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.

Madame Bovary Book Review

Madame Bovary (Flaubert 1857) had me hooked; line, and sinker. As I began reading I was uncertain as to whether Flaubert had intended it to be humorous, or if I were reading it wrong. However, as I read on, I quickly came to the realisation that was the point of Flaubert’s humour; to be dry, ironic, and subtle.

The key to such humour is that whilst we are being treated to a realistic and objective narration of events, as the narrator is that of third person omniscient, we also see everything through the eyes and thoughts of Flaubert’s clawing, desperate characters. This creates a disparate version of the plot; that of the characters, and that of the omniscient narrator/reader.

Emma Bovary, for example, longs for passion, excitement and wealth. She wants for nothing more than her life to mime that of an opera. Instead, however, the first affair she embarks on, whilst an intoxicating Great Romance, in her mind, is in fact nothing more than a womanizing, selfish man recognizing in Emma weaknesses (her boredom and romantic ideals) that leave her ripe for seduction, and taking advantage of this.

Emma’s second love affair ends when she begs her lover for money, since she has incurred for herself, and her husband, an unpayable debt by living beyond her means. Both Emma’s lovers react with cowardice in the face of her desperation. However, had they attached themselves to her, she would undoubtedly either soon grow bored of them, or else be the ruin of them. Both men grow bored with Emma’s antics and desires; here again Flaubert is ironic, for Emma herself is bored with both her husband and child.

Throughout the novel characters continuously comment on how clever a woman Emma is, yet she isn’t shown to be clever in action or thought in any scene. Rather, she is shown to be self-absorbed, and lacking in any affection for her husband, or her only daughter. She takes lovers, but is unsatisfied, and demanding. She takes out loans to purchase luxurious items, yet takes no satisfaction in them, always wanting more.

Emma’s story ends with her suicide, and even that fails to go as she would have hoped; it’s drawn out, painful, and absent of any tender, tearful farewell from her child. In a final, unflattering scene, at her funeral, her head is hacked at in order for her husband to have a lock of her hair.

He stepped forward himself, scissors in hand. He was shaking so violently that he punctured the skin in several places on the forehead. Finally, bracing himself for the shock, Homais gave two or three big cuts at random, which left white patches in her beautiful black hair. (Flaubert 1857, p. 345)

For the final irony of ironies, Emma, who had dreamt and longed for city life, passionate love, ballroom dances, and wealth, condemns her only child, her legacy, to the life of a penniless orphan, sent to work in a cotton mill.

Flaubert writes Madame Bovary (1857) with such skill and realistic depth that while we laugh at the audacity, and despair at the mistakes, of Emma, we do not dislike her, or any other character. They are too human for the reader’s dislike. After all, most of us share in a hint of Emma, whether it be a desire for more, for wealth, for a passionate love, dazzling talents or a brilliant career. It is in this truth that Madame Bovary (Flaubert 1857) is an exemplary piece of realist literature; both in character, plot and writing style.

Further Thoughts on the Narrator:

Madame Bovary (Flaubert 1857) opens with the narrative being told from the first person plural point of view.

We were at preparation, when the headmaster came in, followed by a new boy dressed in ‘civvies’ and a school servant carrying a big desk. Those who were asleep woke up, and everyone got to his feet with an air of being interrupted at work. Motioning for us to sit down, the Head turned to speak to the form-master. (Flaubert 1857, p. 15)

The narration then soon changes to that of third person omniscient, quite seamlessly. It is noticed by the reader, certainly, but not disruptive.

The Beginning Hook:

I was instantly intrigued by Madame Bovary (Flaubert 1857) for one single, stand out reason. The book is titled “Madame Bovary”. The blurb enticingly states “Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored.” And yet, the narration begins with dull Charles Bovary. And then following that, two equally dull Madame Bovary’s; Charles’ mother, and Charles’ first wife, chosen by his mother. The curiosity to see when and how this mysterious other Madame

Bovary would come into the story is what kept me reading. That, and the humour.

On Constructing Reality:

Flaubert’s (1857) construction of reality is so thorough that when Emma, having had her monstrous debts revealed to the town, goes to beg money from the wealthy Guillmen, enters his house and observes “Now this…is the dining room I ought to have.” (p. 223).

The reader laughs out loud and sinks their head in their hands in disbelief. Emma is still (still!) not content with what she has in life. There she is, begging for money, and still she is hungering for more, more, more.

By this reaction from myself, as a reader, I realised I had become entirely sucked into the world crafted by Flaubert. He creates human characters, and describes a world so thoroughly, that the reader forgets that these are not helplessly foolish, fallible neighbours, friends or relatives of theirs, but characters in a book, doing what Flaubert makes them.

Another such scene that reveals, by personal reaction, how successfully real Flaubert has made Madame Bovary (1857) to his audience, is this one:

‘If you’d like to go in now and again,’ he said, ‘that wouldn’t be too ruinous, after all.’ ‘But it’s no use unless you keep it up regularly,’ she replied. And that was how she managed to obtain her husband’s permission to go into Rouen once a week to see her lover. (p. 272)

Favourite Quotes:

“And Emma started laughing, a ghastly, frantic, desperate laugh, fancying she could see the hideous face of the beggar rising up like a nightmare amid the eternal darkness. (Flaubert 1857, p. 337)

At last she sighed. ‘What can be more distressing than to drag out a futile existence like mine? If only our sorrows could be of use to someone, we might find some consolation in the thought of our sacrifice.’ (Flaubert 1857, p. 245)

Notice here, the great detail Flaubert gives, like a camera focusing on a scene, time and place, to draw the moment out and mark it as important, before panning over the rest of the setting:

In summer there was more of its shelving bank to be seen, and the garden walls were uncovered to their base, with several of the steps leading down to the water. The river ran noiselessly, swift, cool to the eye. Tall slender grasses leaned above it in a mass, bent by the force of the current; weeds streamed out in the limpid water like green wigs tossed away. Now and then some fine legged insect alighted on the tip of a reed or crawled over a water-lily leaf. The sunshine darted its rays through the little blue bubbles on the wavelets that kept forming and breaking; old lopped willow-trees gazed at their own grey bark in the water. Beyond, the fields looked empty for miles around. (Flaubert, 1857, p. 107)

Had they nothing else to say to one another? More serious communications were, to be sure, passing between their eyes. As they tried to make conversation, they felt the same languor stealing over them both, as if their whispering voices were being drowned by the deep continuous murmur of their souls. (Flaubert 1857, p. 108)

 

Reference:

Flaubert, G 1857, Madame Bovary, 3rd edn. Penguin Group, Australia.