Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

I read this book about a year ago when it first came out. It was so heavily hyped. I walked into a Waterstones and the sales lady positively jumped out at me and said, ‘This is a book you have to read. It’s amazing.’ I read it, staggered through it. I didn’t really love it. I couldn’t see what the fuss was about and I promptly forgot it.

I started reading it again for book club but honestly, I couldn’t get through it a second time. I felt like a voyeur of Lina and Stone’s life and I felt like I was abusing Maggie all over again by pouring over the nuance of her life.

Let me back track a bit here perhaps I should tell you what Three Women is all about. Firstly, its non -fiction. Secondly it is about the sex lives of three women. Maggie is a student who has been raped by her teacher. That’s what it is, you can fluff around it with adjectives all you like. She was underage and he raped her. You can’t consent as a minor. He’s on trial for it and we go through the entire court case and the train wreck of her life with her. Lina is also raped by three men and then forms a loveless union with her husband Ed before having a torrid affair with her high school lover Aiden. Slone has threesomes with, and in front of, her partner Richard.

All of them are damaged people. Taddeo apparently started interviewing a number of people until they dropped out and she was left with three. I can’t help feeling this book is exploitative rather than celebrating sex and desire in women. With Maggie she didn’t even change her name. Taddeo seemed to feel that somehow screaming out about the crime internationally in print would make it less hurtful, that somehow it would be redemptive. I don’t buy it. I know you can’t be silent on sexual assault and I agree with the ‘me too’ movement in principle. But Maggie was a child who Lisa Taddeo exploited to sell books. It sickens me how we are pulled into the most private areas of these very damaged women’s lives in the name of entertainment or enlightenment. I don’t find it liberating, I find it profoundly sad.

Not only do I have problems with the premise of this book, I have a problem with the writing style. Its crass and its poor. Her similes are something a 4th grader would come up with. ‘The wine felt like a cold sneeze’,  she ‘mated for life like a penguin’, his ‘tongue was like a wet water slide’,  are a few that spring to mind.

So, I am sitting here, its midweek, I still have a week to read it before book club. I know I could get it finished. I have a hard copy I bought in Waterstones and an audible version to listen to while I walk. I’m thinking it’s not just that I can’t be bothered, it’s that I don’t want to be sullied by it. I don’t want to be part of the three ringed circus that pervades this book. I don’t want to ogle at Slone, gawp at Lina or relive Maggie’s trauma with her. I’m not a prude. I like sex as much as the next person. But this is not a story I’m wasting any more of my time on. I just don’t want to pry.

So, what did book club think?

This book really divided book club, some loved it, some hated it and some sat on the fence.

Diana said it was good to have a novel where we could hear other woman’s stories. Anne-Marie felt since the 1970’s there was a move to talk more about female sexuality and not cover it up. Yulia felt that although it was now fashionable to talk about female sexuality this author victimised her characters, she didn’t empower them, her writing was just to sell books.

Rebecca felt that the book said a lot about mother daughter relationships and how they affected a women’s sexuality. Debra also thought that the book said that women look for the love in relationships that they didn’t get from their parents. She also said that it was Maggie’s vulnerability that drew the teachers to her, that predators often look for the vulnerable.

Anne-Marie felt that the book said a lot about dissonance and misogyny and how those things project on sexuality. Michelle felt it also revealed a lot about how women treat other women. Diana agreed and felt that the book was an attempt to make women be more empathetic.

Debra read one character at a time, starting with Maggie, Madeleine and Diana both though this was an excellent idea.

Lisa said that over writing did make you doubt the veracity of the story. She didn’t feel that the book was exploitative but felt that it gave a voice to those who didn’t have a voice. Maggie probably needed a voice. Lina had no empathy from the women she was speaking to. Taddeo, Lisa felt, was making the invisible visible. Lisa did wonder what three men would look like. She felt it would be one page linked to a Linkedin profile. She did agree however that the book had a journalistic feel and was not great writing.  

Michelle felt that we were meant to compare the stories of the women, to see what each was missing.

Yulia said that not enough was made of the rape of Lina – it would have had a profound effect on her, and it was not dealt with sufficiently. It made it unrealistic. Some people felt that Taddeo was telling the story as the protagonists told it and maybe Lina herself was dismissive of the rape as she was trying to supress it. As Lisa said it was the narrative of the victim. Maybe Lina was trying to say the rape didn’t define me – Aiden was my true love.

I talked about my objections to the similes used which I mentioned above. Some in book club felt that maybe these were the similes used by the women and reported on and not created by the author. I must admit that is an interesting thought.

Many at book club liked the psychological exploration of the women, some found it sad and empty. The best discussions we have in book club is where the room is divided, some love it and some hate it – this was no exception. I hated the book but loved the discussion.

Interview with the author:

Reviews of the book:

Next books

Monday 16 November ‘Leaving the Atocha Station’ by Ben Lerner.

Monday  30 November ‘American Wife’ by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Exciting authors event

I am very happy to announce that we will be having a ‘meet the author’ event with Kavita A Jindal an author of Manual for a Decent Life on the 14 December. It is a well reviewed novel about politics and gender in India. Michelle Roberts in her review on Amazon writes ‘a gripping story featuring family dynasties, violent death, conflicts between love and ambition, sex and betrayal and an original take on the absurdities of societal conventions in small towns and big cities’.

Movies to watch in lock down

My Octopus Teacher recommended by Anne-Marie. This movie is on Netflix, it tells the story of a friendship between a film maker and an octopus living in South Africa.

Bombshell  on Netflix  recommended by Anne-Marie.  The story of three women who were sexual harassment victims of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, staring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie.

Unforgotten on Netflix recommended by Claudine – a great series – kept me up to three in the morning. Focuses on historic murders and the search for justice. Fiction and incredibly well acted – won a couple of Baftas.

Other recommendations:

Jo recommends the How to Academy – this costs £17.50 a month plus VAT and gives you access to a number of talks from a number of famous people such as Pulitzer prize winners artists and thinkers who share their incites and ideas in live streams and live events. There is also a video library of past talks.

Recommendations of exercises online

My good friend Oliva Johnson does fantastic online pilates classes on zoom. They run every morning and Monday and Wednesday evenings and are only about £6 a class. She is a fantastic teacher and the classes are great fun. She is also doing on line personal training and I have lost 10 kilos in about 7 weeks and am feeling much fitter. Thoughly recommend her details can be found here

Recommendations of home delivery

Chop Chop

If you are having problems getting deliveries in lockdown, I thoroughly recommend the Sainsburys app Chop Chop you can get up to 20 items within an hour. Available from the app store.

Dim Sum

I strongly recommend deliveries from the Ugly Dumpling their menu can be found here  they are easy to cook and last for quite a while. Phone  07539 614694

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