Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

This year (aside from everything else) marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Agatha Christie’s first mystery novel, the one that introduced the world to our most-beloved detective since Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot. Christie went on to become the Queen of Crime. She has sold over a billion books in English, and another billion in translation. The lady’s got the chops, if popular opinion is anything to go by. So, for my first foray into her body of work, I chose the best-of-the-best: And Then There Were None, which, according to the blurb on this edition, is the world’s “best-selling mystery” with over 100 million copies sold.

(Christie herself also declared it to be the “most difficult” book she ever wrote, by the way.)

Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion. All were brought there under similar false pretenses: an invitation from an old friend, a job offer from an agency, and so forth. On the first evening, while they’re all finishing up dinner, a recorded voice piped into the room by gramophone accuses them all of having a guilty secret. Specifically, each one of them has committed (or contributed to) a murder. By the time they’ve stopped reeling from the announcement, one of the guests is dead.

Obviously, they all decide to get while the getting’s good – who wants to hang around on an island with a corpse, especially when all the living souls there with you know your darkest secret? The thing is, a terrible storm blows up, preventing any boats from traveling to or from the mainland. There’s another death, then another, then another… none of them accidental. Who is the killer? Will anyone survive?

As far as mystery novels go, And Then There Were None demonstrably has a (pardon the pun) killer premise. It’s a locked-room mystery, with a ticking clock.

Alas, I’m going to have to pull us away from the intrigue for a second to address the very obvious elephant in the room. Agatha Christie was… well, a racist, homophobic, shit-storm of a person. If she’d been alive today and had a Twitter account, she would have been publicly flayed for her outrageously prejudiced depictions of her characters that weren’t white and straight. And Then There Were None was originally published as Ten Little N*****s (no, the original title was not censored) in the U.K., and as Ten Little Indians in the U.S. Obviously, those titles are problematic in the extreme.

Both versions were drawn from alternate versions of a nursery rhyme, which (in turn) forms a central part of the novel’s premise (more on that in a minute). Even back at the time of publication, in 1939, the n-word was a bit too contentious for an American audience (thus, the name change). Various editions continued to use the racial slurs, on both sides of the pond, until 1985, when decency finally won out and all references to n*****s and Indians were replaced by “soldiers”. Thus, the nursery rhyme in question is “Ten Soldier Boys”, and the island on which the story takes place is “Soldier Island”.

Still, traces of Christie’s personal prejudices remain. In the first chapter, there’s some truly alarming anti-Semitic remarks. She uses the word “queer” at least fifty times – whether as a slur or a contextually appropriate equivalent of “strange”, it’s difficult to tell, but it’s still discomfiting. Really, it’s a wonder that she even counted the butler and his wife as “people”. As such, I feel obliged to warn all readers up front: if you’re particularly sensitive to these kinds of insensitivity, And Then There Were None (and, in fact, Christie’s entire back-catalogue) is not for you.

But, assuming you can stomach it, let’s get back to the story: in each guest’s room is a framed copy of the Ten Soldier Boys poem. The deaths of the guests follow the pattern of the rhyme: the first chokes to death at dinner, the second “overslept” (i.e., never woke up), and so on. Luckily, this edition includes the poem as an epigraph, because I couldn’t help flicking back to it after each murder to see how it related to the original poem and to try and guess how the next murder might take place. Sure, the whole thing is a bit far-fetched… but it was fun!

And Then There Were None was pretty much what I’d expected, given its age and reputation. It was quaint, and there were some unintentionally hilarious moments (such as the woman who marvels at “how big the sea was!”, and the frequency with which brandy is offered as a cure for fainting), but it also managed to be compelling and clever.

“When you read what happens after that you will not believe it, but you will keep on reading, and as one incredible event is followed by another even more incredible you will still keep on reading. The whole thing is utterly impossible and utterly fascinating. It is the most baffling mystery that Agatha Christie has ever written, and if any other writer has ever surpassed it for sheer puzzlement the name escapes our memory. We are referrinng, of course, to mysteries that have logical explanations, as this one has. It is a tall story, to be sure, but it could have happened.”

