Books read in June
Also featuring a new section on audiobooks.
Black Maria – Diana Wynne Jones
Black Maria is a book that I read as a child and definitely did not enjoy. It was not what I expected and there was too much in the story that I did not understand. I was unhappy that my favourite author (at the time) had penned such a disappointing novel.
Recently, as I was browsing the ebook store, going from author to author and seeing what’s available, I spotted it again. Impulse purchases are rare for me, but maybe Ms Jones makes me allow exceptions.
Perhaps… having many more years of experience behind me, I thought, would make me think differently about Black Maria…
And, oh yes, it did.
Black Maria is, essentially, a novel about gender roles. In the English country village of Cranbury, the women rule and the men are not much more than zombies without ambition or thoughts of their own. In this matrilenal society, you cannot even keep your own thoughts private. The ruling ladies and their spies will find out… and enact some kind of horrific magical punishment.
Honestly, you could have a field day writing a feminist analysis of this novel.
Possibly this is the part that I did not understand as a child, because I did not know about the power (or lack of power) of different gender roles. All of it simply sounded silly to my child’s ears. This was before my own encounters that convinced that me that feminism is still very relevant and very necessary in the modern world.
Now, Black Maria where the women rule, might sound like pro-feminist, but in the view of modern feminism, it is actually anti-feminist. Modern feminism is concerned with the concept that all genders should be equal and that no gender should have more power or influence than another. Feminism does not dictate not that women should be more powerful than men, as it is commonly misquoted. That’s misandry, not feminism.
Black Maria is a powerful view on gender roles. Perhaps by reversing the more common roles and showing the men as oppressed, Jones highlights the dangers of an unequal society. If it were the women who were oppressed the story might have had less of an impact simply because that would be the situation that we are far more used to seeing.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Across a Green Ocean – Wendy Lee
Across a Green Ocean tells the story of one Chinese-American family, the parents immigrants and the children American-born. Now, this family is so extraordinarily bad at communicating they could be the subject of a scientific study on communication.
When the father, Han, passes away at the beginning on the novel, his family realises that they still know next to nothing about his early life in Beijing. His wife, Ling, simply never asked for information and Han never offered her any either.
This leads his son, Michael, to set off on his own journey led only by a letter his father received from an old friend in China, not long before his death, to find out about his father’s hidden past.
The novel is told in flashback style, with several scenes told and retold from different points of view. I saw several reviewers complain about this repetitive style, but it did not bother me in the least. If anything, it highlighted how little these family members understand each other and their actions, even when all experiencing the same situation.
One of the things that I enjoyed most about Across a Green Ocean is that the author managed to make all of the characters human. All of them could so easily have been stereotypes, a further perpetration of the many Asian memes you could find on the Internet. The daughter, Emily, is an overachiever and workaholic, the son a dissatisfied drifter and rebel without a cause, the mother a virtually colourless woman completely deferential to her husband. Yet, all of them seem like people first before they are characters. While Emily is an overworked immigration lawyer whose job could easily have taken over her personality in the story, she is also a person, a woman who has marriage problems and a lot of lingering grief over her father’s death she has not processed yet. And so it is for all the other characters as well.
I picked Across a Green Ocean as part of my (so far) inefficient attempt to read more diverse books. It was good. I don’t regret my choice.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Then, for a new section that I haven’t included before:
Audiobooks listened to:
I’ve been listening to audiobooks more and more while at work, so logically those should be included in a “Books ‘read’ in” post.
I’m not going to review the content of these audiobooks, but instead just do an overview of the source’s quality. After all, in an audiobook, the voice of the narrator is very important and if you can’t connect with the reading voice you won’t enjoy the audiobook.
So far, I’ve bought hardly any audiobooks, instead sticking with Librivox and other free sources. I also much prefer dramatic readings, where each character is read by a different person because I then find it easier to follow the story.
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
The interesting thing to note about this specific reading is that both Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are read by women, as is about half the other male roles in the story. Personally, I have no issue with this. A female (actually Victorian) Holmes could make an interesting literary study. At first I thought it was a complete gender-flipped version, but no. None of the women in the story are read by men.
The only time the female narrators was a bit strange was when one of the other characters would ask, for example, “Mr Holmes, sir?” only to have a woman’s voice answer “Yes?”
The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the my favourite Holmes stories and I love this audiobook. Oddly enough, I find it quite soothing. I mean, odd because the plot is a murder mystery mixed with a horror.
Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Treasure Island is another one of my favourite classic novels and has been since I was very little. This is in spite of the fact that it is, to use the Internet’s favourite word, problematic.
Obviously that would be one of my first picks of classic audiobooks. Unfortunately, I was not as in love with this reading at with the above one. It felt like the audio was unbalanced. I was having trouble hearing the narrator and if I turned up the volume the other characters became too loud again. This rather spoiled the experience of the story. Ah well.