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Worst book of 2020: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

I had one rule in 2020. No dystopian novels. After reading The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, I had to add a second rule. Never read a book about a deadly plague during a world wide pandemic.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife has the makings of an incredible dystopian tale. It has an awesome title. It has a plague that wipes out 95% of men, 99% of women and 100% of babies and children. It has a cross-dressing midwife, an interesting and unusual choice for main character. And the story opens with a creepy strange cult that has somehow been inspired by the journals of said cross-dressing midwife. Going in, there was no way this book could be terrible.

The story follows the “unnamed midwife” as she navigates across the U.S. looking for her lost partner and a safe space to survive post apocalyptic plague. As she travels, she journals her encounters with the world around her. Most of the entries detail the empty towns, long lonely highways, and endless nothingness left by the plague. The monotony is broken up with the occasional murderous gang of male rapists and their female slaves, religious fanatics who hide their women, women who refuse to join and follow the unnamed midwife, and “hives”, groups of men led by a single female.

Despite all of the four and five star reviews on Amazon praising this book for its innovation and strong feminist leanings, it had a messy plot that meandered, never actually going anywhere, with huge plot gaps and very poorly developed characters. Because you can’t write an entire book on nothingness broken only by the occasional bad guy encounter, the author threw in lots and lots of sex as filler. This is a clever ploy on the author’s part as the sex tends to take your attention away from the fact that this book is going nowhere.

In my opinion, the book fails majorly in a few ways.

First off, the main character sucks. There isn’t anything redeeming or remotely interesting about the unnamed midwife, except for the fact that she has survived and is now walking across the country. Her personality sucks. She’s kind of a jerk to everyone she encounters and is incredibly condescending. Most of the book dwells on her love life, which isn’t as interesting or as controversial as the author makes it out to be.

The cult religion angle never gets fleshed out and leaves so many unanswered questions. Why and how did a religion form? Where and how did the journals come into play? What is going on here?!?!

Every man is either a complete idiot or a murdering rapist. Every female, except the unnamed midwife, is incapable or incompetent. Why is the unnamed midwife the only competent character? This lack of depth in characters just feels too ridiculous to me.

The traveling and scavenging portions of the book left more questions on logistics and practicality than it solved the problems of hunger.

Sex. There’s just so much sex in the book that there isn’t much room left for anything else. I finally decided that I prefer young adult dystopian books because the kids in those books have to actually solve problems and figure things out.

I kept reading The Book of the Unnamed Midwife waiting for the action to start or for the loose ends to start being tied up nicely. Instead, the book ended quickly and without answering any questions.

Overall, I hated this book. Would not recommend.

That’s all for today, cheers friends and happy reading!

-R

0 stars · Book Review · Bust · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Psychology

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen

51ZM2Qv8x5L._SY346_It’s not often I give up on a book.  And I don’t think I’ve ever given up a book in the first two chapters.  But goodness gracious, y’all.   The Light of the Fireflies is a book that I just don’t have the stomach for.  While the book excerpt leads one to believe this book is some sort of post-apocalyptic drama, it’s more of a suspenseful thriller.  Typically, I love me some good dystopia or thrillers.  However, in the first two chapters, The Light of the Fireflies jumped right into forced imprisonment, emotional abuse, and implied rape and incest.  That’s a whole lot for the first two chapters.

In addition to the emotional crap this book shoots right out the gates, there are a lot of disjointed realities presented in the first two chapters.  The world is supposedly destroyed and inhabitable.   Yet, the family has water, electricity, fresh food, crayons, colors, and even a cactus.  Where does that stuff come from?

No one has a name in this book and each person is referred to by their station in the family.  Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, Grandma, The Baby.  It’s hard to empathize and connect with a bunch of nameless characters.  It’s also odd to imagine seven people existing in such close quarters without ever using one another’s names.

Every family member was supposedly disfigured by a fire before the move to the basement.  The narrator and the baby were born in the basement, so they do not have any scars and know no other way of life.  I had a hard time picturing an event in which every family member was burned and disfigured without any details or explanation from the author.

The final straw for me was the fact that the entire plot centered around one character not knowing anything and everyone else knowing everything.  Even after two chapters, it was obvious this was a book of waiting it out and following crumbs throughout each chapter to piece together the story.  I absolutely hate when entire plots are written around a single character (or in this case a group of characters) who knows everything and the reader and/or main character are left to fit the pieces together.

Yes, I know many mysteries and dystopian books utilize this method.  However, in The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game and The Maze Runner, someone else knowing what is going on is part of the surprise of those books.  The same is true for most mysteries.  Gone Girl definitely utilized this method, but that book was VERY well done and the reader watched the story unfold from the knowing person’s point of view, which is what made it such a fantastic read.

