Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Public Woman

The Public WomanThe Public Woman by Joan Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was not without reservations when I picked this one up and began to read. I had no doubts it would be well-researched, would cover ground that needed covering, say things that needed to be said and I knew that all in all I was going to be in sympathy with its general message, but I wondered if it might be hard-going. Would I feel preached at?

Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. It was riveting. It was fact-heavy and fascinating. I was captured from the opening paragraph of the introduction. Sure the subject matter is pretty heavy, but the treatment was deft and enthralling. I had to make myself put it down at the end of the Intro to get on with my day job, but I’d finished it by the end of the following day.

The opening chapter on modern narcissism gives a fascinating insight into the lives of some celebrity women (without patronising them – there’s a refreshing change). The chapter on FGM is grim – it couldn't be otherwise – but it’s a stark and badly needed reminder that this is a global problem, not someone else’s. It was interesting to see certain press cultures laid bare from within, elements from the Leveson enquiry that didn't make it to public consciousness. And in amongst the many cases quoted, I was pleased to see a detailed exploration of the appalling case of Amanda Knox, crucified not only in an Italian court, but also in the press in the UK and USA; all this not only in the absence of evidence against her, but in the face of evidence that backed her innocence of the crime for which she was convicted. Shades of the conviction of Edith Thompson. Thompson’s conviction for murder was essentially censure for her extra marital affair. Knox’s was disturbingly similar, but this is the 21st century, for heaven’s sake, not the 1920s.

We've come a long way, but Smith provides a timely (and extremely well written) reminder that we've a long way yet to go.

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