time the novel was published this rebellion was the only way in which women could openly explore their sexuality and feel free.

As a consequence the novel feels like reading a teenager’s diary, a rebel without a cause (the ending is very conservative), a need for attention and a need for freedom. And I still liked it, especially the first half. Grandes makes a huge effort to inscribe sex and sexuality into everyday life, something is still absent from contemporary fiction, and produces a counter-discourse that assures the female reader it is OK to have sexual needs in whatever form they present themselves. The novel could very well be related to the 1980’s and 1990’s texts feminist and philosophical texts that exposed normative sexuality as an opening of located orifices as rites of passage.

The verdict:

Although dated, The Ages of Lulu is a landmark in Spanish fiction and it should be considered a masterpiece of the post-dictatorship feminist movement. Despite its conservative background ideas and some gross – yet very interesting – scenes, the novel depicts the carpe diem state of mind of the 1980’s, when Western culture finally entered Spain and generations who had been oppressed for decades were granted the right to do as they wanted. In this case it meant lots of sex, drugs and music. And in this case it was what the country needed.

While I was reading the novel I felt that maybe this is what readers who are disappointed with Fifty Shades of Grey should read. Both novels present a young woman’s sexual life and their relationship with an older man who tries to subject them. The Ages of Lulu is not shy in portraying non-normative sexual behaviours and practices, and in doing so is trying to inscribe them as an option, rather than a quirk. However, I will say again that the novel takes great pleasure in presenting these practices – like a rebellious teenager who knows she is doing something forbidden – and successfully translates that pleasure to the reader.

I would highly recommend The Ages of Lulu to anyone, especially women readers, in order to explore how oppression and extreme fake moral values can end up producing the opposite of what they wanted. However, if I took something from reading the novel – and this is the main reason why I am publishing this review – is to be happy and enjoy life. Grandes has reminded me that I am lucky to have the freedom to explore the many, many options and paths that life has to offer which are not planned or scheduled: they can only be lived through.

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

I heard of Emma Straub’s new book Modern Lovers – to be released by Michael Joseph on the 30th of June 2016 in the UK – thanks to Book Rioter and vlogger Wallace Yovetich. If you do now know who she is, then here is the video that made me request a review copy of Modern Lovers (thanks to Penguin Random House):

Also, shortly after I started reading the book I mentioned it on Twitter and fellow bloggers like Noami from The Writes of Woman said they had loved Straub’s previous novel The Vacationers – you can read her review here. That is when I was a hundred per cent sure I was in for a treat.

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Modern Lovers is set in contemporary New York and it tells the story of Zoe, Elizabeth and Andrew, university friends who now live a few doors away from the other and whose children attend the same school. Zoe is married to Jane, a chef I would love to meet because her recipes in the book made me hungry just by reading them, and their daughter Ruby is causing a bit of mayhem in the supposedly stable suburban neighbourhood they live in. On the other hand, Elizabeth and Andrew married almost twenty years ago and they are now parents to well-behaved, sweet Harry. And although the novel could very well focus on the present and the hardship of being a parent, Straub creates beautifully crafted pasts for the main characters who, not only were friends back at Oberlin in the early 1990’s, but they also had a band. The lead singer, Lydia, now a member of the famous 27-club and main character to a Hollywood blockbuster, became nation-wide famous for a song called Mistress of Myself, which I would have paid thousands of euros to hear while I was reading the book. But what sets the plot in motion is whether Andrew, Elizabeth and Zoe really want their past and their youth in the big screen across the country for everyone to see.

Modern Lovers is one of the best books about life and growing up that I have read in a really long time. It reminded me a lot of Meg Wolitzer’s The interestings without all the things that I did not enjoy. Because of my age, I fall between the parents’ and the children’s generations in Modern Lovers. Yet, despite the different interests and lifestyles I felt myself sympathising with all the adult female characters – sorry, Andrew, but I did not get you – and Harry’s personal journey becoming an adult. It was difficult to read at times, but overall it felt good. I was in awe at Straub’s talent to portray different ethnicities and ages, even different personalities so that everyone felt unique yet connected to each other. The jewel of the novel, however, is Ruby: at eighteen she embodies freedom, hope, and a thirst for life and the world that is infectious and inspiring in equal parts.