Isaac AnDerson, 25 February 1940, The New York Times Book Review

Everything is wrapped up very neatly in the end (no ambiguous fade-to-black endings for the Queen of Crime, no siree!). The epilogue appears in two parts: first, a confused conversation between two Scotland Yard officers attempting to reconstruct the events that took place on Soldier Island; then, a trawler captain finds a message in a bottle, a written confession from the murderer. Normally, I’d be happy to go ahead and spoil the ending (the story is over eighty years old, after all), but seeing as it managed to keep me guessing right up until then, game respects game and all that.

And Then There Were None is the most-adapted Agatha Christie book. In fact, a few of the adaptations she even wrote and produced herself. She famously changed the ending for theater audiences when she wrote the 1943 stage-play, the original version being a bit “too bleak”. Many subsequent adaptations have also used that alternative ending. I like the original, though, and I can’t imagine that a more up-beat version could be any better. All told, And Then There Were None is an (almost) thoroughly enjoyable classic crime novel, a quick and satisfying read (if you can set aside the problematic elements).

My favourite Amazon reviews of And Then There Were None:

  • “Good read!! The pages are smooth! I felt it.” – Mushfiq Ayon
  • “Looking forward to more books by her. Completely enjoyed this….” – Craig S. Pederson
  • “I ordered the book for my sister-in-law who has lost her sight. She also lost the ability to borrow listening tapes from the state during the lockdown. The book was a disappointment as the reader has a heavy accent making it difficult to understand. This isn’t expected since British programs such as the “Crown” and “Keeping up Appearances” are produced without English accents. “ – Marlene Gantt
  • “As you would expect from the Grand Dame. I am more than a bit confused over the epilogue, but I can live with that. Unlike the 10 Little Indians. “ – Mike

10 Twisty Thriller Books To Read For Halloween

I was never really THAT into Halloween, for a few reasons. First off, I grew up in Australia, where the idea of dressing up and trick-or-treating is relatively new. Before it took root here, all I knew about Halloween was what I’d gleaned from Babysitters Club books and Mean Girls. Secondly, I’m not one for the supernatural; I don’t believe in spooks, I don’t believe in spooks, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t. And third, I’d much rather be curled up with a good book than hand-sewing a costume or traipsing around the streets begging for chocolate… but why should that mean I miss out on all the fun? Here are ten twisty thriller books to read for Halloween (with no witches or werewolves or wraiths).

10 Twisty Thriller Books To Read For Halloween - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Notes On A Scandal by Zoe Heller

Notes On A Scandal - Zoe Heller - Keeping Up With The Penguins

My opinion might’ve been swayed here for the fact that I saw the fabulous film adaptation (starring Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett) before I discovered it was based on a book… but Notes On A Scandal (also called What Was She Thinking?) totally holds up in both formats. A beautiful, young teacher is busted having an illicit affair with a student. Luckily, her older colleague and self-appointed bestie is on her side, and leaps to her defense. But their friendship is not at all what it seems…

Under The Skin by Michel Faber

Under The Skin - Michel Faber - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Why is a woman cruising the roads of the Scottish highlands picking up hitchhikers? Why does she get them to open up to her, divulging their innermost thoughts and their deepest desires? Clearly she’s up to no good… but what kind? Under The Skin is probably the strangest of the twisty thriller books on this list (some might not call it a thriller at all), but I couldn’t help but include it! It’s one that will linger with you long after you turn the final page.

