Weekly Roundup

Another week in what I’ve watched and read.

Books

Last week I had started into Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and I finished the book earlier this week. I enjoyed this one particularly for the portrayal of what goes on in the head of a woman who has been forced to become a handmaid – breeding stock for the upper classes, denied all rights of their own. The boredom of having no purpose other than to breed; the constant dwelling on suicide, on the past, on what might have happened to people she knew. The unnamed Handmaid of the title (we know her only as Offred, that is, the handmaid of Fred) is a well drawn character whose experiences in this society of distorted religious values are all too easy to believe. Elements of Stockholm Syndrome, survivor’s guilt, and all kinds of coping mechanisms make up her way of thinking. The book often has a dreamlike quality to it in the way it easily drifts from the emptiness of Offred’s current life into reminiscences of her past and how things got that way.

After finishing The Handmaid’s Tale, I quickly dove into a different book: Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls. This is a novel about a time-travelling serial killer, Harper Curtis, who moves around in time across a sixty year period stalking and killing his victims, his “shining girls”.

I intend to write a review of The Shining Girls up separately, but in this post I wanted to muse briefly on the juxtaposition of the two novels I read this week. Both deal in their way with female disempowerment.

In The Handmaid’s Tale it’s widespread institutionalised disempowerment: Women are disenfranchised, stripped of all rights, and exist only to serve the purposes of men. We see a society that has succeeded in stripping women of any power or strength they had. Those who had backgrounds in business, media, science, or civil rights received the harshest treatment for their transgression of traditional boundaries.

In The Shining Girls you have almost the opposite: These women that Harper kills are strong, independent women, women who deal with prejudice, who survive and succeed in the face of society’s judgement. Their disempowerment comes not from society but from a single man, a man who sees this quality in them and chooses to cut it out, out of some kind of fear and hatred of what they represent.

It could be said that both books, in a way, depict traditional, conservative society responding to the emergence of women into equality through forceful suppression.

Comics

The Unwritten volume 7, The Wound is the most recent in the ongoing series by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. I wrote a whole thing about this and then WordPress decided to stop autosaving. Let’s just say that it continues to be a fun and smart series, Pauly Bruckner’s issues remain the funniest, and I quite like the newest addition to the cast of characters, Australian police officer Didge Patterson.

The other comic I’ve read this week was Batwoman: To Drown the World, the second volume of this New 52 serial. Batwoman is one of the only mainstream superhero comics I read – generally I have little interest in DC and Marvel heroes, but Batwoman has a strong lead who faces up to some really weird enemies. It’s more interesting to me that what seems like the same old-same old of Batman’s familiar rogues gallery. This volume keeps up the high quality in writing and artwork, though I can’t help thinking I preferred Williams’ art slightly over that of Amy Reeder, who has taken over all of the pencilling now.

Guess I better hit publish before it decides to dump half the post again.

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