It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.
I had no intention, initially, of pairing these two novels. However, both stories reflect on the nakedness of women: be it through the sheer physicality of it as found in Somers’ novel or the naked emotional vulnerability in Rooney’s unforgettable story. So I thought, I might as well put them together here, completing it all with a poem by Carol Ann Duffy – whose book of poetry I reviewed a few days back for Poetry Friday.
The Naked Woman
Written by: Armonia Somers Translated by: Kim Maude
Published by: The Feminist Press (2018, first published 1950) Original Title: La Mujer Desnuda
ISBN: 1936932431 (ISBN13: 9781936932436). Bought a copy of the book. Book quotes layout via Typorama.
The premise of this book is surreal, powerful, and unapologetically strange. A woman who has just turned thirty, just moved into a remote location – far from everyone else – decided to strip naked and walk through the woods – in an attempt to feel something, to be someone outside of what is expected of her, to simply liberate one’s self from social norms and conventions. It is an audacious act of self-reinvention, or one can argue that it is also an unraveling of the self – depending on what lens you are using. The varied responses of the townspeople – from the ordinary farmer to the clergy to the stay-at-home wives minding their children – ranged from the mildly perturbed to the downright murderous.
I also especially enjoyed hearing the narrator’s voice – as can be seen in the image above. There is that undertone of condescension towards the yokels or the regular men who vacillate from being brutes to protectors. The men were jostling amongst each other, competing and desiring to be the Ordained One whom the naked woman shall choose above all. Throughout, the narrator seems to remove the naked woman from the small-minded concerns of everyone else: the simple act of surreal liberation has elevated the naked woman to a position forever unreachable by those whose raw selves need to be concealed by the ordinariness, the pettiness of clothing.
The Afterword written by Elena Chavez Goycochea was especially illuminating and served more as an academic treatise that contextualizes Somers’ entire body of work from within the Uruguay literary scene, while surfacing the significance of The Naked Woman specifically, and linking it to the international literary scene.
I especially enjoyed the last paragraph of Goycochea’s Afterword:
The first English translation of this novel serves to remind us of Somers’s importance today, sparking new questions as to how traditional myths, taboos surrounding sexuality and desire, and colonial histories continue to impact our sociopolitical and personal lives. But the questions posed in this novel defy simple solutions. Instead they are open-ended inquiries, as it was Somers’s hope that future readers would continue seeking new clues in her writing.
There is raw sensuality in this novel that pulsates – this becomes even more impressive given the year of this book’s original publication (1950), and positioning it in terms of how women have been traditionally perceived. There is a complete and unaffected disregard here that is also symbolic of stripping everything non-essential away and just laying bare that which is breathing and alive.
Written by Sally Rooney
Published by Faber & Faber (2018)
ISBN: 0571334644 (ISBN13: 9780571334643). Literary Awards: Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2018), Costa Book Award for Novel (2018), Dylan Thomas Prize Nominee for Longlist (2019), Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2019). Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book quotes layout via Typorama.
This is a novel that would stay in my mind for a long time to come – and the book that perhaps I will insist my fellow bibliophiles read this year. Unlike the physical nakedness demonstrated in the novel above – Rooney’s female protagonist, Marianne, has an emotional vulnerability that opens itself up to the world – with a degree of defiance and brokenness. There is also the fervent but failed attempts at taking control and making meaning of her world that has repeatedly made her see the absolute worst in herself and in others.
The premise itself of the novel is trite: rich girl, poor boy; high school girl outcast, popular boy jock. Yet both are brilliant with piercing minds that are relentless in its pursuit of truth, beauty, meaning. While other reviewers regard it as a quintessential millennial love story with its on-again – off-again type of relationship that is neither here nor there – it remains timeless, all-consuming, and fresh despite its hackneyed premise.
The quote above reveals this gaping space in Marianne that she tries to fill with everything but that which she needs to sustain her – and it isn’t necessarily Connell, the love of her life, although that contributes as an additional, helpful filler – but one that is drawn from within, an inner capacity for self-soothing and self-nourishment that has been repeatedly beaten out of her since childhood.
Perhaps what makes these two novels come together lies in their demonstration of humans’ capacity for violence and rage that is self-annihilating. Both novels shine a light to the darkness that resides in every human spirit, the capacity of women to transform frailty to a semblance of strength that sometimes turns in on itself and becomes self-defeating even while it is meant to empower. They are both starkly naked female voices, wavering and fluttering in the wind, but incandescent nonetheless.
As a way of concluding this post, here is Carol Ann Duffy’s Standing Female Nude:
#WomenReadWomen2019: 23/24 of 25 – Uruguay (Antonia Somers) and Ireland (Sally Rooney)