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Baby Teeth - Zoje Stage - Keeping Up With The Penguins

What is it that is so inherently creepy about young children? Is it their tiny hands, their needling voices, their fierce (sometimes manipulative) spirits? Normal children are no picnic, but Zoje Stage has created the ultimate villain in Baby Teeth. Seven-year-old Hannah is her Daddy’s little girl, an angel who can do no wrong, but her mother worries their daughter has a (very) dark side. When the battle of the wills between mother and daughter comes to a head, you won’t be able to look away.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone - Felicity McLean - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Maybe it makes me a philistine, but I’ve got to say I prefer The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone to the classic Australian novel that inspired it. Imagine Picnic At Hanging Rock with the contemporaneity and eeriness of The Virgin Suicides, and you’ll get close to The Vibe of this one. Sisters Ruth, Hannah, and Cordelia vanished in the summer of 1992 – is it a runaway gone wrong, or were they taken? What has become of the girls they left behind? You’ll have to read on to find out.

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things by Iain Reid

I'm Thinking Of Ending Things - Iain Reid - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you like your twisty thriller books to err on the side of the literary, I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is the one for you. It’s incredible that such an intense psychological suspense novel came from the pen of a debut author. In it, a young woman – despite her misgivings about her relationship – agrees to join her boyfriend on a road-trip to meet his parents. They’ve only been together a few months but, as the title suggests, she’s thinking of ending things. Will she get the chance?

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

The Chain - Adrian McKinty - Keeping Up With The Penguins

As soon as I read the blurb of The Chain, I knew I had to have it. Rachel Klein drops her daughter at the bus stop, just as she does every morning, but this time she gets a phone call from an unknown number. A woman tells her she has abducted Rachel’s daughter, and the only way to get her back (alive) is to pay a ransom, abduct another child herself, and await instructions. Rachel isn’t the first, and it’s up to her whether she’ll be the last. This twisty thriller book will push ethical and moral boundaries you didn’t know you had.

Perfume by Patrick Süskind

Perfume - Patrick Suskind - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’ll admit, I stumbled across Perfume because of the strangest Venn diagram ever: I’m a booklover who used to work in a perfume store, so I spent a lot of time looking for books about fragrance. This is not what I expected to find, and I’m not sure it’s right to call any of these twisty thriller books a “pleasant surprise”, but… Anyway, this one is about a man in 18th century Paris with one remarkable trait: an impeccable sense of smell. He’s obsessed with capturing scents, and that obsession leads him down a very dark road…

Call Me Evie by J.P. Pomare

Call Me Evie - J.P. Pomare - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In the isolated beach town of Maketu, Uncle Jim tells Evie that they’re in hiding, that he’s protecting her from the consequences of something terrible she did back in Melbourne. Only, he isn’t really her uncle, and her name isn’t really Evie. The thing is, Evie can’t remember the truth of what got her here – she only knows that she’s determined to find out. My eyes might have skipped over Call Me Evie on a shelf of twisty thriller books, but I was drawn to it after listening to an amazing interview with the author, J.P. Pomare. He went to great lengths to ensure this book was as realistic and chilling as possible, and the results speak for themselves!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn - Book Laid Face Up On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A few months ago, if you’d asked me whether I recommended Gone Girl, I probably would have scoffed and told you it was the basic bitch of twisty thriller books. Reader, consider this me eating my words (which taste, funnily enough, like humble pie). Amy and Nick seem to have the perfect marriage, until the morning of their fifth anniversary. Amy disappears. Did Nick have something to do with it? The police sure think so. But can either of them be trusted to tell the truth about that day, about their lives together? Don’t be fooled by the “big reveal” halfway through: there’s plenty more to come!

The Turn Of The Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn Of The Key - Ruth Ware - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’d seen The Turn Of The Key by Ruth Ware billed as a modern-day Turn Of The Screw. Now, I’m not a Henry James fan (far from it!), but that description drew me in: it’s a story ripe for adaptation! A governess alone with weird children in an isolated house, complete with bitter housekeeper, mysterious caretaker, and unexplained bumps in the night? Yes, please! Don’t worry, I’m not sneaking a creepy paranormal thriller in right at the end: all will be revealed, and it will be banal and terrestrial… but isn’t that the most chilling reveal of all?

