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From the start of her latest novel NORMAL WOMEN, writer Ainslie Hogarth seeks to shock her readership with immediate accounts of the horrors of childbirth, establishing her critique of common representations of female experiences. Through shared tales that compare C-sections to natural births, we are introduced to Dani, a neurotic new mother who soon finds herself struggling to resolve the disaffection of her new life with the picture-perfect projections of motherhood and wifedom offered via friends and social media whom she refers to as ‘normal women.’ This label permeates through the novel as Dani seeks her own sense of purpose while adjusting to her changing circumstances.

Her husband Clark’s latest promotion sees the couple move to the small town of Metcalf where Dani grew up. Without a career and with a sense of dread, she reluctantly agrees to return to the place where she was raised in the shadow of her successful father, ‘The Garbage King of Metcalf.’  Clark’s career as a developer allows Hogarth to offer some satirical insights into the expanding gentrification of small towns where, ‘naturally, the coffee shops appeared first,’ selling ‘cortados in short brown cups and hot new literary fiction and austere notebooks and expensive espresso machines that would collect dust on the counters of businessmen’. It sets the tone for cynical observations of 21st century living in an increasingly globalised world.

Clark’s substantial pay increase means that Dani can stay at home with her baby and Hogarth uses this as a device to explore a multitude of perspectives to convey the complexity of changing attitudes towards gender roles and feminism. While Clark fumbles to admit ‘he didn’t want to seem like a man who would prefer his wife to say at home with his child,’ Dani expresses her own mixed feelings about being financially dependent on her husband as, ‘while maybe she could technically be a feminist without financial independence, having to ask Clark for money certainly didn’t feel in the spirit of the thing.’ Their relationship seems to become increasingly disconnected as Dani feels increasingly undervalued as she performs her duties, and some of Hogarth’s wittiest criticisms are employed to condemn Clark for his haplessness in the domestic sphere.

While Dani’s choice to be a full-time mother initially provides some satisfaction through the sense of purpose offered by motherhood, Dani’s mindset shifts as postnatal depression seeps in, and she becomes increasingly uncomfortable with being financially reliant on her husband. Her growing concerns that her husband might die prematurely reveal Dani’s personal insecurities and she finds herself seeking options that will ensure stability for her and her daughter.

Enter the Temple. Yoga studio by day, brothel by night, it’s where the enigmatic Renata explains to Dani that the gorgeous women at the centre provide emotional healing and sex to men who are seen as, ‘creatures with pain.’ Enamoured by the concept, Dani sees the Temple as a means of securing the financial position for herself and her daughter, should anything happen to her husband. There are multiple efforts to differentiate the sexual healing taking place in the Temple with the more transactional exchanges of other sex workers. And it’s a stretch to accept what the Temple has to offer. It’s at this point where the novel pivots, ultimately shifting its trajectory towards that of a mystery novel. Renata goes missing and Dani looks for answers. Somewhat underdeveloped, the main issue is one of plausibility, particularly as the novel is so neatly drawn together for an ending that is less than satisfying.

Pub Date:16 Jan 2024
Page Extent:320
Format:Misc HB
Package type:HARD BACK
Subject:Crime & mystery

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