Those of you who regularly read my book reviews will know that I gather my reading material from a wide variety of sources, including the library and thrift stores and, one of my favourites, little libraries.
Little libraries, it would appear, are not a global phenomenon but they are certainly prevalent in Canada as I was a regular frequenter of the ones found on the front gardens in Calgary and I have sought out the ones local to me here in Ottawa. To explain, people place a wooden cupboard on a stake in their front garden and use it as a depository for reading material. The libraries themselves can be simple affairs or they can be themed. I particularly liked the one near where we lived in Calgary that was shaped like Snoopy’s kennel with Woodstock as the door handle.
What I like about them is that you never know what you will find in them. There’s always a wide variety of genres and condition and vintage to the books in them. But sometimes, they have quirks beyond that that set them apart.
For instance, this latest book choice. Nothing too remarkable about a typical chick lit. book by Emily Giffin entitled Baby Proof. Not unusual little library fodder at all. However, this book has been individualised in quite a unique way by the previous reader and I don’t mean from the slight bulginess of some of the pages from having been read in the bath possibly or the less icky possibility that someone poured water on it by accident.
I will keep you in suspense no more and reveal its transformation in the photo below.
Immediately, the question that should come to mind is “Why?” I mean, it is quite a particular thing to do, isn’t it? And why Barbara Carthorse? I don’t know if there is a writer called this – I know of Barbara Cartland who was a pink wearing, powdery faced dame of prolific bodice rippers – but I hope that Barbara Carthorse would approve of the book choice on which her name has been grafted. Bonkers, eh? But you know, I may not have picked up this book otherwise if it hadn’t been for the careful authorial relabelling as normally, I would probably been put off by the saccharine cover and left it where it was, making an assumption from the cover (I know, I know – never do the judgement thing) that it would most likely not be the book for me.
So thank you, Barbara Carthorse’s advocate and Emily Giffin’s nemesis, because I did actually very much enjoy this book. And now, to the review.
Claudia is a thirty something in New York who has a successful career as an editor commissioning books in a publishing house. She has two sisters, Maura and Daphne who are married; Maura and Scott have three children and Daphne and Tony are desperately trying for their own. Claudia has no ambitions in the babymaking stakes; in fact, is adamant that she never wants to have kids. So, when she meets Ben and he shares her opinion, it is fair to say that she has found her soulmate and eternal bliss beckons.
Except that Ben changes his mind. Other couples, likeminded career couples, have decided to have children and it would appear that the thought of becoming a father is holding sway for Ben and this may just be at the expense of their marriage.
I think that this is quite an intelligent book, dealing as it does with the thorny issue of the assumption that women have the innate urge to become mothers. Because, not all women do and I think that this is difficult for many of us to comprehend, that there could possibly be anything else that could provide a woman with more fulfilment than being a mother.
I don’t hold with the viewpoint that all women should be mothers and therefore, I don’t hold with the viewpoint that all women should want to be mothers. In fact, a part of me has a grudging respect for Claudia to fly in the face of the established ideas of society, even to the point where she is likely to make herself unhappy by losing the man that she loves.
Emily Giffin has an array of characters who she uses to show the different lifestyles that people can choose to pursue: some with kids and unhappy; some serial philanderers who prefer the no-strings attitude; cheating spouses; some couples struggling to have kids on their own; the biological clock conscious woman who may never find a meaningful relationship in which to have a child. Juxtaposed next to Claudia’s perceived militant and unwavering attitude to childbearing, Giffin presents the idea that there are lots of life paths to choose and not all of them involve children and even those that do are not always conceived in happiness and certainly do not always result in contentment.
What I also liked about Emily’s depiction of Claudia is that she is not against children per se. She is a good aunt to her sister’s children but she is happy with her life and does not want that to be different. She also doesn’t begrudge other people wanting them – she simply realises that she doesn’t want them for herself and also not because she thinks that she will be a bad mother, having a less than desirable role model in the form of her own mother, Vera who is flighty at best, self-absorbed and egotistical at worst. You could argue that really Claudia just knows what she wants and what she doesn’t want: a resolute woman determined to stick by her principles, even if it means losing the husband she adores.
Anyway, we go through Claudia’s soul searching as she tries to reconcile her decision to never have children with the consequences of her determination and as it is first person, we are privy to the rationalisations and scrutiny with which she examines her feelings and thoughts.
There may be some of you that may find the ending a little too neat. I would like to discuss it but feel that in doing so, I may reveal too much and spoil the novel which is a shame because I think, that from a feminist viewpoint, especially if you share Claudia’s perspective on children, the ending may irk you a little. Personally, I liked it and it is a little open ended so there is room for believing that Claudia may still maintain her “no baby in my future stance”…and I will say no more.
Before I conclude, I do have to return to Barbara Carthorse briefly especially in light of the ending of the book as it is certainly tinged with the pink hued dreamscape of romance and happily ever after as I would imagine that Barbara Cartland’s are too. I wonder if it is this that prompted the defacement or the addition or the reauthoring – whatever you want to call it – of the copy of the book which I read. If its promise of love rekindled some bitterness in the reader, prompting them into mischievous action. If they felt like the romantic notions proposed in the novel were too heavy handed like they were written by say, a hooved work animal instead of with, say, the delicate hand of an experienced writer with a penchant for pink and had to get that opinion out there to the public somehow.
I keep imagining who it is – a wizened old Miss Havisham-type figure, disillusioned with love; or maybe a young career woman, who believed that the book would present an alternative to motherhood and extol the virtues of a world without progeny; or even, a middle-aged woman with two awful children, willing Claudia to a life of orderliness where there is never likely to be a bright red tomato smear on the beige couch nor snot stains on the damask pillows nor tantrums at the deli whilst choosing a delicious new cheese that’s not wrapped in colourful individual plastic wrappers for kids, and reading Claudia’s story allows her to indulge in the life she will never have…
I imagine any one of these people getting onto their computer and muttering to themselves something about the book being “trash” or “romantic tosh’, “no better than Barbara Cartland, no, scratch that, worse than Barbara Cartland, like Barbara Carthorse” and sniggering to themselves as they type, maybe neighing a little, whilst the last few drops of the white wine that they poured before they finished reading Baby Proof in the bath, sloshes onto the computer keyboard, barely noticed as the fervent typing continues.
I mean it may have been a man…
Either way, whoever did it, it has provided me with an added dimension to thinking about a book that I would have enjoyed anyway. I will return it to the little library from which I chose it with one of my “Scuffed Granny” stickers on the front cover, something I do to all the books that I read which are not owned by Ottawa and hope that maybe the reader finds this blog somehow and shares their story, the story of Barbara Carthorse.
I will keep you posted.