The Readhead Relaunch

Hi Guys!

Long time no read, I know. Things have been pretty hectic on this end, but I just wanted to let you know that The Readhead is relaunching soon, with a shiny new site, shiny new instagram and some shiny new books with a friendly feminist feel…

I’m really excited to start focusing on books, both fiction on non-fiction, written by female authors. I set myself a challenge about 9 months ago to read only female authors and I’ve been loving it! I can’t wait to share these new books with you, it’s gonna be great.

Until then, stay tuned. I’ll let you know the details of the new site and social soon!

Read On ✌️

Readhead Relaunch

Advertisements

Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

“She throws her head back and pushes her chest forward and lets go a huge blast right into the centre of his body. The rivulets and streams of red scarring run across his chest and up around his throat. She’d put her hand on his heart and stopped him dead.”

I’ve been putting off writing this review for a while because I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about it. Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power is both gripping and disturbing. As it goes on I both wanted desperately to look away while compulsively reading. Although much of it is empowering, ferocious, fascinating and thrilling, in parts it is visceral, devastating, painful and uncomfortable, and that’s exactly the point.

the powerThe winner of 2017’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, Alderman’s novel begins as young girls all over the world start discovering a power within them, something they’ve always had, a kind of twist in them that unleashes electric shocks. Suddenly, with a flick of their fingers, girls can inflict pain, pleasure, or death. They can awaken this power in older women, and now all baby girls are being born with this power in them, ready and waiting. Suddenly, the women have a powerful strength beyond a man’s reach.

The men become afraid of women as gender roles gradually reverse. Boys are soon segregated into single sex schools for their own safety as riots spread over the world; the women are striking back. The shift is gradual but extreme; they become military weapons to harness their natural aggression, harsh dictators…over the years they turn on men, humiliating them and using them to satisfy their desires, sexual violence reversing as men become the victims of women. The power is fetishized, drugs made to enhance it, and men become more classically submissive as women take the matriarchal lead. Some men fear that women will wipe men out, use them for breeding and nothing else – a conspiracy theory which, in certain corners of the world, begin to come true.

Through all this a new, feminised religion starts up: “Jews: look to Miriam, not Moses … Muslims: look to Fatimah, not Muhammad. Buddhists: remember Tara, the mother of liberation. Christians: pray to Mary for your salvation.” Allie, an abused foster child, transforms herself into Mother Eve, and seeks to build a new world. Alderman creates vibrant characters to conduct the thought experiment at the heart of The Power; the religious leader, the crime boss, a female American politician, and Tunde, a male Nigerian journalist whose awe of the power slowly turns to fear as he is attacked, manipulated and powerless as an attractive young man in a woman’s world. Through these characters we see how the power changes the dynamics of the world, how the old patriarchal ways are slowly buried as the matriarchy makes the same mistakes – violence, sexual exploitation and subordination is turned onto men as Alderman forces us to witness an uncomfortable, mirrored image of society.

Alderman ingeniously structures the novel as a proposed piece of historical fiction from a frustrated male historian (Neil Adam Amon) who is asking advice from a female colleague (Naomi), who suggests he try publishing the novel under a woman’s name and immediately fetishizes the very notion of a patriarchal world. The male author is writing thousands of years in the future and dares to question the natural dominance of women over men and how it developed – to Naomi the world has always been just as it is, women with the power and men as their submissive counterparts. She glibly remarks that the world would be a gentler, peaceful place if it was run by men, due to their naturally calmer and paternal instincts. The novel counts through the years to a global cataclysm, where the world as we know it is destroyed and begun again.

Alderman has created a perceptive, astute and brilliantly written thought experiment which defied all my expectations. She forces us to look at our own gendered society, down to the smallest details of email tone. Women will recognise the patronising way they’re often treated at work, will perhaps recognise the fear of walking alone at night…its an uncomfortable reminder as well as an astoundingly clever piece of feminist, sci-fi literature which shows the flaws of both genders and us as human beings. By the end we’re forced to witness violent war crimes as female soldiers rape and kill male villagers – just because they can – in a deeply disturbing and visceral part of the novel which shows how far the powerful had fallen in just a decade. Despite the uncomfortable and violent nature of much of the book, it’s far from a depressing read. Complex, clever, and compulsively readable The Power is as intriguing as it is disturbing – disturbing only because it holds a mirror up to the society we live in.

 

Happy National Poetry Day!

