Sunday, 2 June 2013

Half the Human Race - Anthony Quinn

I would say Half the Human Race was probably the least read book that we have reviewed in a while. When I say that, I don't mean it was a poorly attended meeting, it wasn't. Quite a few of us attended and quite a few of us had started the book, but a lot of us (including me by about 12 pages) hadn't managed to finish reading it by the time the meeting came round.

Now fair enough we all lead busy lives so time is always a factor. However you have to ask why when a book really isn't door stop size so many of us didn't get it finished. I have read books with just as many pages in mere days before. Books that despite working full time and having two children under 5 I would be willing to sit up until one in the morning to finish as I literally HAD to find out who ended up with who. It's fair to say then that a page turner this one was not.

When asked why people hadn't finished it the most popular answer was they simply couldn't get past the cricket! The first few chapters are indeed a lot about cricket so I found myself trying to persuade people to read past it as really the book wasn't about cricket at all. In fact as you read further into the book you do wonder why so much time was initially spent on cricket. Will, the lead male could have been a lawyer by the end of it for how important his occupation was to the story.

One of the women in our group gave up when it got to the suffragettes part - was this out of frustration? I did find myself getting annoyed when they were breaking windows - what good is that going to do to your cause really? I did find it interesting however to read about the starvation/force feeding and life in prison for the women as this is an area in which previously I had very little knowledge.

Inevitably this lead to a discussion as to what we would have been like in that period of time. We all found it hard to imagine. Initially we thought we would have been all for the vote and wanting to campaign however when you study Connies sister who simply wanted to get married and have a home and children and status and Ada's character who actually wanted Will to make decisions for her, a lot of women (some really passionately) didn't want the vote. We felt it was a lot to do with background and upbringing. Connies father being very influential in Connies thinking. He had never treated her differently and had obviously paid her way to attend medical school whilst he was alive which was unusual.

We talked about why, of all the inequalities, women chose the vote to campaign for. Really, having a vote wouldn't have changed their day to day lives. At least not initially. They still would have been paid less and jobs (such as Connie becoming a surgeon) wouldn't have opened up for them. We decided that whereas a lot of inequalities only affected a small proportion of women (for example not many women wanted to become a surgeon so wouldn't have campaigned for women to be able to become one). The vote was the one common ground that they could all come together for.

We also discussed about the fact that Quinn who male, chose to write from a womans perspective. I think the only other book where this has been the case (at least from the book clubs point of view) is Before I go to Sleep which was excellently written by a male from a womans point of view. Half the Human Race perhaps was not so successful at this.

Maybe that was the reason why I just didn't get the love story between Connie and Will. In the end it seemed as though she was starting to have doubts about not getting married and being too old, back walked Will in to her life again and she thought 'well I haven't found anyone else better'. Some members of the group said how the story showed how each of them grew and made them more accepting but I just didn't get it.

I also found the book very segmented. I didn't expect to start reading about trench warfare but I did. I didn't expect to read about a day in the life of a nurse tending to war casualties but again I did. Quinn took you into each part quite well, introducing interesting characters and details but then just left you standing as the next chapter whisked away to another time and place.

I think the biggest example of this was in relation to the vote. I really don't understand why when the book was supposed to be about women getting the vote and it initially went into so much detail about the suffragettes that it simply ended about half way through with Connie saying 'Do I look different? Well I am 30 now I can vote'. Why do this? It was vaguely mentioned after this point but left you feeling as though the first half of the book was a waste of time and you had been duped into really just reading a book about (a poorly written) love story that took a lot of pages to get to its inevitable happy ending.

I also didn't get Tam. I thought at one point Connie was going to fall in love with him or there was to be a love triangle however this never really materialised and after following him in detail for a bit (spoiler alert) he committed suicide. Quinn did use Tams unsent love letter as a moment of clarity for Will to realise he loved Connie but again Tam's character just felt like I wasted time and energy on him for him to be pushed out the back door.

The book split the vote with a few people giving it as high as a 9 (loved stuff about suffragettes and the overall pace/writing of the book). The points however did dip down to as low as a 3 (cricket, jumped about, too many pages to get to end). We mentioned having a recount next month if people found the time to finish the book and I think it would be interesting to do so as really the end book is a totally different book to the beginning.

We gave it a 6.5 overall.

Next book is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey