November 2006

The Worry WebsiteThis worry website is all [Mr Speed’s] idea. It’s instead of Circle Time. You know, when you all sit in a circle, fidgeting, and you’re meant to discuss your problems. Sometimes it’s dead boring because someone like Samantha bangs on about missing her dad. Everyone always feels sorry for Samantha because she’s so little and pretty with lovely long fair hair. Even Mr Speed has a special smiley way of looking at her that makes me sick.

I’m not sure whether this is a short novel with multiple points of view, or whether it is a collection of inter-connected short stories…

All the stories are set in the same primary school, the same class, and follow the same format. Each of the children featured in the book has a worry, and they enter their problem onto the worry website, created by their marvellous teacher Mr Speed as a “confidential” way to air their problems and get “anonymous” advice or suggestions from their friends. The worry website has a funny knack of helping everyone to find solutions to their worries.

It’s a nice, feel-good story (collection?), and you even get a contribution from a 12-year-old fan who won a competition with her story “Lisa’s Worry”.



Girls Out Late Don’t even think about him
He’s not worth it, worth it, worth it
Who needs a man to feel a woman?
You’re doing fine without him, girl.
[Claudie Coleman lyrics]

This is the third book of a series for teenaged girls, that started with Girls in Love and Girls Under Pressure.

At last, Ellie has got a proper boyfriend – but things keep going wrong. First he stands her up when his Dad grounds him, then she wonders if he is only after One Thing, and finally their whole relationship is threatened when she has to choose between going to the school dance with him or to a Claudie Coleman concert with her two best girlfriends.

(Claudie, by the way, is a seriously funky feminist pop icon who all three girls adore!)

When push comes to shove, Ellie sticks by her girlfriends and plumps for Claudie. As things turn out, it’s a good thing she did…


Here’s an Amazon link.
I indulged myself and bought the set of three. :-)

Girls Under Pressure I really seem to have got the knack of dieting now. I’m still starving hungry all the time and my tummy aches badly and I keep having to pee a lot and whenever I get up quickly or rush around I feel faint and most of the time I’ve got a headache and I feel a bit sick and I’ve got a filthy taste in my mouth and my hair’s gone all floppy and I’ve got spots all over my face and on my back too – but it’s worth it to lose weight. Isn’t it?

In this sequel to Girls in Love, things really start to get out of control for Ellie and her two best friends.

Nadine is picked to attend a second-round heat of a modelling competition and becomes suddenly obsessed with her appearance and her “modelling career”. Ellie, sparked by a chance remark heard at the initial round of this competition, becomes convinced that she is enormously fat and is determined to lose weight, and lots of it – no matter what the cost. Meanwhile, Magda falls completely for a football player, gets herself into a horribly dangerous situation, and loses all self-esteem as she wonders if her looks are to blame for the trouble she so nearly got into.

Each girl in her own way has serious problems, but their support for one another means that they will all pull through. Right?

(I’m loving, by the way, Ellie’s Christmas presents: a book on her hero Frida Kahlo, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker.)

Girls in LoveHe’s just this irritating little kid. I suppose he’s OK in small doses. But he’s not exactly boyfriend material. Oh dear. If only he were five years older! And not all nerdy and nutty. Why can’t he be really cool, with fantastic hair and dark brown eyes???

Ellie and her two best friends, Magda and Nadine, have just started in Year 9*, and they are just discovering Boys.

[* For non-UK readers, Year 9 is the school year that you start when you are 13 years old.]

Nadine starts going out with a considerably older boy who seems to be using her and just wants One Thing; Ellie corners herself into claiming that a boy she met on holiday (and about whom she tells some outrageous fibs) is her long-distance boyfriend; and Magda, gorgeous young thing and always the centre of attention, is keen not to get left out and picks up some more-or-less random lad at the bus stop. Everything gets horribly complicated – will they ever manage to sort it all out?

I wasn’t sure how Wilson would “make the transition” from writing about younger girls to writing fiction for teenagers – but it turns out she is just as good at this as she is at everything else she does. Hooray!

The Far PavillionsThou art everywhere, but I worship thee here;
Thou art without form, but I worship thee in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer these prayers and salutations.

[Ash’s prayer. Might have got it a bit wrong as I am going from memory!]

The first thing that strikes you about The Far Pavillions is how thick it is. It is 950 pages long, and it has taken me ages to read.

I made it! But was it worth the effort?

