I was sent a copy of Emma Flint’s debut, LITTLE DEATHS, by Picador UK. Thank you!
Little Deaths takes place in the 60’s. Ruth Malone discovers that her kids are missing, in the midst of a custody battle against her husband. The novel follows Ruthas she’s constantly watched by the police who are looking for any evidence that could lead to her conviction. Throughout all of this, we see the case through the eyes of a journalist who is lucky enough to get assigned the “big story”.
The novel begins with a scene in the prison, Ruth Malone has been convicted and she’s serving her sentence. After this brief introduction, we’re quickly placed in the world of Ruth Malone, a woman with insecurities that she likes to cover up, a woman with a “reputation”. Despite knowing how the novel ends, you’re pretty much always on Ruth’s side, trying to understand how it’s all going to wrap up. It’s pretty difficult to read at time, especially when descriptions of her grief and despair become almost palpable.
As I read Flint’s writing, I knew she wasn’t an ordinary writer. Flint has the ability to completely immerse you in the moment that’s playing out, but what’s even better is her skill at drawing the characters with an intimacy that makes them real. So real, in fact, that on a couple of occasions I was utterly confused whether what I was recalling was a tiny detail from my own life or something I read in the novel (always the latter). The novel generally reads very smoothly, with frequent descriptions that make you pause so you savor them. It’s a very fluid style, with enough descriptions to fuel your imagination and almost no words are wasted because the plot has a steady speed. Halfway through I knew that this novel will be longlisted, at least for the Man Booker panel or the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction. Sure enough, on International Women’s Day, I woke up to news of it being part of the Bailey’s Prize longlist. I was thrilled, because in the days prior, I’d kept asking my bookworm friends to read the book – now I knew they certainly would.
This is a relevant novel because it unflinchingly portrays the sexist attitudes of men and women that condemn Ruth Malone from the start. From my own perspective, I knew that certain things that Ruth did (bringing strange men home while her kids were around, drinking in their presence) were not right. However, I’d say the same if a father was doing it. In the novel Ruth’s attitude is taken completely out of context, blown out of proportion and used against her with the label of “bad mother”. Instead of pursuing the leads, the police dedicate themselves to looking for a way to find her guilty. The women in her neighborhood are just as convinced – without any of them trying to see what Ruth has to say about all of this.
The parallel narrative is that of the ambitious young journalist Pete Wonicke. Woncike goes through several stages which range from sexualising Ruth in his articles to becoming the only person in favor of her. He watches her, hopeful for some contact so he could find her side of the story, just like the policemen watch her, looking for some evidence to put her behind bars. In either case, I was aware of the concept of the “male gaze”, which can probably be considered a theme in the novel. Male gaze in literature refers to the male perspective which, more often than not, sexualizes the woman and everything she does.
Little Deaths is a relevant read. It exposes the patriarchy and sexist attitudes that can destroy lives through its innate injustice. It exposes the violent and hateful thoughts that cause men to judge women, though they themselves are no better. What makes them ugly is their conviction that they have the right to make a decision about a woman’s life.
Ruth Malone never cries in public, just like a man would never want to. Yet Ruth’s defiance to maintain emotional strength is seen as confirmation that she’s capable of killing her children.
This is a shocking novel, because the sexism is believable and still a part of many societies, but also because it’s based on a true story. This latter fact is something I discovered only after finishing the novel, which made it even more harrowing to think about.
It’s safe to say that Little Deaths has found a permanent spot in my 2017 favourites list.So of course, I highly recommend LITTLE DEATHS – its simply brilliant and astounding. A shockingly good debut.
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