The Reading List: Kate Walbert

Self is doing some adjustment to her reading list.

She was reading Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, which is a big, fat book, and, what with one thing and another, it got to be hard to focus. She’s been reading nonfiction for the last two months and wanted a little change. So she decided to reserve Jesse James for a less hectic time and began reading Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women, a novel.

The novel isn’t written in chronological order, but thankfully the dates of the period covered in each chapter are right there in the Table of Contents.

She noticed that most of the reviews of the book cited the lack of chronology as a problem, so she decided two things: (1) to read the chapters in chronological order, and (2) to read each chapter as if it were a stand-alone story.

Pursuing this plan of attack has been most helpful. Self has gotten through the chapters that take place in 1898, 1899, and 1914.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

The story begins with a young woman in Cambridge, who has a deep dark secret involving a childhood best friend and what happened to the friend. It almost got too depressing for self, since she likes to keep her spirits up. Also, the woman goes on a hunger strike to call attention to the need to give women the vote. And in the family tree at the front of the book, this woman’s life goes from 1880 to 1914. So it was pretty overwhelming to read, especially since:

The book opens with the woman very near death, in a hospital. We are told she has two young children.

We learn she had an affair with a young man at Cambridge, a man who stopped seeing her when he got roughed up while creeping through Cambridge late one night to see her. Perhaps the two events are unrelated, but it’s pretty hard to read them as anything but. To make matters worse, the two bump into each other again when he is already a successful man of politics, and they rekindle the affair even though he is married and she’s a single mother. Then he leaves her again. Then she decides to go on the hunger strike. Which is so — AAAARGH!

Here is a section from the recently deceased woman’s daughter’s point of view:

I ducked into the kitchen to keep Nurse and Penny company. And what of them? Nurse will marry the milkman, Michael, and settle with him in Wales to live a perfectly miserable life. Children and children. Chores. Michael will drink in the way men do and one thing will lead to the other. Penny will take her cardboard box and take a train east. She’ll disappear like our father did, long before we can even remember him. He fancied himself Lord Byron, Mum said, though he was only a sir and that sir a result of money changing hands.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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