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

It is nothing short of miraculous that I’ve managed to go so long – over eight years, including the release of a wildly successful film adaptation – without reading Gone Girl. It’s doubly miraculous, surely, that I managed to avoid spoilers that whole time, too. But the jig is up, and I’m buckling down. Gone Girl is a crime thriller/mystery novel by American writer, Gillian Flynn. It came on the crest of the wave of “psychological thrillers”. In fact, given how many copies it sold (over two million in the first year alone), how long it spent on the best-seller lists, the extent to which it has permeated the popular consciousness, we might say that Gone Girl was the typhoon that caused the wave to begin with.

Nick Dunne’s wife, Amy, disappears on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. There’s a sign of a struggle in the living room, but no other real clues as to where she’s gone. The police suspect Nick was involved somehow in her disappearance, but he swears he had nothing to do with it. That’s how Gone Girl begins.

Flynn deftly weaves in their back-story, in the form of Amy’s diary entries. Nick and Amy had a fairy tale meet-cute and courtship. They married after dating for two years, merging seamlessly into one another. But when the global financial crisis hit, they both lost their jobs (Nick as a pop-culture writer for a magazine, Amy as a personality-quiz creator).

This change in circumstance all but forced them to leave cosmopolitan New York, moving to Nick’s hometown in backwater Mississippi. There, he opened a bar with his twin sister (borrowing the last of Amy’s family money to do so), and focused on caring for his terminally ill mother and demented father. Meanwhile, Amy… did nothing much, really, until she disappeared.

Flynn has borrowed from a few different sources to put this plot together. She used her own experience of being laid off from her job as a writer for Entertainment Weekly. She has also said that she was inspired by the real-life disappearance of Laci Peterson in 2002. It’s a strange mix, but damn, it’s delicious.

Nick and Amy’s perspectives alternate throughout the novel. They describe their marriage in very different ways, each (obviously) more sympathetic to their own cause and critical of the other. Both narrators feel unsteady, unreliable, but it’s not exactly clear why… at first. Every character in Gone Girl – from the married couple to the childhood friends to the greasy lawyer – exists in a murky grey area. No one is entirely likeable or unlikeable, trustworthy or untrustworthy, hero or villain.

The “big twist” comes almost exactly half-way through. Amy isn’t who she’s been telling us she is in her diary entries. At first, the switch felt a bit jarring, too extreme to be believable. But I went with it, and stopped using “believability” as a criterion by which I gauged my enjoyment of the story. I quickly found it added a whole new dimension to an already-complex plot. Plus, it was a great subversion of the kind of “suspense” we expect from these kinds of novels. The reader is forced to change gears, from wondering whether Nick Dunne was actually involved in his wife’s disappearance and waiting for the “big twist”, to wondering where on earth the story could possibly go after the truth is revealed.

I debated long and hard whether to discuss the details of the “big twist” here on Keeping Up With The Penguins. I mean, they’ve already been discussed and debated elsewhere at length – even some publicity materials have at least alluded to them. Plus, I don’t really believe in “spoilers” (if you don’t want to know what happens in a book, what the heck are you doing here?). But in the end, I had to concede: I won’t reveal all, just on the off chance that there’s some other Keeper Upperer out there who hasn’t read Gone Girl yet and would like to someday. The reading experience will definitely be better, as it is with all thrillers, if you don’t see what’s coming.

(What I will say, for those who already know, is that I really liked the ending. That might be a controversial position, as I’ve seen other reviewers bemoan it for being “unrealistic”, but I thought it was very fitting. I really appreciated that Flynn avoided the neat-bow-around-everything approach of so many other contemporary crime thriller writers. So, there.)

I was pleasantly – if weirdly – surprised by Gone Girl. I wasn’t going to stay-up-all-night to finish it, the way the schlocky blurbs promised I would, but I was always curious to see what happened next. I was particularly impressed by the complexity of the characters, and the way that Flynn weaved intriguing, tantalising hints into the story. In the Battle Of The Girls (Gone Girl versus The Girl On The Train), this one definitely comes out on top.