Happy National Poetry Day everyone! This years theme is ‘Freedom’, so here’s a poem from Claude McKay, recommended by the National Poetry Day website. Check out their other poems, let me know your favourite or any suggestions of other great freedom poetry. poster

I Know My Soul

by Claude McKay

 

I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,
A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why
This awful key to my infinity
Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.

Claude-McKay

Claude McKay

Claude McKay (1889-1948) was born in Jamaica and wrote about social and political concerns from his perspective as a black man in the United States, as well as a variety of subjects ranging from his Jamaican homeland to romantic love. (Text from National Poetry Day website)

NPD-logo-Red-Amber-landscape

The Readhead’s Top 7 Banned Books

What’s the best way to gain a cult following? Have your book banned. There’s nothing more intriguing than a book banned for ‘indecency’, being told it’s ‘obscene’ and ‘inappropriate.’ Tell us we can’t read something and that’s all we want to do (we’re simple, rebellious folk.) Books piled high on fires (the greatest sacrilege) will always find their way into our hands – so here’s The Readhead’s Top 7 Banned Books for your defiant and offensive reading list.

  1. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, 1951catcher in the rye

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

The book cited as the inspiration for John Lennon’s assassination and the ultimate book of teen angst. This classic American novel from the reclusive J.D. Salinger follows the teenage Holden Caulfield as he examines the world around him, full of ‘phonies’ and hypocrisy which he both isolates himself from and reaches out to for a connection. The Catcher in the Rye has frequently been removed from school libraries and classrooms for it’s ‘unacceptable’, ‘obscene’, ‘blasphemous’, ‘foul’, ‘filthy’, ‘negative’ and immoral content…what’s a better sales pitch than that?

  1. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955

lolita‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.’

It’s not hard to guess why this piece, from the Russian-America Nabokov, was banned for being ‘obscene’ in the UK, France, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada for varying periods of time. The novel focuses on the unreliable narrator, Professor Humbert Humbert, who is plagued by an obsession for young girls – in particular the 12 year old Dolores Haze, who he nicknames ‘Lolita.’ A strange and uncomfortable novel, yet beautifully written and even has the reader sympathising with Humbert, Lolita breaks all the rules.

  1. Native Son, Richard Wright, 1940native son

“Though he had killed by accident, not once did he feel the need to tell himself, that it had been an accident. He was black and he had been alone in the room where a white girl had been killed: therefore he had killed her. That was what everyone would say, anyhow, no matter what he said.”

Another uncomfortable but extremely striking read is Richard Wright’s Native Son, a story of marginalisation, anger and racism following the life of Bigger Thomas, a poor black man from Chicago. When Bigger starts working for a rich white family as a chauffeur he finds himself in many uncomfortable, frustrating and awkward situations which underline the racist complexities of his world. After he accidentally kills the daughter of the family, we follow him fleeing, his capture and his trial, where he is ultimately sentenced to death. Native Son has been removed from at least eight different US states for being considered ‘violent and sexually graphic.’

  1. Howl, Allen Ginsberg, 1956

howl‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix’

Allen Ginsberg’s boundary-pushing, experimental poetic works were challenged due to their references to illicit drugs and descriptions of heterosexual and homosexual acts, with lines such as

‘who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy.’

Copies of the first edition were seized by San Francisco Customs for obscenity in March 1957. This was followed by a very public trial where the obscenity charges were ultimately dismissed. Howl is now considered one of the most important pieces of Beat writing and a piece of classic American poetry.

  1. Animal Farm, George Orwell, 1945animal farm

 “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Orwell’s novella was not banned due to its lewdness or violence, but due to its political nature. Following a farm run by animals, the book mirrors the events leading to the Russian Revolution of 1917, then scrutinises the Stalinist era which Orwell was so opposed to. As a democratic socialist, Orwell was critical of Stalin and believed the Soviet Union did not represent socialism but a brutal dictatorship. He reflects the cult of personality with the animals in Animal Farm to criticise the propaganda of the Soviet Union, and claimed to have intentionally written Animal Farm ‘to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.’

Orwell struggled to find a publisher who would print Animal Farm due to its obvious criticism of the USSR, who remained an important ally of Britain in the War. When it finally was published in 1945 (after being completed in 1943), it was banned in the USSR and in other communist regions. It remains banned in North Korea and is censored in Vietnam.

  1. Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman, 1855

leaves of grass‘The Female equally with the Male I sing.
Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful, for freest action form’d under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.’

