Woman’s World – Graham Rawle (2005)

An inventive approach to the traditional novel, this book was original in every sense of the word. A good story and an interesting presentation: the entire book is composed of snippets of text cut from hundreds of women’s magazines from the UK in the swinging sixties.

The plot features the PoV of protagonist Norma, an adult who lives at home with her mother Mary and her brother Roy. She doesn’t work and is obsessed with fashion, make-up and other “female pursuits”. Initially, the plot seems very straight-forward and linear, but as the novel progresses, the readers starts to question the reliability of the narrator, Norma. Something seems “off”, but it’s hard to identify what exactly it is. It’s not really a sense of foreboding (as there was in “The Long Afternoon”/ Waterfield), but more the sense that things are not as stable as Norma presents it. But what is it?

About halfway through, there is a plot twist that is as surprising as Fight Club. I won’t give the game away, but it brings all the pieces together in an altogether surprising way and one that I had not predicted. I love twists like that.

And then, once the twist has been revealed, more twists occur, and full marks for originality and unpredictability to author Rawle for that.

Norma, the main character, is described using text cut and pasted from these old magazines, more than 40,000 in all, and it took two years just to paste the text together. Anyone, who in their childhood tried to piece together a pretend ransom note from individually cut out letters from a newspaper, will probably remember how time-consuming this can be, so I can only imagine the patience required to complete this project.  I can appreciate the effort this work took and all the fiddly little pieces being laboriously glued onto each page. (At first, my cynical self thought it might have been computer-generated, but no. It seems not.)

After (and during) the reading of this, I was curious as to which came first: the story itself or the bits of text (which determined the action), but an end note from the author explained that he wrote the actual story itself first and the cuttings followed that plot.

A really interesting and original novel told in a really interesting and original way. Kudos to Rawle.

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