The film adaptation was released in 2014, written by Flynn herself and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. I’m actually planning to watch it – a very rare outcome, but one that should be a testament to how much I enjoyed Gone Girl. I’m also keen to read Flynn’s other books (Sharp Objects, in particular, comes highly recommended), though I worry that they couldn’t possibly “live up” now that my expectations have been elevated. But even if they don’t, at least Flynn will already have a win on her record.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Gone Girl:

  • “Too many sexual remarks that were not necessary” – Tonga
  • “This is a great book, the shipping was fast, but the book was somewhat dirty. I had to wipe off dust.” – Esmerelda
  • “I would rather read an offensively revisionist middle school history textbook from a religious private school in a red state cover to cover once a week for the rest of my life then have to read this again. So you hate yourself go ahead and give somebody money for it and insult yourself by reading it. Trash.” – DangItBobby
  • “I didn’t like what was revealed in the middle of because it should have been revealed near the end of the book. I went to Wikipedia to read a review and I shouldn’t have. The idiot who did the review disclosed the whole story of what happened in the second part of the book. When I read a mystery I want the main event to be revealed at the end of the book not in the middle” – Bruce
  • “Wife loved it.” – Jeremiah

Should You DNF A Book?

At my heart, I am a dirty completionist. It doesn’t matter the task – a massive load of dishes, a boring play or film, alphabetising my bookshelves… Once I start it, I must finish. Even though I know, logically, that there’s no sense wasting my energy, money, or time on something that isn’t bringing some kind of reward, I fall into the trap of the sunk-loss fallacy every time (which is why I will never play the stock market). This presents an interesting dilemma when it comes to books. Once I pick one up, I feel compelled to finish it, even if I’m not enjoying it, even if it’s driving me up the wall. I circle around and around this question: should you DNF a book?

Should You DNF A Book? - Keeping Up With The Penguins

For the uninitiated, “DNF” stands for “did not finish”. It’s a common term in running and cycling (a race participant who “DNF”ed did not finish the course, usually due to injury), and I presume the bookish community has simply appropriated it for themselves. It’s common parlance in the Goodreads crowd, where you’ll often see it pop up in one-star reviews: “DNF at 100 pages, terrible book”.

For some people, to DNF a book is no dilemma at all. If it’s not pulling them in, they drop it and move on without a second thought. For a small minority, to DNF a book is an egregious sin, on par with dog-earring pages. For the rest of us – I count myself among them – it’s somewhere in between.

In addition to being a completionist (see above), I suppose I must also confess that I am a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to the question of whether you should DNF a book. I roundly, loudly, encourage others to do so. “If it’s not speaking to you, if it’s not serving you, you should absolutely DNF the book! Life is short! Save your eyeballs for something worthwhile!”. And yet, I almost never take my own advice. In fact, I can’t remember the last book I didn’t finish. It would have been long before I started the Keeping Up With The Penguins project, years ago.

Reviewing books plays into this reluctance to DNF a book. I honestly can’t bring myself to review a book I haven’t finished reading for myself (not even to post one of those snarky one-star Goodreads reviews I mentioned earlier). It just doesn’t seem fair to the author, the publisher, or the person who reads my reviews. How could I possibly form a coherent and complete opinion, and communicate that opinion with any kind of authority, if I dropped the book half-way through? If I had given in to an inclination to DNF, I would never have published reviews of The Female Eunuch, The Call Of The Wild, The Golden Bowl, American Sniper

I think perhaps my age and health plays into my reluctance to DNF a book as well. I’m still in my first blush of youth (and you can’t prove otherwise!), and I’m yet to encounter that gnawing doubt of time “running out”. Wasting a few hours reading a shoddy book doesn’t seem like such a dreadful thing, as it might if I knew I only had a year or two of life left. My opportunity and capacity to read books – good and bad – feels (almost) limitless. I think this idea is best encapsulated in a quote I heard once, I think a librarian told me (though I can’t remember for sure):

“Subtract your age from 100. That’s the number of pages of a book you should read before deciding whether to continue with it, or abandon it.”

Mystery Librarian, whoever you are (Thank you!)

