Women Talking
January 17, 2023 2:21 PM - Subscribe

"The Canadian writer Miriam Toews opens her astonishing eighth novel, Women Talking, with a matter-of-fact Author's Note. Between 2005 and 2009, she explains, eight men in a remote Mennonite colony in Bolivia raped many of the girls and women in their community, first rendering them unconscious with cow anesthetic. Women Talking is "both a reaction through fiction to these true-life events, and an act of female imagination." It is also a work of deep moral intelligence, a master class in ethics beautifully dressed as a novel. And, surprisingly given the title, Women Talking is narrated by a man."

Interview with Miriam Toews: ‘I needed to write about these women. I could have been one of them’ (The Guardian)

Guided by Voices: In Miriam Toews’s novel, women discuss how to respond to men’s horrific crimes, by Leslie Jamison (BookForum)

Women Talking (2022 movie) on FanFare
posted by MonkeyToes (5 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The subject matter kept me from reading this book for some time. I just did not want to read about men's horrific violence toward women. But I decided to try anyway, and then could not stop thinking about it. The rapes have already occurred by the time the novel opens, and are explained briefly, without graphic detail. What matters here is how these injured, isolated women respond when their bodies and souls are at risk. I was annoyed, at first, that a man tells their story--but it's a choice that comes to make sense, and adds a little bit of warmth and gentleness to the telling.

These women are not just talking; they're trying out ideas, and argument, and persuasion among themselves. They're different and freer when the men (save August Epps, scribe) are absent. They're deeply pragmatic, but also...revel? luxuriate? stretch their muscles?...in the opportunity to think and discuss and act for themselves, and that's what I think I liked best about this book. Women, talking. And I found myself thinking a lot about something I didn't want to read.

This one's not going to be for everybody, but you will know fairly quickly if you are its reader; I think I'd recommend it for fans of Elena Ferrante, Riva Galchen, and maybe Ottessa Moshfegh.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:49 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]

I read and enjoyed this book a lot.

Because I hadn't read Toews before, and I knew I wanted to read this one but also to know a bit more about her writing before I did, I also picked up her first novel, Summer of My Amazing Luck. I'm from Winnipeg, where that book is set (note: my mom knows her socially) and I loved it, it was like reading about someone I knew slightly as a teen who had made really different choices from me. I know she has a lot more going on than her Big Serious Breakout novel (which is how Women Talking looks in the US) and I want to appreciate her for that.

Anyway, Women Talking is super worth reading, and I have recommended it here and elsewhere. I also was skeptical of the narration by a man, but found it easier as the book went on, and maybe that skepticism is something she wanted the reader to hold - we only get stories as they come to us, and how else would this story come to us? The women are mostly illiterate, and are not thinking of posterity as they talk to each other - they are thinking of each other, and of what to do next.

Thanks for posting, MonkeyToes, I hope there are other comments because this is a book worth talking about.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:46 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]

they are thinking of each other, and of what to do next.

This, exactly, as a comment on the novel itself. Talk about fiction as a blueprint for survival…
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:37 AM on January 18

This is a beautiful, searing book that is very much worth your time. But also, yes, a tough read.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:45 PM on January 18

I read this book after reading a review in the New Yorker a few years ago. It was outstanding and I highly recommend it to anyone who's interested! But I'm not going to see the movie because the discussion of sexual violence will be too triggering for me in audiovisual form. Sadly, I have not enjoyed Toew's other books as much but that's OK!
posted by smorgasbord at 6:53 PM on January 18

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