Monday, 8 August 2011

BABYVILLE by Jane Green

I decided it was time to read some junk.

BABYVILLE tells the story of three friends, and the impact that motherhood has on their lives. It is divided into three sections, each dealing with one woman. The first is Julia, a highflying TV producer who is obssessed with having a baby, convinced that this will save her relationship with boyfriend Mark. The next is Maeve, who has never wanted a baby, until this same Mark impregnates her; and the last is Sam, who actually has a baby, and is not adjusting well to life as a stay-at-home mother.

Initially, I found this really kind of a fun book. The tone is chatty and straightforward, and the pages fly by as in a book for children. Within the first couple of pages, it is entirely clear to the reader that while Mark is a nice man, Julia and he ought not to be together. Brilliant. There is no difficulty as to what is going on; everything is clear and easy to understand. This is much better than crappy old real life, where, at least in my sad experience, 90% of the difficulty of any relationship lies in its definition. (How many debates have we all had, along the lines of, oh god I don't know, is it A She is the not the One, or B She is the One, and I am too scared to admit it, or C I'm just not that into her, but this fills the time till I meet the One, or D What about that girl I met in a bar one time, maybe she is the One) In the much better world of BABYVILLE there are no such complex questions as to definition; reality is stable and any reasonable person would agree as to its nature.

BABYVILLE is also a hilarious visit to a very different wold of femininity from the one I live in.
Sam is – usually – the laziest of all of them when it comes to superficial appearance. The most makeup she'll wear is tinted moisturizer, mascara, and pale-pink lipgloss.
I love the suggestion that this is just hardly any makeup at all. Or, when a woman goes into a restaurant in New York, we are proudly told:
She has no qualms about eating on her own
I mean, do people have qualms about eating on their own in restaurants? I didn't even know that was something one could feel concerned about.

I am sorry to report however that by the end I ceased to find this book very fun. After a while it just started to make me feel a bit dirty. It's absolutely and entirely predicated on the belief that men and women are very different, and that, foolishly though you may try to avoid it, your biology is your destiny. This is a common, if stupid, idea, but what made it unsettling in this context was the very strong presumption thoughout the book that mothers love their children far more than fathers. This was definitely not true of my mum and dad, and is not true of the mothers and fathers I personally know. I found it a bizarre and even a rather unpleasantly old-fashioned view, which made the whole book, while sugary, leave for me a sour aftertaste.

I just can't end without including this extract, where a character we are supposed to admire recommends a movie. I have looked carefully at context, and it appears to be unironic:
"It was an incredible piece of cinema," Chris agrees, "So realistic, it reminded me of Titanic. The realism and the hugeness. What do you think, Sam?"
What do you think, indeed.


  1. Nice review, Sarah :) Sorry to know that you didn't like the much. But atleast it was a fast-paced read which you could finish fast. On eating on one's own - I do that all the time. One of my favourite things to do is carry a book to a cafe or a restaurant and sit there and have lunch and read my book. I think the author doesn't know the pleasures of eating alone :)

  2. thanks for challenging the almost accepted view that fathers don't love their children or that don't love them as much as mothers do. Each individual has a way of expressing his/her love. So much entrenched had this view that one has to work so hard to show love that sometimes it feels fake. then the issue of 'blame my genes'. I don't accept that too.

  3. Heh, I definitely laughed at your review. Very well written and definitely highlighted the issues with the book - issues that I am sure I would definitely share! I very much dislike the whole biology is destiny thing and how men and women are SO different and have their assigned roles they must play. Bleh.

    Also, oddly enough, many people have told me they can't imagine eating alone. I travel alone for work so clearly have no issue with it but I don't recall having an issue with it before either. It just doesn't make sense!

  4. Yes, it is really depressing, the suggestion that we are all simply products of our genitalia. It's hard on women, but I think it's really hard on men too: they often get really cut off from their children, simply because of who society expects them to be!

    Yes, I don't know what people are afraid of in eating alone - that people will think they have no friends? Vishy, you are right, a book is always a good friend at the table!

  5. There was a time when I used to live in a different city, when during Sundays I used to carry a book and go to a cafe and have breakfast in the morning while reading the book. Sometimes I used to stay over at the cafe and continue reading and sometimes one of my friends stopped by and after seeing me would come and sit at my table and we talked for a while about the book I was reading and about other things. After the friend left I continued reading the book and had my lunch there. Sometimes another friend stopped by for lunch and we had a nice conversation about books and other things and after this friend left, I continued my reading :) I loved those Sundays :) Your comment that a book is always a good friend at the table, made me remember that :)