Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Tuesday's Reviews - Losing It by Emma Rathbone

So last night I finally finished the book that has been plaguing me since mid-December. I say finished but, if I'm honest, I got so bored that I skim read the major points of the final chapters. I always feel guilty reading to the end without getting all the way through but I knew early on that I was never going to finish this any other way. And, as I've mentioned on my Instagram, this is the year that I don't waste time pushing my way through books I don't enjoy. As the finish was unexpected and I'm really in the mood to talk about this book, it does mean that my intended review of The Nice Guys will be put off until next week. I'm sure you'll survive. Plus, this promises to be a traditional Motherbooker rant so that'll more than make up for it. Seriously, this book has cause me so much offence since I started reading it. I need to get a life. I don't know whether it's just old age that is making me so sensitive or if I've always been this annoying but it's something I have to get out somewhere.

Losing It was part of my Most Anticipated Fiction of 2016 list because everything I heard about it was positive. I read reviews that claimed it was a fresh take on an all too familiar subject and that it was a triumph for women everywhere. I mean, I have no fucking clue which book they read but it can't have been this one. Emma Rathbone presents the story of a 26 year old woman who is feeling a shitload of anxiety because she has failed to lose her virginity yet. Obviously, because in our society this idea is so absurd, this leads to much hilarity before she finally manages to achieve her goal. Of course, there is an additional attempt to add emotion and heart by getting the 26 year old virgin to live with her aunt who, by huge coincidence, is also a virgin. I had so much hope for this novel when I first heard about it. There was plenty of potential for it to open a dialogue about virginity but, instead, it just perpetuates every stereotype out there, Instead of representing a young woman happily living a life without sex it shows a woman who finds her inability to get any as a massive failure. Literally everything she thinks about comes back to sex. She leaves her job to find a man and she moves in with her aunt to find a man. She becomes obsessed with the first guy she meets at her new job and will literally fuck anyone who shows willing no matter where she is or how it comes about.

This book just offers the opinion that it's so necessary for us to lose our virginity in our early teens that you should go to any length to make sure it happens. Julia even says at one point that, despite having no interest in the man she is with and really not wanting to, she felt the need to continue because she wanted to get it over with. It's no wonder we live in a world full of sexual assault. Having trouble getting laid, well why bother waiting to find someone who's up for it when you can just take it for yourself? Now I'm not trying to accuse Rathbone of promoting rape but her novel does promote the idea that if you don't have sex then you're some sort of freak. And we already live in a society where sex is problematic. It's got to the point now where it is become such a basic human right that the internet is full of threats of sexual assault and a world where violent outbursts occur when someone rejects sexual advancements. Maybe I'm just oversensitive after I read Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town last year but there's a sense that the desperation to have sex as soon and as often as possible is getting out of hand. I would have preferred Emma Rathone to understand that adding her toxic novel to the already tumultuous landscape.

Of course, I realise that this is probably just me reading too much into this and, had the novel been better written, I wouldn't feel so strongly about it. However, Rathbone's writing style is just awful at times. There are moment when she strives for pithy one-liners but just ends up saying something absolutely ridiculous. My personal fave was "A cave was the most inside place you could be, the most private place." I mean what the fuck does that even mean? Inside is a finite thing. You can't be more or less inside than something. It's just Rathbone trying to be philosophical and failing miserably. There are parts of this novel that are just laugh out loud funny... and not for the reasons that Rathbone was hoping. 

The fact is, none of this novel feels real. It doesn't read like the struggle of a young, single woman in modern society trying to get to grips with things. Instead, it feels like the fictional idea that someone at least 5 years old and who has been happily married for years has of young people today. Take the internet dating that Julia, the books heroine, indulges in. The dates are all completely farcical and the kind of nonsense that would be dreamed up by a committee of sitcom writers rather than something a young woman would allow herself to be subjected to. Losing It is pretty much the literary world's version of those awkward and cringey comedy shows that think they're funny and relevant but are only watched ironically by hipsters. The reviews praised Rathbone for her shrewed and detailed insights into the modern world but it is merely the insights into the modern world as seen by bitter middle-aged people.

Losing It also fails to have any real purpose. The story doesn't really go anyway and basically just comes down to Julia talking about sex, making snap judgements about everyone she meets, snooping around behind her aunt's back, and generally just being the worst person in history. Now, I'm all for an unlikeable narrator but there has to be a purpose for it. Julia is just selfish and narcissistic because Rathbone doesn't know how to create convincing characters. Just like she doesn't understand narrative structure... because there isn't really one. This isn't a cohesive plot expertly weaving it's way through the pages. This is a selection of events that happen are only connected because they happen to one person. And we have all the great sitcom tropes here: internet dating, sex at a funeral, car accident leading to a broken promise, the hilarious but totally unrealistic "oops in my haste I've sent this email to everyone I work with" bit, and the amazing "my parents are sexually liberated and I'm all skeezy about it" thing. It's laughably bad.

And to top it off, Rathbone clearly knew she was in danger of not having a point to make so hastily attached one right at the very end. Yes, amidst everything, we have an awful final paragraph where Julia decides it's time to stop worrying so much and just relax. Which is a fine point to make, if it in anyway related to what we'd just read. Julia never came to the realisation to stop worrying about her virginity, which is the thing she spent the entire book worrying about. She just finally lost it. That's not the same thing. Anyone can look back after getting through something traumatic and say "it wasn't that bad I guess". It doesn't make them a better person; they've just moved on. There's no message here. This isn't some woman overcoming her anxiety and accepting who she is and accepting the path she has ended up on. This is a woman who can stop feeling anxious when she has got rid of the thing giving her anxiety. If someone in a similar position were to read this book, they wouldn't close the pages and think "maybe this isn't such a big deal after all". No, they'd think, "fingers crossed someone I know dies soon so I can fuck a random stranger at the funeral and finally lose my virginity."

As a 28 year old woman, I am offended that this is the way in which women of my age are being represented. This novel is irrelevant, badly written, and lacking purpose and substance. I have to assume the people who gave it glowing reviews never actually got past the first page. I've never been happier to finally put away a book than I was with Losing It. Normally, this novel would sit on my bookshelf going dusty or be donated to charity. I don't like the sound of either of those options. Instead, I'm going to burn it or something. Cathartic.

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