This book had an amazing concept. It was full of amazing ideas (the creation of a secret language for an oppressed second class - women). But, it lack...moreThis book had an amazing concept. It was full of amazing ideas (the creation of a secret language for an oppressed second class - women). But, it lacked several things, in my opinion, that prevented it from living up to the proclamation: "feminist science fiction classic."
One of those things was characterization. The first one hundred or so pages in the book had no distinct character for the reader to engage with. There are several plot points expounded in male points of view that readers are supposed to be disgusted by (and are disgusted by!); there is one storyline involving a woman, lacking any real depth, killing out of revenge; and then, there is the mention of some other characters who may be important later. That's it.
In my opinion, having no characters with any emotional depth for the reader to latch onto at the beginning of the story was a serious flaw. It made the pace slow, and frustrated my sense of who or what to believe in in this story.
Another problem I had with this book was the "good guys/bad guys" dichotomy applied by the author. It's simple: All women are good (even the one lady who systematically kills people), all men are bad (even the one guy who appeared to treat a female character like she was equal in intellect and status). I, personally, don't like my contemporary fiction to be so black/white. It is boring, and it is not believable. It narrows the reader's frame of mind and ability to objectively engage with the work. And, if done kind of poorly (as it was here - (view spoiler)[killing babies! C'mon! (hide spoiler)]), it comes off as petty and trite: an authorial position, a fable, a one-dimensional opinion piece - and not a work of fiction.
The final problem that I had with the book was this - the notion that women should have their own language in the first place. Don't get me wrong! I love imagining the subversive power that a secret language has for the oppressed secondary citizen! It was wonderfully done, and very inspiring! But...
Elgin, and by extension, her characters, believe that one's native language creates one's reality - how one perceives the world (Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis), and allowing the women in this story to create and use their OWN language will change their reality. I am all for that notion, ladyface!
The problem with all this is that Elgin really believes - IN REAL LIFE - that women should have a language separate from men. And - in doing so - that we would be essentially better off as separate from them altogether? (What's up, Charlotte-Perkins-Gilman-Radical-Crazypants?)
She believes there are things one can experience as a woman that men could not possibly conceive of. We-ellllllll....
1. There are things that an other experiences that a member of an elite, ruling, or "mainstream" class could not possibly conceive of, true... But, women are not the only other in any conceivable reality, and sometimes, even if they are the other in one reality, they may be the elite, ruling, mainstream in another (in Elgin's case, see: female linguists v. female non-linguists - who dictates what language is/means/can be in that scenario? A-hem, linguists. So, already female non-linguists are the double-other, yes?)
2. The notion of putting "Experience Before Language" and writing "outside of the patriarchy" is a nifty one (Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva, Showalter)...But, does it call for an entirely new language, or simply a new way of USING language? See, the manipulation of a language already existing is, in my opinion, the more subversive and empowering act...
3. The terms that Elgin includes in her Laadan Dictionary seem to be: I. several ways of experiencing empathy II. descriptions of situations that make one feel overworked and unappreciated III. different ways that a body is touched, wants to be touched, doesn't want to be touched
I find these to be somewhat generalized as "female" concepts. They border a tad on the side of the insulting. This is because these are HUMAN concepts, and can occur with MEN as much as they can with WOMEN. They have simply been ASSOCIATED with WOMEN, as a "norm," and not ALLOWED to be ASSOCIATED with men - because of the SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF GENDER.
Right? Guys? You experience empathy, right? You feel unappreciated? You sometimes want to be touched, or are uncomfortable when someone is trying to touch you, right? But, you're not allowed to talk about it, because doing so would be UNMANLY, right? Michael Kimmel? Are you there? Can you hear me? Let's all talk about this. In English. Our language. Together.
Overall, I would recommend this book for its interesting obsession with language and reality. For its "Oh no, they didn't!" factor. But, Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale) did it better: she gave us better reasons for these fucked behaviors, gave us a couple of good men to save our faith in the HUMAN race, made me love Offred (sorry, Nazareth, not gonna happen), and made me cry. She wins. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)