Author: Vanessa Matthews
Finished on: 3 November 2015
Where did I get this book: Sent to me by the author. As well as prompting discussions that end in book sharing, this blog has now also led to my being sent a book to review. I told you this is becoming a self-defeating exercise. The more I write about not buying books, the more I talk to people about books, and the more people give me books. It is fair to say that I am failing miserably at the endeavour behind this blog. I will never read my house dry. However, it is hugely exciting to be sent a book to review – a book very much up my street indeed – and so that is marvellous.
When I read A Thousand Splendid Suns, one of my favourite aspects of that book was the beautifully moving friendship between two of the female characters: a hugely underrated relationship in a lot of fiction. So, I was interested to read Matthews’s post http://booksbywomen.org/female-friendships-in-literature/ and we started a conversation on twitter that ended with her sending me a copy of this book.
As well as being exciting, it is also a bit stressful being sent a review copy. What if it’s rubbish? I couldn’t write a negative post on a book when she’d been kind enough to send it to me… But I really needn’t have worried.
This is a very good book. It is a dark, disturbing story tailor-made for my weirdly horrible leanings when it comes to subject matter: madness, psychology, manipulation, dark deeds, secrets to be uncovered, and a denouement that left me feeling slightly sick. I also read it over Halloween, which was most appropriate.
The book is set in 1927, in Vienna, when women have been granted to right to vote and the world is changing. Despite this backdrop, or maybe even because of it, it is enormously frustrating to see the extent to which Marta, the unusual and engaging protagonist of the story, relies on the men around her. It is no doubt an accurate depiction of the vast power differences in male/ female relationships at that time. But the dramatic irony is almost too much to bear at some points, as we see Marta being used and abused by the ruthless men around her.
The book contains some fascinating description of theories and developments in psychology, and psychiatry, at that time. And how these developments could be bent and shaped to reinforce the prejudices of those with the control: the doctors. There is an enormous and terrifying power that comes with the ability to declare another person mad. And it makes for uncomfortable reading. Matthews takes us to some pretty dark places before she’s done with us in this book.
And I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.
Recommended reading. Ideally on a purple chaise longue. At Halloween.