By that logic, after 70-ish pages (ahem!), I should have a fair idea of whether or not I want to continue reading or DNF a book. As I get older, and my remaining reading time diminishes, I’ll invest less in reading a book before deciding. That seems fair… but I’ve never once done it.

So, should you DNF a book? You should! Absolutely! But should I DNF a book? Probably, but it might be a while before I can battle my completionist brain into submission…

The Female Eunuch – Germaine Greer

I always hated being told to “respect my elders”. I’m sure the kids of today feel the same (and my view hasn’t changed now that I’m old enough to say things like “the kids of today”). In my lifetime, Germaine Greer has said (and doubled-down on) a lot of really shitty things, and I could never find it within myself to revere her the way that older feminists seemed to do. Still, lately I got to thinking that it’s only fair that I actually read The Female Eunuch, Greer’s magnum opus, for myself. I worked very hard to go into it with a genuinely open mind, as I hope others would try to do when reading books that challenge their own views. But, as you’ll see… it wasn’t easy.

(And, just a heads up, I’m probably going to get pretty nerdy as I dissect this one, apologies in advance. Feel free to scroll down to the end if you just want a tl;dr summary.)

In October 1970, Janis Joplin died of an overdose. Nixon struggled to find support for a proposal to end the Vietnam War. Fiji became an independent nation. The West Gate Bridge collapsed, killing thirty five people. That was the context into which The Female Eunuch was first published, fifty years ago. Greer had already made a name for herself as a vocal feminist with an academic bent, and this book cemented that reputation.

In the introduction – in fact, in the very first line – she openly declares that she seeks to subvert expectations and draw fire from all quarters. “If [this book] is not ridiculed or reviled,” she says on page 22, “it will have failed of its intention,”. Littered throughout The Female Eunuch are laughably inflammatory statements, with little apparent purpose other than to horrify and outrage. For instance, on page 51, she suggests: “If you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your menstrual blood – if it makes you sick, you’ve a long way to go, baby,”. No, thank you. Not even if Greer were elected the Holy Ruler Of The World and declared that to be the only litmus test for feminism.

She also uses the introduction to The Female Eunuch to bemoan the “old guard” of the suffragettes. She subsequently nominates herself and her book to be the cusp of the “second feminist wave”. (I must admit, I experienced a certain delicious schadenfreude in knowing that Greer herself is now considered the “old guard”, and contemporary feminists bemoan her in much the same way.) Having set the scene, Greer goes about trying to challenge all who had come before her (with the single exception of Mary Wollstonecraft, whom she quotes frequently and at length).

The Female Eunuch is a strange blend of angry rant and scholarly references, as though Greer couldn’t quite make up her mind who she was writing for or how she should write for them. She swings at “traditional” marriage and the “nuclear family” like a wrecking ball, claiming that they (and their related social structures) repress women sexually, rendering them eunuchs – thus, the title. I can get behind that idea, I suppose, and I can appreciate an attempt to shock and awe in order to get your point across… but the whole argument was so muddled, the approach so haphazard, that it was hard to make out what Greer was actually trying to say (let alone whether it was worth listening to).

She splits The Female Eunuch into four main sections: Body, Soul, Love, and Hate (ironically, riffing off binaries, the very thing she claims to rail against: “We will have to reject the polarity of definite terms, which are always artificial, and strive for the freedom to move within indefinite terms”, page 69).

I really, really wish she hadn’t opened with Body, the section focused entirely on her outdated (not to mention manifestly wrong) understanding of biology, sex, and gender. Reading it made keeping an open mind very, very difficult. Unfortunately – but, alas, unsurprisingly – when Greer refers to “women”, she’s speaking exclusively about cis-gender heterosexual women (which means, for expediency’s sake, in this review I’m going to have to do the same – doesn’t mean I have to like it). Occasionally, she mentions “lesbianism”, but seems skeptical that someone might be a lesbian for any reason other than a rejection of men, and she barely acknowledges the existence of trans and non-binary people at all.

