Review: The Female Persuasion

Woman finds her outside voice.  

Books were an antidepressant, a powerful SSRI. She’d always been one of those girls with socked feet tucked under her, her mouth slightly open in stunned, almost doped-up concentration. All the written words danced in a chain for her …”

Now I hope it’s not just me who can find something very familiar in the words of the bookish, introverted and slightly awkward heroine Greer. 

This is another book which has been all over bookstagram and I most definitely bought it having seen people singing its praises across the internet. I really wasn’t sure what I was expecting from The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer. I knew her name but hadn’t read any of her novels.

My edition came with reviews from big names including Lena Dunham, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Nick Hornby. All were of course glowing in their praise so my expectations were pretty high going in to this. 

The novel tells the story of Greer and a number of people connected to her, including her university friends, her high school sweetheart and the larger than life Faith Frank. The latter is a feminist icon who takes a shine to Greer when she attends a talk. This chance encounter in a bathroom opens up a new world to Greer which will see her questioning the world around her and becoming a passionate advocate for women and their rights.  As a reader we have the pleasure of following her, and her companions, on this journey which is not without its troubles, conflicts and dramas. 

Each of the characters feels so real, as though you might know them or have encountered their doppleganger at some point. As the novel is fairly substantial and covers a long time period you see them develop and change.  

I meet young women who say ‘I’m not a feminist but …’ By which they mean, ‘I don’t call myself a feminist, but I want equal pay, I want to have equal relationships with men….. I don’t want to be held back because I am a woman.”

With her new perspective Greer sees injustice and inequality everywhere. Her passion is sparked by a sexual assault which leaves her feeling vulnerable. Her attacker is barely punished and the scenes which depict this felt all too familiar in our post #MeToo world. I couldn’t help but question, as some of the characters also do, if feminism has succeeded? Has it done all it can and now a new movement or wave needs to come along and help us find equality. Faith is, I believe, loosely based on Germaine Greer. I wonder if women like Faith and Germaine achieved all they set out to do in the 70s/80s. Do the young women depicted in The Female Persuasion need a new rhetoric more suited to our modern times? 

I could use the whole of this review to debate the importance of feminism in this book but I feel like there are some other themes I’d like to pick out. 

This is a real coming of age novel, it’s about finding your voice, exploring your sexuality and how humans cope when the future turns out differently to how they expected. This does get somewhat lost in the sections about feminism and the dynamic between Greer and Faith. Looking back I would have liked this to have been explored more fully.  

I’ve already mentioned that I really connected with Greer. An introvert with passionate beliefs she struggles to find a way to express her ideas and have an impact. Faith gives her some words of wisdom on this score which stayed with me:

I sometimes think that the most effective people in the world are the introverts who taught themselves to be extroverts.”

And the end of the novel there are hints that the future is not so bright for women. Was this a reflection on current times or some hint at an unhappy future for women? Wolitzer doesn’t seem to want to give that away. 

Final Thoughts: Whilst an enjoyable read, full of engaging characters with a well paced plot, it wasn’t perfect. Neither was it particularly memorable. Some elements of the plot felt contrived and predictable. I’d hoped for a little more of a feminist manifesto but was left with a novel which told a tale of the reality of many women’s lives, which frankly was already pretty known to me.  

Would I recommend The Female Persuasion? Possibly not as it’s a long read which didn’t particularly move or inspire me. Have you read this novel? What did you think? Am I being a little too harsh?

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