It seems I have drifted away a bit from crime fiction to focus on books about life and the many decisions that actually shape who we become. My latest review of Not Working by Lisa Owens prompted one tiny scare when my friend Naomi thought I was defending adulthood as a fixed identity. That is not something I believe in: I think we are constantly developing and constructing ourselves, and we need to change in order to do that. Modern Lovers is a novel that deals with that change and how it may affect our relationships, even the most profound and significant ones with our children and our significant others. But Straub portrays change as something that we need even when it is hard, so it feels fresh and exciting – although terribly scary – and something to look for in life. In short, Modern Lovers by Emma Straub is one of the greatest novels I have read about life, change and all kind of relationships, even the ones we may have with our pets. It has a more profound tone than Not Working, and the story feels more realistic than The Interestings’. However, I would like to highlight all the characters in the novel are upper-middle class, which does not take away from the novel, but plays a huge role in how the characters behave (i.e. money is never a worry for them).

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub is set to become one of the books of the summer with a profound exploration of family life, yet full of hope and love for life. Modern Lovers come out on the 30th of June in the UK, released by Penguin Random House.

Not Working by Lisa Owens

I knew I had to get my hands on Lisa Owen’s novel Not Working when I saw it described as representative of the Millennial experience at MarinaSofia’s blog. As a Millennial I could not resist the opportunity to check a funny take on what it means to be one of the most self-centered generations in literature (so, yes, this post is very much an exploration of myself as it is a review). Thank you to the lovely people at Picador who kindly sent me a hardback review copy. It is gorgeous.

Not Working by Lisa Owens

Not Working tells the story of Claire Flannery who, in her late twenties,  decides to quit her job at an office because she was not satisfied with it. The story begins with Claire’s introspections about how her life is supposed to be, how she wants it to be, and how everyone else – more Parents here included – think it should be. Thankfully she has some savings and is engaged and living with a neurosurgeon in training who can emotionally and financially support her decision.

I feel as if every decision I’ve made has cut off possibilities rather than broadened them. What if I’d make an amazing potter but will never know because I never tried it?

If you are young, I am 99% sure you will identify with Claire. We have been brought to think that one day we will be adults, we will know it, and we will behave accordingly. This is life path that Generation X or Baby Boomers established at an economically prosperous time when young people thought of their jobs as jobs, and not as life-defining choices. But we, Millennials, are playing a different game. The economic crisis is making it quite difficult for some of us to find a job that will allow us to fly the nest, and we are not sure we want to get married and have children. Why would we when we feel we have not experienced any kind of freedom at 30? [See, this is a Millennial rant]. Claire does not seem to have this problem, although her preoccupation with finding her passion in life is very much related to her preoccupation to find that adult self that comes right before settling down and enjoying that fixed identity that means being an adult. This feeling has different connotations for men and women, and Owens herself puts it better here than I could ever dream of, because sometimes I also wonder what happened to that adult-self that I always planned on being:

I realize with a vague sense of disenchantment that this phenomenon – femininity – has not manifested itself at all as I expected, in the form of vanity table, crystal perfume, atomizer, kimono suspended from silk-padded hanger, et cetera, but instead as a tangle of greyish underwear, old sports T-shirts for nighties and an unruly Boots-special-offer-dictated assortment of half-finished moisturizer, packets of face wipes and bunches of tampons.

The story is told only from Claire’s point of view – no other option here for a generation who overshares in social media – and is divided into days and vignettes, like Noami accurately described them. I especially enjoyed Claire’s reflection on the tube, as they perfectly reflect the stream of consciousness and all the judgement that comes from using public transportation. I was also moved by her relationship with her mother, as it seems that our generation is finding it a bit difficult to connect with our parents’ due to different values and lifestyles.

However, I wonder whether Owen’s portrayal of a Millennial crisis is too idealised, with Claire living in an apartment in London and enjoying the financial security of a neurosurgeon boyfriend. But, since the book is a light yet profound read for my generation, I will consider that setting a necessity for all the funny and tragic decisions Claire makes, like overspending in wine and paying a hundred pounds for sessions with a personal trainer that she does not want.

In short, Not Working will work for many of us who are still figuring out this thing called ‘adulting’, and who, comparing their lives to their parents’ at their age,  wonder if they did something wrong along the road, or whether another lifestyle is emerging that will allow us to be more fluid, and more plastic beings. In any case, Owen’s novel will remind us to toss away all the ideas we have in our minds about how life is supposed to be and feel and just live it and feel it as it comes.