0 stars for this book.

Until next time, happy reading and cheers!

 

dystopian · spoilers · thoughts

When is a spoiler a SPOILER?

A few months back, I wrote a blogpost on The Handmaid’s Tale.  Without much consideration for the current tv show on Hulu, I discussed the emotions felt at the end of the book.   In my mind, the book was exempt from spoiler alerts based on its age (published in 1985) and the fact that it had been turned into a movie (1990).  The book is also a work of dystopian fiction, which by definition is a story about “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.”  To me, dystopian novels automatically mean “No Happy Ending”.  This holds true for 1984, A Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, Divergent, The Maze Runner, Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games.

The Hulu series briefly crossed my mind and was instantly overridden by the fact that movies and tv shows rarely stick to the book 100% and like Game of Thrones, may divert entirely due to circumstance or creative license.  To mitigate giving away any plot twists or actual spoilers that may appear in the book or movie, I decided to stick to discussing the emotions I felt when reading the book.

The Handmaid’s Tale left me feeling completely out of breath, paranoid, angry, and just emotional in general.  I’d guess these are typical responses when reading Dystopian fiction, however, The Handmaid’s Tale hit closer to home.  Unlike the majority of dystopian fiction where the lead characters are either young-to-middle aged men (1984, A Brave New World,  Fahrenheit 451) or teenage heroes (Divergent, The Maze Runner, Ender’s Game) who’d never know a different existence The Handmaid’s Tale featured a married female in her 30’s who experienced the entire world tipping upside down within a few short years.  Unlike those books about teenage super humans who save the world, this book felt so much more “real”.  It punched me in the gut and left me reeling.

Shortly after hitting “Publish”, a reader commented on the post being a Spoiler Alert, which led me to crowdsource feedback from friends on when a Spoiler Alert is actually a spoiler alert and when a notice should be included in a discussion about a book or a movie.

First on my list of questions for Spoiler Alert exemptions were the age of the book and the general public knowledge of the plot.  We’d never consider references to the soldiers jumping out of the Trojan horse as a spoiler, we all know Romeo and Juliet are fools and die, and everyone born after 1960 knows Luke is Darth Vader’s son.   So when does a book reach that point where the plot twists become common knowledge and even those who haven’t read the book know the outcome?  When does a spoiler alert stop being required?

Apparently, according to the majority of my circle, the polite, responsible answer is NEVER.

So with that, my dear readers, your humble writer apologies and promises to include Spoiler Alert! on any future posts about literature written after the 1800’s.

Cheers and happy reading!

Books to Movies · dystopian · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale is big in my circle right now, with some reading the book and some watching the Hulu series.

The common consensus: alarming, relevant, shocking.

With the popularity of dystopian tales in recent cinema, it’s surprising The Handmaid’s Tale hadn’t popped up before now.  It’s the perfect blend of religious fanaticism and government gone bad to control man-made environmental and population crisis.  Think Divergent meets 1984 meets The Third Reich and you’ve got The Handmaid’s Tale.

A long beach weekend allowed me to dig into Margaret Atwood’s popular dystopian world.  With every page, my bathing suit and bare legs became increasingly apparent as I sunk further and further into the bleak Republic of Gilead and thick red habits.

In Offred, Atwood creates a character so devastatingly traumatized by what has happened to her, that she seems almost flippant in her mannerisms and attitude.  To deal with the complete shock and sensory deprivation of being a handmaid, whose sole responsibility is to procreate for The Wives (rich infertile women), Offred halting and delicately brings forth controlled memories of her previous life and loved ones, always careful to keep herself from stepping too far into herself.

Her understanding of the situation in Gilead, the toxicity of the land, the population decline caused by an epidemic of infertility, the suspension of the Constitution, the religious upheaval, The Sons of Jacob, The Eyes, The Aunts…all are brought forth piece meal, placed randomly within memories, leaving the reader to sort and piece the history of Gilead together as Offred quickly buries and escapes the pain and disappointment of a past reality for the pain and disappointment of the present reality.

Offred’s utter helplessness and the very last shreds of self holding onto sanity tunneled a giant hole right through my chest and I often found it hard to breathe while reading.

Like any book of this popularity, the Amazon reviews are off the charts.  Many of the one and two star reviews claim Atwood’s novel is too slow, too boring, too un-relatable.  The five star reviews tend to treat this book like a cautionary tale, similar to “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.  For me, this book served as a mirror, a perfect piece for self reflection.  Since reading, I’ve found myself mulling over what it means to be a woman, the roles and responsibilities, the parts and pieces, the relationships, the rights, the rules, and the regulations we hold one another to.

This book left me emotionally drained, clinging to my husband’s body for stability in the night.  Reader beware, there is no happy ending to this tale.