Walt Whitman is now considered one of America’s great poets, but at the time of his collection’s publishing many were off put by the poetry’s sensuality, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice describing this sensuality as ‘disturbing.’ Leaves of Grass was intended as a celebration of Whitman’s philosophy of life and humanity, praising nature and the individual’s role in it. Nevertheless, his sensual language was enough to have booksellers in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts advising patrons not to buy the book, describing it as ‘filthy.’ Indeed, when it was first published Whitman was fired from his job after his boss read it and found it ‘offensive’, while critics called it ‘a mass of stupid filth’ written by a ‘filthy free lover’, hinting at Whitman’s homosexuality and criticising his overt sexual imagery. Whitman persevered and continued revising and rewriting the collection until his death.

  1. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, 1963Where_The_Wild_Things_Are_(book)_cover

“Let the wild rumpus start!”

Sendak’s work is now beloved and celebrated as an imaginative and wild examples of children’s literature. However, at the time of publication many parents and librarians were concerned about the disturbing and dark elements of the story, where young Max journeys to the land of the Wild Things and becomes as wild as them. Though it might have been considered scary, it’s no worse than the original old Grimm’s Fairy Tales – children’s literature has always been dark, but Max became one of the monsters rather than fear them. What’s not to love?

 

Honourable mentions: 1984, Alice in Wonderland, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch 22, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Ulysses, Fahrenheit 451

Review: Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill

‘Prounounced “ben-dith uh mo-may,” a Welsh phrase meaning “mother’s blessing,” they are the chief child thieves of any fairy court, and the first to whom a community will turn when they desire fresh infants. Each community has its own differing needs, but a thriving, healthy court will often call upon their Bendith Y Mamau to tend to the acquisition of living mortals.’dreams and shadows

From the novelist, screenwriter, film critic and self-described space pirate C. Robert Cargill comes Dreams and Shadows, his debut novel. Although Cargill has written several other novels since his debut in 2013, including Queen of the Dark Things (2014) and Sea of Rust (2017), Dreams and Shadows is my first experience of Cargill as a writer. A fantastic read for fans of Neil Gaiman and Guillermo Del Toro, Dreams and Shadows transports you beyond the veil to where the creatures from fairy tales and folklore lurk. Among these monsters live Ewan and Colby, two young boys who have become part of the ‘otherworld’, their lives and fates intertwined with the creatures of the Limestone Kingdom.

Starting with the tragic backstory of Ewan, who is whisked away from his loving mother with a changeling left in his place, Ewan grows up among the fairies, both seelie (safe) and unseelie (unsafe), unaware of the dark purpose the Limestone Kingdom has bestowed upon him. Meanwhile the young Colby meets a cursed genie and wishes to see the entire supernatural world, unknowingly taking him on a perilous and winding adventure. This is how Ewan and Colby meet, two mortal boys in a world of magic and danger who form a strong bond of friendship. Throughout the novel we see them grow up and face endless perils as the supernatural world blends with our own in a richly imagined world where fallen angels hang out in bars, complete with its own mythology which guides us through the many supernatural creatures we meet. Cargill’s story is well-crafted, warm, funny and imaginative with a dark, brutal edge. In a story filled with fairies and monsters there can’t be an easy, happy ending as Colby and Ewan’s past pursues them into their future. Dreams and Shadows is moving, endearing and loads of fun for lovers of fantasy with a realistic twist. I deeply enjoyed learning about the many creatures, both dangerous, good and misunderstood in a tale both tragic and heart-warming.

PS – how much do I love the cover? SO MUCH

Review: Himself by Jess Kidd

‘Great ferns had unfurled all around the child, tree roots had surrounded him and ivy had sprung up to cloak him. Branches had bent low over his tiny head and had shaken a blessing of leaves down onto him. Badgers had banked earth all around him with their strong claws, shifting the soil furiously.

So that when the man looked about himself he could not find the child, however hard he searched.’Himself

It’s hard to decide what genre to label Himself by Jess Kidd; a comedic-supernatural-horror-thriller? It’s a clever mix, which makes for an extremely fun and intriguing read with some extremely dark undertones. Kidd’s novel begins with the brutal murder of a young mother in 1950s by the father of her child, all while the young infant watches on in the secluded woods. Before the murderer can move on to kill the baby, the forest swallows him up, keeping him safe and hidden. Immediately Kidd combines a vicious murder with an atmosphere of magic and folklore as the forest winds its vines around the child.

