Sunday, December 28, 2008

Woman's World by Graham Rawle

I received Woman's World as birthday present from a fellow English major. I have mixed feelings as I write about this novel. On the one hand, Graham Rawle's Woman's World is an incredible work: satirical, visually appealing, carefully structured, etc. On the other hand, I'm having trouble thinking of people I could recommend it to without repercussions.

Without giving anything away, I think it's fair to say that that some of the explorations of gender in this novel are unsettling, and without Rawle's light touch they could have been even more so. Also, (like a lot of satire) this book is at least as tragic as it is funny.

That said, Woman's World is brilliant.

First, you have a novel that's been created entirely from words clipped from 1960s women's magazines. That idea alone made me want to love it: the collage of different typefaces; the bizarre, materialistic language of advertising put into everyday life; the questions of femininity and how its image is shaped...

Second, Rawle does not skimp on plot structure. Woman's World is not merely an interesting gimmick, but a well-spun tale. The pacing is slow for a novel that plays off the rhythm of the mystery and romance genres, but this didn't bother me because it became a stylistic foreshadowing that the story and characters were going to become more complicated than initially suggested. (Afterwards, I kept trying to think of ways he could have changed the novel, and nothing I came up with in my head was as believable, satisfying, or appropriate to the tone of the book as what Rawle had already done.)

Third, Rawle plays with language in hilarious ways. The characters become straight (wo)men to his comic brilliance:
I sat perfectly still, going over and over everything in my mind, thinking about what I should and shouldn't have done, and wondering what was going to happen to me. [...]Not killed Mr. Hands--that's what I should have done.
Also, Rawle's toying with the language of women's advertising makes Woman's World full of images like
I threw back my head and with closed eyes let the words of admiration flood over me like a family-size can of Carnation evaporated milk.
I felt very vulnerable there, facing the double-edged sword of being spotted by Mrs. Price and having Mary open the living-room door and see me with my coat on. Life is a bowl full of pickles, and here I was, a butterfly trapped in the stuff.

Finally, although the novel is full of strange situations and satiric language, the responses of the characters are psychologically believable. I ended up feeling a great deal of sympathy for the main characters, even as I giggled at Rawle's expressions.

I'm sure I must know some people who are strange enough to enjoy this book too. Which reminds me... thank you, Cara, for the birthday gift.

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