I don’t normally do book reviews. Which is bad of me. Letting a writer, especially if their a buddy, know what you liked about their work (or where you struggled with it) is a cool thing to do. However, today, I’m doing a book review.
The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.
I’ve looked at this book for a while. I loved the sumptuous illustration on the front cover. The idea of a post-oil world, where technology hasn’t managed to secure a fix, was intriguing. It’s just I always had something else I was reading, or needed to read. Not this week! & I got it at a steal because I’d collected enough stamps on my Waterstones card to get a free book.
Diving in was a pleasant experience. Detailed passages of the heat, sweat, moisture, odor, and noise immersed me into the setting (and gave me more valuable tips on how to take time to do the same in my work).
However something nagged away at the edge of my consciousness. Taking a break from reading to drive home allowed chance to consider what nagged me. The issue was it all felt very colonial. The characters are well portrayed, and the portrayal is of non-white people having weird rites and practices, while the white man from overseas is providing the only real valuable work locally.
Having identified this I carried on, mentally adjusting to see where things may change as the story unfolded.
And then I got to page 48. Here we meet the first meaningful female character, Emiko, who is the Wind Up Girl of the title.
Here I’d like to digress a little. Others have written about the recent explosion of titles with ‘Girl’ as part of the title. My personal view is it a chauvinistic thing to do, unless the said character happens to be a girl. But in none of the titles I’ve read, or considered reading, has this been the case. The characters have all been women; mature, adult, women. Why refer to them as youths? Because it’s a patriarchal clamp on agency. It posits ‘here is a weak, defenseless, person in need of a man’. Not all of the authors proceed down those lines, but the set up is right their in the title. There is no correlation in fiction about men, apart from maybe O Henry’s 25 year old Cisko Kid, and when that was written, a 25 yo was still considered a kid in many quarters. Maybe this dislike of ‘Girl’ as part of the title fed into my previous excuses for not purchasing the book.
Back to reading it. Having met the titular character on page 48 and discovering that she is a sex worker, we come to page 51. Starting on page 51 Emiko is raped. Graphically. She is raped by another woman for the pleasure of an audience of paying men. And the author spares us no details over 4 pages.
I recoiled. put the book down and tried to fathom the purpose of the scene. Maybe it was to show us how the character, as a bio-engineered human, had no rights, no agency – indeed, though raped and in distress, she has biological response akin to pleasure. This was the only conclusion I could draw.
I tried to read on.
By page 60 I gave up.
There is a possibility that this is a wonderful novel, full of redemption, freedom, self-sacrifice, and a depth of human spirit that reflects the very best of the human condition. Starting out with the graphic, and gratuitous, degradation of a main character isn’t going to lead me to find out.
Using rape in writing, even when blurring the boundaries by making it part of an act, on a not-quite-real human, is a thing to be undertaken with much forethought and consideration. Generally, after all that thought, it should still be left out. Is that to say mention or depictions of rape should never appear in books? No, of course not. But writers, especially male writers, need to be aware that what is written as a fantastical event in a non-real setting is an experience many women, and men, have gone through. Depicting the act without probing the ramifications, or using the act as a scene or character introduction, demonstrates a lack of understanding and consideration for those who have experienced such bodily violation.
In short. I do not recommend this book.
In other news I’m now about halfway through our move. It’s taken a lot out of me physically and the ME is bad. This means writing has gone by the wayside. I do have 2 stories that need urgent exists for end of month submission, and I have one I’m trying to get written by months end so I’m still on track for 12-in-12. Beyond that, I’ve been putting thinking time into the novella competition that starts April 1. Yesterday I managed to sort out a kink in the sequence of some scenes, which is good.