Himself then jumps to the west coast of Ireland in the 1970s, where the charming and mysterious character of Mahony appears in the tiny village of Mulderrig. After being left on the steps of an orphanage as a child, he is in search of his young teenage mother. His only clue is a photograph of her holding him, and while no one in the village will tell him what happened to his mother, its secrets soon begin to unravel.

Kidd’s strength lies in her natural voice; funny, evocative and authentic, Kidd perfectly captures a magical, supernatural Ireland alongside endearingly eccentric and vivid characters. Kidd is able to combine horror with humour and magic as we quickly find out Mahony can see the dead, his world full of long dead animals, ghosts of old loves and little girls – and yet his mother, Orla, won’t appear for him. The more we find out out this rebellious and wild girl, whose story is told in tandem to Mahony’s, the more her sinister life and end creep to the surface.

Kidd’s striking mixture of the supernatural alongside brutal, gritty reality shocked right up until the very end. Considering we know right at the start where Orla is killed and that it is by the infant’s father it still takes the entire novel to find out what happened to her – and I was left guessing right up until the very end who the father-come-murderer was. With a shocking change in tone Kidd turns from magic to shocking brutality for the finale in a dramatic and thrilling final chase, where the many buried secrets of Mulderrig get unearthed.

My only criticism is around the middle the plot got a little confused. Having a play performed within a book always seems to go astray, and too much was happening to keep the plot focused. Even so, the finale did not disappoint; Kidd’s fantastically engaging voice and characters alongside her clever use of magic alongside murder made Himself a compelling, atmospheric and thrilling read.

Review: Little Deaths by Emma Flint

“They don’t know guilt. They’re not mothers.”littledeaths

Little Deaths, Emma Flint’s debut novel, is a brilliantly dark noir gem which kept me captivated from the get-go. Set in the sweaty summer of 1985 in Queens, New York, Ruth Malone awakes to find her two young children missing. Immediately all eyes are on Ruth, the glamorous young mother in perfect make-up and tight clothes, her apartment filled with love letters and empty bottles. She is demonised by the press, known as ‘that bitch’ by the lead detective, the world suddenly against her, judging her – a woman who doesn’t fit the idea of a grieving mother as she determinedly hides her grief with thick layers of make-up and resolutely dry eyes. Ruth is captivating and seductive – a tantalising and inescapable riddle for reporter Pete Wonicke who cannot stop himself from getting wound up in the case, unable to take his eyes off Ruth. He slowly gets dragged into the case, unable to free himself from Ruth’s grasp as he struggles between what’s right and what his boss at the newspaper tells him to write.

The storytelling in Little Deaths is perfect, keeping me captivated with subtle and brilliant writing rather than the cheap thrills and plot twists which I might have expected from a psychological thriller. But Little Deaths is so much more than a thriller or murder mystery; in fact the murders are barely mentioned other than at the start and the end. This is a story about women and the media, misogyny and sexism casting dark shadows over everything Ruth does. This complex story is about motherhood, identity and society’s expectations – a Camus-like thriller – part murder mystery, part existential crisis. Less about the tragedy and more about how those at the centre of it are seen, Little Deaths explores how society judges women and mothers – Ruth’s sexuality, drinking and resolute defiance of conservative societal norms becoming symbols of her guilt which speak louder than any real, physical evidence. The title alone touches on the accusations that are put against Ruth; the death of her young children and her sexuality (‘little deaths’ or ‘le petite mort’ is a term for orgasms in French.) These deaths begin to define Ruth’s life and identity, and become evident of her guilt.

Flint’s characters are extremely complex and realistic, Flint presenting their minds and lives with stunning, haunting detail. I am in complete awe of Flint’s talent; she has created an intricate and evocative novel which explores morality, identity and the capacity for good and evil in us all. I couldn’t guess what really happened until the end, by which time I had so many doubts I couldn’t see characters clearly. There is no happy ending, no traditional ‘justice’ as you might hope, but a bittersweet story about the trial of Ruth Malone.  Little Deaths is a dark, clever and haunting noir story which I’d recommend to lovers of Gone Girl and Good Me Bad Me.

I’ve voted for Little Deaths for the First Book Award 2017 as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival! If you liked the book click the link to do the same.

Let me know what you think in the comments or if you have any recommendations on what The Readhead should review next – I’d love to hear from you!