The only notable exception was her use of the life of April – a trans woman – to make a point, using language so derogatory I literally shuddered. Greer’s ideas about April’s experience (described entirely in the abstract) were completely dehumanising. I suppose objectification and derision are only bad when it’s cis-men doing it to cis-women, in Greer’s view? Ugh. Even more unbelievably (if that were possible), she has the gall to call April “our sister”, claiming her for “the movement”. If not for my determination to persist in order to write this review, that would’ve been grounds for me to put The Female Eunuch down there and then. Ugh, to infinity.

And – I can’t help myself, I’ve just got to get this off my chest – I can’t believe that Greer’s views have, demonstrably, evolved so little since she wrote this book fifty fucking years ago. Think about how much you’ve learned in the last five years, or the last ten. Has she really managed to avoid becoming a better feminist – a better human – in all that time?

But, open mind, open mind, open mind, I kept telling myself… Further on, Greer likens women and women’s labour to that of the proletariat, and suggests women to exercise and claim power in an equivalent way. Women should go on “strike” in our domestic lives, the way that workers do, until conditions improve. Then, later, in what I came to realise was a typical Greer contradiction, she pooh-poohs the idea of sex strikes, the withdrawal or withholding of sex as a way of wielding power. Surely, for the women of whom she speaks (i.e., white, heterosexual, cis-gender, middle class women in English-speaking countries with Christian backgrounds), domestic labour is indivisible from sexual labour. They are one and the same. Why would she insert this dividing line between the two only when it comes to weapons for waging war against the patriarchy?

(That’s not rhetorical, I seriously don’t understand why. She claimed to be all about women reclaiming their sexuality and libido, but there are any number of ways to express and enjoy and connect with oneself sexually without engaging in sex with a male partner if that sex is rooted in oppression. I just… I don’t understand. If you do, please explain it to me in the comments!)

Take that, I suppose, as an example of all the ways in which The Female Eunuch is underdeveloped, poorly expressed, and narrow in scope. If I tried to detail every problem and fallacy, this review might end up being longer than the book. I found barely anything in there that I thought might be relevant to a person who didn’t look, live, and think like Greer, an incredible feat of tunnel vision even for second-wave feminism. I was baffled by her apparent nostalgia for the Middle Ages and children raised by villages. I was angered by her victim-blaming (particularly in the final section, Hate, where she proposes that women who complain about their alcoholic husbands beating them are just making mountains out of molehills, and if they’d just stop nagging him about how much time he spent at the pub, he wouldn’t beat her – seriously, does that sound like feminism to you?). The only idea of Greer’s that made any kind of sense to me was that of harnessing women’s anger, of provoking them to challenge the limitations placed upon them.

Tl;dr? There are moments of insight, some evidence of forward thinking, but it’s a shame that those brief glimpses into brilliance are clouded by ideas that are dated at best, harmful and factually incorrect at worst. The impact of The Female Eunuch, the reason it has become a “classic” of feminist literature, can really only be found back in the 1970s, in the context of its initial release. The bar was very low, back then, even lower than it is now, so I can see how something like this might have been – as Greer hoped – the mirage of something revolutionary.

I just don’t think that The Female Eunuch has any value anymore. It’s not old enough, or well-written enough, to have the historical status and respect afforded to suffragette writing. It’s been too thoroughly debunked and overwritten to stand alongside later works of feminism. It’s out of date: scientifically, socially, and legally. It’s too deeply rooted in a colonial version of society to have any resonance or relevance in today’s world. I opened my mind so much my brain nearly fell out, and it didn’t do any good. The Female Eunuch did not change my opinion of Germaine Greer at all – and if you’re looking for a strong feminist voice to teach you something, my suggestion is keep on looking elsewhere.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Female Eunuch:

  • “Hatred is not a good way to try to get back in the lime light. Read your books, saw your picture, and now I understand why you took such extreme tactics to get attention. Get some talent.” – Heather Miller
  • “Bought this for the Mrs – she says it is hard work and a bit boring.” – M. MCILROY

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