Tag Archives: review

Kickass Princesses, Part 1

19 Apr

This article originally appeared in Bad Reputation – a feminist pop-culture adventure on 28 March 2012.

Fairy tales! We all like fairy tales, right? They have both an air of comfort and adventure about them, and – as they’re something we first came into contact with as young children – there’s also an almost familial fondness for some of them. As they come from the oral tradition, folk/fairy tales have adapted slightly with each retelling to suit the world around them – but as Treasury Islands recently pointed out, the writing–down stage of most tales we know (i.e. when they became a little more set in stone) happened in deeply misogynistic times – and this carries through in even our most beloved fairy tales.

In the world of children’s books there’s a double-whammy of bad female role models and massive under-representation. There’s only one female character to every 1.6 male characters. One of the few regular traditional roles for girls in children’s literature is that of the princess, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the traditional princess trope doesn’t give girls many positive or useful goals to aim for: look pretty, be born into or marry into hereditary privilege and… uh… that’s it. Happily ever after. Forever. Are you bored yet? I am.

Picture of a children's toy tiara covered in glitterYet plenty of little girls are still obsessed with princesses and being a princess. It might not appeal much to the grown-ups, but the trope remains strong – as does the lure of pretty things. (Personally, I still have to suppress a twinge of jealousy when I see a kid going by in a really good princess dress – with the layers of skirt and the faux-stays bodice and WHERE WERE THEY WHEN I WAS SMALL, HUH? – but it’s fine. I’m not jealous. I’m writing this wearing a £3 Claire’s Accessories tiara so it’s all OK.) Continue reading

The Schadenfreude Review

2 Nov

As a reviewer I find the hardest reviews to write are of books which just strike you as ‘meh.’ The okay books which you neither love nor hate are difficult to get a handle on. You often wind up describing plots rather than reactions to it because you barely had any. The ‘Meh’ review is often doomed to be as bland as you found the book: ‘here is a description of a book I have read and didn’t mind.’

Conversely the easiest reviews are of things absolutely you hate. Imagine, then, my Schadenfreude-laden/masochistic delight when I discovered a book so bad I could start a rant about something on almost every single page. (In fact, I frequently did start said rants because chewing the ear off a nearby friend was preferable to wading through more of this grandiose-uncle’s-speech-at-a-wedding prose.)Albert Pierrepoint

So – who wrote this absolute stink-bomb of a book, I hear you ask? Albert Pierrepoint. And I’m absolutely allowed to be mean to him because he killed lots of people. For money.

Put this book out of its misery

Pierrepoint, Britain’s last hangman, used a system of variable drops to snap the convict’s neck instantly – killing them as humanely as possible. I only wish he’d found a method for dispatching his sentences as painlessly.

There is no ghostwriter and oh boy does it show. I’m not entirely sure there was an editor, either. In describing his childhood, every conceivable detail is named: two pages on the embarrassment and ‘indignity’ of not being allowed long trousers when he was a boy, half a page on the way his aunt took the lid off a bottle of gingerbeer. I wish I was kidding.

I’d already seen the movie Pierrepoint when I spotted this book in a charity shop. I’d read that Pierrepoint came out as an advocate against the death penalty in his later life, and that (at one point) he lived in my old neighbourhood. These two factoids were enough to get me reading – but once I was reading… oh dear.

I know ‘it sent me to sleep’ is overused, but seriously I’ve been using this a sedative for a fortnight or more. I’m barely a third of the way through it. It’s turgid, dull-dull-dull and just screams “look at me using big words and gazing at my own navel ’cause now I’m a writer.”

The interesting bits – i.e. his attitudes to life and death, and taking another’s life, and why the hell he was drawn to that kind of work – he seems unwilling or unable to engage with. Only that it’s about dignity, but most men don’t understand, and ladies never understand. And he is forever grateful to his wife for her ‘discretion’ in never ever mentioning the fact that he was, y’know, bumping people off for money on the side.