It is an epic novel set in nineteenth century India and follows the life of Ashton Pelham-Martyn, who is born to an English family shortly before the Indian Mutiny. He is orphaned and, escaping with his foster mother Sita, ends up being raised as a Hindu in a Rajah’s palace until he returns to his own family at the age of about eleven. Ash’s life, though, is never settled as he escapes from one problem to another, caught between two cultures and never fitting into either of them. Meanwhile, great things are happening in India, and Ash is caught up in all of them. He ends up working as a spy and takes part in the second Afghanistan war, the novel ending once the fate of the British residency in Kabul is decided.

Although Ash’s adventures are very masculine and involve a lot of fighting and political intriguing, Kaye also manages to bring out something of what life was like in India for a Hindu woman or, to a lesser degree, for a Muslim woman.

The most obvious of these are the descriptions of polygamy, purdah and suttee – for Ash falls in love with the princess Anjuli, despite the restrictions of purdah, and subsequently rescues her when the old rajah to whom she and her younger half-sister were married off dies and he fears that she will be forced to become suttee along with her sister. But there are more subtle points made too. For example, when Sita is trying to find a place to settle with Ash, she dare not admit that she is a widow because this would be shameful and instead concocts a story about her husband running off with another woman, which is received much more sympathetically.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do have a weakness for “Indian” novels. This is also a piece of historical fiction that seems to be fairly true to the records – the author herself lived in India for many years and many of her relatives served the Raj. I’m still not sure it was worth 950 pages, but this was indeed a grand, romantic adventure story.

Here is an Amazon link.
I borrowed my copy from the library.

The Vagina Monologues Vulva. Vulva. I could feel something unlock. Itsy Bitsy was wrong. I knew this all along. I could not see Itsy Bitsy. I never knew who or what she was, and she did not sound like an opening or a lip.

That night, we named her… Dressed her in sparkles and sexy clothes, put her in front of the body chapel, lit candles. At first we whsipered it, “Vulva, vulva,” softly to see if she’d hear. “Vulva, vulva, are you there?” There was sweetness and something definitley stirred. “Vulva, vulva, are you real?”

The Vagina Monologues is much more than a book or a play: it is a revolutionary happening. For the first time ever, a woman got up in a public and started talking openly, honestly, sensitively about our genitals. The play, and consequently the book, started something amazing.

It is a collection of a number of short monologues, all based on interviews that the author has conducted with real women about their vaginas. Some are more or less accurate presentations of what was said, others are more imaginative pieces inspired by one or more women. All of them bring out some different aspect of womanhood and most of them make you give an internal sigh and a silent – yes. There are women of all ages and backgrounds, straight women, lesbian women, married women, virigns. There are celebratory pieces and soliloquies filled with grief or anger or pain.

This is a must-see play / must-read book for every woman.

There are some who do not like The Vagina Monologues at all.

Some just don’t get it. They see it as obscene, silly, titillating, dangerous. They worry that it will encourage young women into promiscuity. They are horrified by the idea of a crowd of women watching the show and shouting “Cunt! Cunt! Cunt!”

And there are others who do get it, and know that we need to reclaim our vaginas, but criticise the way in which Ensler has gone about this.

Some see “V-Day”, the fund-raising and awareness-raising movement against sexual violence which centres around performances of the play on Valentine’s Day each year, as a commercialised exploitation of women’s genital liberation. Some suspect that the use of The Vagina Monologues to advance the Cause of stopping sexual violence is motivated more by Ensler’s self-promoting demagogue tendencies than anything else – it’s good rabble-rousing stuff – and doubt that it has any real chance of achieving its avowed goal.

Betty Dodson (renowned feminist sexologist) also complains that the sexual organ is the clitoris not the vagina. The vagina is the bit that men are most interested in for their pleasure – but the clitoris is what brings us ours.

Dodson also strongly criticises the way in which The Vagina Monologues keeps bringing violence into our sexuality. She would rather it brought us a purer celebration and exploration of our sexuality, liberating women to have orgasms instead of endlessly reiterating the equation between sexuality and violence and perpetuating the sexual repression under which we all live.

I report these criticisms because I can see that they may well have some validity.

But I also think we need to remember that this is something new. These days we have very little in the way of a culture of genuine female sexuality. We also have an awful lot of a lot of issues with our genitals and our sexuality, and suffer from repression and sexual violence to an astonishing degree. The Vagina Monologues tries to talk about all these things. However incompletely, however clumsily or inadequately it may do so, I think that even making the attempt can only be a good thing.

So, yes, maybe it gets a few things wrong. Maybe it would be better if, for example, there was less focus on the word “vagina” and more focus on other words and other parts of our genital anatomy. Maybe it would be better to include more monologues, a wider range of views. I certainly wanted more! Yes, maybe it could do better.

But it’s a start, and in my view it is a fantastically good start. Whatever opinions or attitude you might form after seeing or reading it, I would repeat, it is a must-see/read play!

It might even change your life.