Brief Book Review: Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston

Bed Rest

Chick-lit is without a doubt the most scorned of genres. As a big reader, with a love for all genres (with the exception of erotic romance- think Mills and Boons. I just can’t find it interesting), I sometimes wonder why.

Sure, some chick-lit is simply awful. Think shallow, immature and unbelievably, well, dumb protagonists and you will be at the heart of the problem with a lot of chick-lit. Chick-lit like that loses the brownie points the genre stands to gain by being realistic. Women, when reading a good chick-lit book, should be able to relate to the characters. After all, it’s a genre written, mostly, by women for women. If women read it and find themselves angrily thinking the main character is ridiculous and questioning if other women are really like that? All the author has achieved is alienation of their audience.

On the other hand some chick-lit is quite good and what bothers me is that the good stuff is often written off as crap because of the bad. When browsing the book reviews for chick-lit titles so many of them begin ‘I don’t usually read chick-lit’ with a note about how the writer of the review is a Serious Reader (why such shame at picking up a chick-lit title?) They then either go on to trash the book (warranted, in some cases) or else write about how surprised they were to have enjoyed it.

I used to love chick-lit in my early teenage years, along with horror, suspense & mystery, fantasy and anything published as a penguin classic. These days my appreciation for fantasy and chick-lit has waned. I am not a literary snob, though. If someone gives me a pile of books (as my brilliant Grandma often does) I will read them, regardless of their genre. A book is a book is a book…

I think the scorn poured on chick-lit is, in some ways, just another socially accepted form of sexism but that is another topic for another time.

The book I am reviewing today is Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston.

Quinn “Q” Boothroyd is a young British lawyer married to an American and living in New York City. She’s checked off most of the boxes on her “Modern Woman’s List of Things to Do Before Hitting 30,” and her busy working life has been relatively painless. But when her doctor tells her she must spend the last three months of her pregnancy lying in bed, Q is thrown into a tailspin. Initially bored and frustrated, Q soon fills her days by trying to reconnect with her workaholic husband, provide legal advice for her sweet Greek neighbor, forge new emotional bonds with her mother and sisters, and figure out who will keep her stocked up in cookies and sandwiches. Q experiences adventures on the couch she never would have encountered in the law firm and learns a lot about herself and what she wants out of life—and above all, about the little one growing inside her.

On the cover there is praise for this book saying ‘even if you have never been pregnant you’ll be as instantly hooked on this addictive novel as I was.’ I’m thinking you’d be hooked especially if you had never been pregnant because the protagonist’s reaction to learning her amniotic fluid is low is not the teensiest bit realistic.

‘Amni-what?’ is her first thought. The first person narration then goes on to explain in depth how she had no clue what this meant, or what it even was.

Not realistic. Not realistic at all.

Q, the protagonist, is supposed to be an almost-30 year old lawyer who is pedantic about recording everything and making lists and so on. Basically, she seems like the kind of person who would have researched this whole pregnancy thing and not the kind of person who…well, I can’t even think of a comparison. Having had a child myself, trust me, if you are pregnant you tend to want to learn as much about pregnancy as you can. You definitely know what amniotic fluid is. She also doesn’t do any baby shopping until five weeks before the child is due and at no point are there discussions about baby names. The book skims over many of the milestones you would expect from a book in which the main focus is the protagonist’s pregnancy.

The remaining plot-points were dull. They were clichéd and the majority of readers would see the ‘surprising twists’ coming a mile away.

However, there were some funny parts, the voice was engaging and the protagonist was likeable. There were also some really good lines within the novel. Some even, I must admit, that I was surprised to find in a chick-lit novel that revolves around pregnancy and relationships.

In the darkness I listen to his heartbeat…In the darkness he listens to my heartbeat.

You could almost imagine its summer- until; you see the thin, stripped trees along the street, the pallid fawn sunshine, the pedestrians muffled up in furry coats and downy jackets.

I’ve always regarded mine with some bewilderment, its mysterious activities, its dark places where the blood flows close to the surface.

Crack open Sylvia Plath’s Ariel when life seems too hard to bear. It’s always good to discover that someone else has been closer to the screaming edge than you are.

A pause, a brief moment of silence, and then a cry to make a mother’s heart dissolve.

Whilst I would not recommend this book to anyone I know, I did enjoy certain parts of it and I do believe it would be enjoyed by readers who like this genre.

Brief Book Review: ‘I Am No One You Know’ by Joyce Carol Oates

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These stories have impact- when reading I suggest you wear your seat belt.

The only other short story collections I have enjoyed as much as this are those by Edgar Allen Poe and Kim Edwards’ Secrets Of A Fire King. That said, this collection by Joyce Carol Oates is a stand out winner.

The stories are told with an unnerving conviction. Oates effectively writes the muddled memory and confusion surrounding trauma.

