Review: Women Talking // Is Exactly That

Review by Mary Kat

  • Rating: 😻😻😻😻 /5
  • Recommend for: Fans of Margaret Atwood, The Power by Naomi Alderman, or other feminist novels

Women Talking Is Exactly That

Intro

Women Talking by Miriam Toews is a slight book that takes on massive, heady ideas and a violent history. The novel has a real-life inspiration: from 2005-2009, Mennonite women in a remote community in Bolivia woke up in pain and defiled from nightly attacks. Believing an idea proposed by the male leaders of the community, the women accepted that they were being punished by the Devil for indiscretions. It was later revealed that a group of men from within the community itself had been drugging and raping the women, protected by the cloak of night and a tight-knit patriarchal community.

Toews takes this inspiration and from here, imagines a world where the women convene. While the men are away posting bail for the guilty assailants, the women come together to decide their response: Do Nothing, Stay and Fight, or Leave.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Continue at your own risk.

All The Best

I quite enjoyed this novel, but it was nothing like I was expecting. The title of the novel is also a summary of the plot. Although the event inspiring the book is quite violent, the actual content of the novel is analysis and ideas. Thankfully, this is much more my style than a violent retelling.

Over a brief 200 pages, the women discuss a myriad of ideas, ranging broadly through philosophy, religion, and feminism. Toews seems to use her characters as a platform for her philosophical treatise. Admittedly, this seems far from realistic — as is pointed out multiple times, the (male) narrator is required because the women are illiterate. The women are reported to have limited exposure to the outside world’s ideas, and they had no privacy to communicate amongst themselves before this event.

As it turns out, these women had limited power in all realms — their physical protection as well as their ideas. Nevertheless, their discussion reads like a dialogue between seasoned PhDs. Because I found these ideas exciting and interesting to mull over, I enjoyed the book; however, their elevated discussion sacrifices realism and begs the reader to suspend belief.

Up for Debate

Another interesting point is the narration choice. As I’m sure will be a point of contention, the narrator is a male named August. Despite the very title, all of the women’s communication is viewed through this lens of our male narrator. August is an exile from the community who has returned for the ostensible purpose of teaching in the local classroom.

But in reality, his motives are elsewhere — he hopes to reunite with his childhood love, a woman named Ona who is clever but plagued by “neurosis disease” as the community calls it. (I must confess that I would 100% also be diagnosed with neurosis disease.) His narration (or minutes of the meeting, as the women address it) is frequently interrupted by his own musings — both philosophical reflections and romantic yearnings for Ona.

At first, I was quite bewildered by the narration choice. It seems counterintuitive, to say the least, for a man to narrate a novel called Women Talking. But I came to see the value — chiefly, because August is not viewed as a man by the community. He is a teacher and educated individual, neither of which are valued. He is unable to farm, and he is ridiculed and emasculated both by other men and even some of the women.

Through August’s view, the reader is able to see the thorough reaches of misogyny in this community. Misogyny underlies the violence at the heart of the novel, but it affects all in the community — women, children, and stereotype-breaking men alike.

I was surprised by the choice the women make in the end, but I came to accept it after reading more about the Mennonite philosophy and belief system. It appears that Toews pulls from her own experience growing up Mennonite, and her understanding shows, making for a satisfying and believable ending.

Verdict

I enjoyed this book for its deep musings and philosophical analysis, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys an introspective piece on feminist and religious ideas. But this book only succeeds with the right expectations. So go into Women Talking only if you want to read exactly that — women talking!

What Next?

  • Check out The Power by Naomi Alderman for an interesting feminist read with a twist. Part-dystopian and part-fantastical, but all the way social commentary.
  • For a classic, look to the queen: Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a tried-and-true classic in feminist and dystopian literature.

3 thoughts on “Review: Women Talking // Is Exactly That

  1. Zoe's Library says:

    Amazing review, you are such an eloquent writer – I can’t wait to read more of your reviews!

    I’m adding this book to my TBR because of this post, I love a good philosophic read so it seems like something I’d really like. Oh, and trust me, I’d be diagnosed with ‘neurosis disease’ too.

    Have a wonderful day –
    Zoe

    Liked by 1 person

    • CrazyCatLadyReads says:

      Wow, I cannot express just how happy reading your comment made me! I so appreciate your kind words! You’ve made my day, to say the least. Thank you! Lol at also being diagnosed with neurosis disease — I’m glad it’s not just me. 🙂 Hope you enjoy the book, and thanks again Zoe, so glad you liked the review!

      Liked by 1 person

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