If I were to attempt psychoanalysis I’d say that Albert Pierrepoint was a man who desperately craved the status – or in his own words the ‘dignity’ – which he perceived in adulthood and seriousness. Given that being a hangman was by definition a very serious job, and his father had been one too, I think he saw it as a way to responsibility and adulthood. I do not think Pierrepoint was a particularly perceptive or self-aware man. I don’t think he had many easily-articulated answers for why he did what he did – and therefore he was especially quick to dismiss others’ questions as their not understanding it. Well, they didn’t – and neither did he.

The past is a different country. A weird, emotionally-repressed one with extremely long sentences.

Review: The Dice Man

8 Aug

Review of The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, or ‘author too in love with his own concept to see the gaping blindspots.’

Cover of The Dice ManThis is a novel which was recommended to me by friends as “if you liked Fight Club you’ll love this.” Though I can see the comparison, it really does fall short. Fight Club was taut and lean, this was bloated and outdated – like some lecherous late middle-aged guy you run in to at a party, who proceeds to trap you in a conversation you’d rather not be in.

Once I started reading I discovered that my friends’ explanation of this book made more sense and appealed more than the book itself does. Yes, if you decide to assign random actions to different sides of dice and throw them – you will (by your own made up rules) have to go do the thing it lands on. But don’t you dare lose track of the fact that you’re the one who put those six outcomes on that die. You’re still in control, stupid.

Psychologist narrator decides one day to just play with possibilities. His very first one is “if this die is a one, I’ll go rape my neighbour.” It is. He does. Lovely. How very free.

I’d been told about this bit, but I’d always assumed it was further along in the book, something dark and disturbing which he builds up to. But nope: it happens straight away, which doesn’t strike me as very good plotting. Also, the neighbour loves it, so it’s not really rape. Women are always gagging for it, aren’t they?

Rad, dude.

The problem at the core of this book is that narrator Luke Reinhart and the author Luke Reinhart are, (I’d venture) pretty much one and the same in their viewpoints . And it’s a one-dimensional, pseudo-revolutionary viewpoint with no regard for other human beings. They both think that living randomly is awesome. Like, so totally awesome that the narrator throws away most of his established life in the process of following this dumb idea of the roll of the dice. He loses his job, wife and family along the way but it’s cool, ’cause now he’s living wild and crazy and free and doing stuff he’d never normally do. Well, it’s definitely wild and crazy, but I fail to see why that’s the stated aim, and I don’t believe the new experiences are worth what each ‘Dice Experiment’ character throws away in the process.

Frustratingly, the plot does light on all my counter-arguments (always put forward by the narrator’s psychologist colleagues), but they’re always just brushed aside as unhip. Nevermind this square life where you don’t rape your neighbours – this dude’s living free! They fired him at work? Great: now he can really get on with his work! It’s the same dumb TV logic which sees cops only catching the murderer once they’re suspended from the case.

This book is a big-assed brick of a novel, and if you’re not charmed and amused by the narrator, or if you’re not into the machismo – yet lack of sense of self (ie personality or scruples) – which the narrator character enthuses about for most of the book, it’s going to be a trudge.

I wonder how different my reading of this might have been if I’d read it in social context when it came out in 1971 (the same year as the Stanford Prison Experiment, as it so happens). It seems to be bourne of that same Stanford Prison Experiment thinking which is willing to risk treading on people en route to gaining a deeper psychological understanding of human nature. I also wonder how different this novel would be if it hadn’t been written in the early 70s. The two seem inextricably linked, and not in a good way. Like I said – think bloated middle-aged guy at a party. Oh, and he’s just bought his first motorbike and wants to tell you all about it. “It’s really powerful, sensual, raw. You should try it some time, come for a ride with me.”

All in all – Luke Rhinehart – you’re icky and please take your midlife crisis elsewhere.

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