The Awakening by Kate Chopin

“Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 238 pages.
Read from June 3, 2018 to June 5, 2018.

It is hard to imagine a book considered so scandalous that is was banned for decades; this book, Chopin’s masterpiece, did just that. It was published in 1899 and from then on it has struggled to get away from the banned book realm even though it’s included on most essential feminist reading lists. Chopin is considered one of the author’s that helped in ushering 20th-century American feminism.

This Victorian novel gives a shockingly honest account of identity and infidelity from a woman’s perspective. The protagonist is trapped in a stifling marriage. She has fulfilled the role that society has put in place for her but she realizes that the life she is living is not truly her own. Following her passions, she takes in a lover and begins to make her own choices about what she wants to do with her life in accepting herself as she truly is. She begins to question how women seem to ‘belong’ to men rather than to themselves. She even distances herself from her own children as her insights begin to weigh on her further.

“…but whatever came, she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself.”

The popularity of this novel comes not from its relevance in the history of feminism but the fact that many women can still relate to the protagonist, to a smaller extent, when it comes to themselves and the choices they have to make as women. Spoilers ahead… The main controversy today comes with how the protagonist ultimately abandons her children, a choice unforgivable to nearly any modern mother. However, taken from within in context, the protagonist was never given a choice about having children. She had to. She was married, there was no birth control and it was expected of her that she would be a mother as that is the only thing of value given to women in that timeframe. The protagonist may be rich, coddled and spoiled but she does love her children. The problem is that she feels she was never given a choice in the matter when it came to becoming their mother.  Does that mean she gets to revoke her responsibilities as a mother? No, but she did anyway. This brutal honesty is what continues to make this novel so scandalous.

Readers have attacked the protagonist for her selfishness and her inability to stand on her own two feet despite the choices she eventually makes. All valid. I don’t disagree but again, what makes the book so potent is that the protagonist’s feelings are not unique, in that women all over the world know to some extent what is or what it might feel like to be in her shoes even if they would never make the same choices. Spoilers ahead… The protagonist’s demise is tragic, as her turmoil is so intense that she believed suicide was the only option for her. Suicide, with its intentions, is not in and of itself a selfish act as sufferers do believe that they are doing the world and their loved ones a favour in making the choice to relieve their suffering. The dynamic between empathy, shock, disbelief or disagreement as well as tragedy, whether for the protagonist, her children or both, are what continue to make this book so exceptional. Accompanied by Chopin’s eloquent writing, it’s no surprise the impact this novel continues to have.

“But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult! The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamouring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.”

 

 

I Am No One You Know by Joyce Carol Oates

There are some real gems in this book if you enjoy something a bit more on the dark side. 

“I had forgotten that time wasn’t fixed like concrete but in fact was fluid as sand, or water. I had forgotten that even misery can end.”

3/5 stars.
190 pages, Hardcover.
Read from Oct 13, 2017 to Oct 24, 2017.

This book had been sitting on my shelf for way too long. I was only vaguely familiar with the author and unsure what the stories might be like it so I avoided it. I guess I was expecting some thought-provoking literary fiction as I was not prepared for the morbid and fascinating content that this book contained. Or for the cliffhangers. God damn, nearly every single story left you hanging.

The book is broken down into four parts and seems to carry similar themes: Part one looks at inward conflicts and decisions in relation to others; Part two delves into life-changing interactions with others; Part three looks at the intricacies of human relationships. Part four is the least morbid of the parts and focuses on kindness and strength in relation to the bigger world of human interactions. In fact, one of my favourite stories is in this section, Three Girls. The story starts by following two girls in a bookstore who recognize Marilyn Monroe, who is clearly attempting to keep her identity a secret, and the two girls decide to not approach her and allow her to keep her privacy.

The majority of the stories, especially the suspenseful and morbid ones often left you with a cliffhanger ending. Sometimes this approach worked and other times I found it aggravating and annoying. Just as some of the stories highly successful while others were completely unmemorable.  The story that stuck with me the most is The Instructor. A new teacher at a college teaching a composition class has an unusual and strange student who leaves her intriguing but highly personal and disturbing poetry for his assignments. He was a former prisoner who now appears to be stalking her, which, she strangely does not seem to mind.

The abrupt cliffhangers and the occasional boring story was just enough to stop me from giving this book four stars. However, there are some real gems in this book if you enjoy something a bit more on the dark side.

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

“That’s what it’s like to lose a woman. And at a certain time, losing one woman means losing all women. That’s how we become men without women.”

“No matter how empty it may be, this is still my heart.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 240 pages.
July 3, 2017 to July 6, 2017.

Men get lonely too and are perhaps the worst at dealing with it. Who better to put that masculine pain into words than Murakami. This book contains seven unique stories about men who have lost or have been unable to attain that special lady in their lives. From cheating, divorce and death, this book is a tragic read with relatable emotions. As with all of Murakami’s works, you are taken down a rabbit hole to another world of emotions and feelings that we keep hidden away.

In the story titled, Samsa in Love, Gregor Samsa, the notorious character from Kafka’s work, wakes up to find that he is no longer and insect but rather a human and learns to find love. A creative and reverse take on the classic story.

My favourite character by far was the female driver in the story Drive My Car. A gentleman actor hires a driver to get him around. He prefers female-drivers and his latest hire is a tough and unreadable woman with whom he feels compelled to share his sadness, fears and secrets.

My favourite story, however, is The Independent Organ. Dr.Tokai is a successful and unmarried man. He has managed to live his life without becoming attached to a single woman and lives his life in an array of numerous affairs with women who interest him.  Above all, they had to be intellectually stimulating to him. If he thinks that the woman is becoming attached to him he respectfully ends the affair.  In the end, he falls for a woman who was very much like him with relationships. She was not exclusively his, which he did not know, and when he wants to express his love he learns that she has pursued another man instead of him. Devastated, the doctor starves himself to death. He deprived his life of meaningful love for so long that when he finally felt it he could not cope with the heartbreak. It is in this story that the most misogynist passage is found:

“Women are all born with a special, independent organ that allows them to lie. This was Dr. Tokai’s personal opinion. It depends on the person, he said about the kind of lies they tell, what situation they tell them in, and how the lies are told. But at a certain point in their lives, all women tell lies, and they lie about important things. They lie about unimportant things, too, but they also don’t hesitate to lie about the most important things. And when they do, most women’s expressions and voices don’t change at all, since it’s not them lying, but this independent organ they’re equipped with that’s acting on its own. That’s why – except for a few special cases – they can still have a clear conscience and never lose sleep over anything they say.”

Rather than being offended by this passage, I saw it as the naive view that Dr.Tokai had of women. For all the time he spent with women, he did not know or understand anything about them or how his own choices and lies affected them. This passage is about him as he projects his faults onto women and it is this exact perception that validates his detachments.

This book is for everyone. As we have all felt lonely at one point in our lives. For those that love Murakami, this is a nice addition to the expanding Murakami collection of works. Even for those that are not fans or have not read Murakami yet, this collaboration of short stories is a tame introduction to his world and writing style.