 I Am No One You Know contains nineteen startling stories that bear witness to the remarkably varied lives of Americans of our time. In “Fire,” a troubled young wife discovers a rare, radiant happiness in an adulterous relationship. In “Curly Red,” a girl makes a decision to reveal a family secret, and changes her life irrevocably. In “The Girl with the Blackened Eye,” selected for The Best American Mystery Stories 2001, a girl pushed to an even greater extreme of courage and desperation manages to survive her abduction by a serial killer. And in “Three Girls,” two adventuresome NYU undergraduates seal their secret love by following, and protecting, Marilyn Monroe in disguise at Strand Used Books on a snowy evening in 1956.

These vividly rendered portraits of women, men, and children testify to Oates’s compassion for the mysterious and luminous resources of the human spirit.

Oates’ is masterful in building suspense and at leaving her readers yearning for more.  At the end of each story I found myself wanting to yell: “don’t leave me hanging like this!”

The primary theme is “othering”. In all the stories there is some “other, unknowable” person. There is the mentally unstable mother, the sexually threatening uncle, the serial killer, and the borderline man from death row. All these stories are narrated from the POV of a rather bland, normal character and focus on another character that is, in some way or another, taboo.

Recommendation: Everyone must read.

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Brief Book Review: ‘Tampa’ by Alissa Nutting

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Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She’s undeniably attractive. She drives a red Corvette with tinted windows. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed, and devoted to her.

But Celeste’s devotion lies elsewhere. She has a singular sexual obsession—fourteen-year-old boys. Celeste pursues her craving with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought; her sole purpose in becoming a teacher is to fulfill her passion and provide her access to her compulsion. As the novel opens, fall semester at Jefferson Jr. High is beginning.

In mere weeks, Celeste has chosen and lured the lusciously naive Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his teacher, and, most important, willing to accept Celeste’s terms for a secret relationship—car rides after school; rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works late; body-slamming encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom between periods.

Ever mindful of the danger—the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack’s father’s own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind—the hyperbolically insatiable Celeste bypasses each hurdle with swift thinking and shameless determination, even when the solutions involve greater misdeeds than the affair itself. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress driven by pure motivation. She deceives everyone, and cares nothing for anyone or anything but her own pleasure.

Whilst I understood the narrative, the themes and the points raised within the text, it nonetheless left me confused. Some reviews described the graphic descriptions in  this book as erotica. I disagree. This book is not in the slightest bit erotic. There is nothing remotely alluring or erotic in Celeste’s sick fantasies or the detailed descriptions of the sex scenes. The desire Celeste has for teenage boys is simply too inconceivable. Positively baffling.

This book has left me feeling conflicted and, I believe, this is what makes it so good. it will leave ypu with doubts and questions. You will be mentally haunted by this book. Perplexed confusion is the strongest emotional reaction I had to this book. This, I think, is due to the media/societal norms/advertising. Like most, I could better understand a lecherous older man’s interest in teenaged girls than the situation in reverse (though both disgust me equally.) How often are younger women viewed as more desirable? How often is it men who are depicted as the dominant ones? It is far more common. This book certainly flips gender roles and stereotypes on their head.

Despite being told in the first person POV by Celeste, you are not treated to any understanding of where her singularly obsessive sexual compulsion comes from, other than the fact she is clearly a sociopath. This, I think, is Nutting’s intention. Celeste is the kind of cold, calculating predator no one believes a woman capable of being. It makes her light sentance, given because she is an attractive woman (and how could sex with an attractive woman be rape?), seem all the more apalling. It’s appalling but it is also very accurate social commentary. How often is violence and sexual assault towards men taken seriously when the abuser is a woman? And how often is it taken seriously is the abuser is an extremely attractive woman?

‘Tampa’ also gives a perplexing view into how statutory rape is complex and different from rape in general. Celeste’s victims do give consent. They want her throughout the book, along with their peers, and they state at her trial they were willing. Which they were, but they were also manipulated, stalked and used to satisfy Celeste’s selfish, obsessive desires. One victim in particular was clearly left confused and destroyed by his involvement with Celeste. It is easy to see why, even with consent, sex with a minor, even if they are a teenager, is illegal. They aren’t mature or in control enough to protect themselves or to understand when they’re being abused. They have only the illusion of being in control or consenting. In reality they have been stalked and carefully selected for their weaknesses (being quieter, shyer, having less involved parents.)

Overall, this is an intriguing read. Do not expect to understand Celeste. Unlike HH in Lolita, and many real-life pedophiles, Celeste does not try to convince herself or the reader at any point that she actually cares for or “loves” her victims.
This book is quite graphic and disturbing, so definitely not recommended for the squeamish.
To purchase an ebook version, follow the link here.