Marilyn French describes a love affair between an man and a woman, both with kids, both in England for one year, both in their forties. He was brought up in a traditional men's role, and has a 'traditional' marriage, she is an old-style feminist who blames men for all the trouble in the world. But in the course of their love affair, they have to admit that both their views have a lot of truth in them. What I like most about this book is that, although it is clearly written by a feminist, the old-fashioned feminist truths are questioned. It is a story about the world not being black-and-white, and about how people are brought up with a certain picture of the world that is hard to changed, and can you blame them? Furthermore, with Marilyn French you recognise your own behaviour and thoughts, you connect to the main characters. Hopefully, the book is a bit outdated - the two main characters' initial ideas on men's and women's roles in society are 60's feminists (her) and very traditional (him), and that does not always connect very well with todays' mentality.
I have to say that I did not get on very well with this book. I struggled to get through it. I enjoyed the location, Oxford, England, but found the rest of the book held little for me.
It was an unusual romance. In principle the idea was interesting, but I found the narrative tedious. There were extremely large sections that just seemed to be undirected rambling and whining about the past by the main characters, Dolores and Victor.
There was a lot of back story, presumably designed to indicate to the reader the main characters motivation for acting as they did. Instead it came across, to me at least, as rather monotonous and extremely negative. There appeared to be a real ire for men, in general, and an automatic assumption that all men are the same. This became wearing after a while.
This was not a book I particularly enjoyed, and although I felt that technically it was well executed, the narrative of the story and the past lives of the main characters quickly began to irritate me, and sadly, that didn’t change throughout the course of the book.
I was hoping for a big conclusion and some life changing events towards the end of the book, which were never realised. A big epiphany, if you will, but it was not to be.
I am sure that there are many readers out there that will enjoy a romance of this nature, but whilst I can appreciate the author’s skill, I am not one of them.
This review was based upon a complimentary copy of the book.
Marilyn French's novels are a sad indication of why the women's movement didn't achieve nearly as much as it could have done - by viewing men as 'the enemy' French implied that any kind of progress in the man/woman relationship other than men admitting that 'women were best' was impossible. This view understandably put a large number of men - and some women - off feminism, which in fact need not be anything like the militant type that French expressed.
I had hopes that 'The Bleeding Heart' might offer some kind of intelligent commentary on the man/woman relationship, as it is allegedly about a passionate heterosexual love affair. University professor Dolores comes to the UK for a year's sabbatical in Oxford and falls passionately in love for US businessman Victor, also in Oxford for a year. In between passionate bouts of rather badly described sex, they visit various English and European towns (skimpily described by French - a pity as some of the descriptions are rather good) and argue about the relationship between men and women, and if it's ever possible to be a success. Finally, after much creaking dialogue, it becomes obvious that both lovers have guilty secrets - Victor feels responsible for something terrible that has happened to his wife, and Dolores feels terrible guilt about the fates of her ex-husband (predictably an infantile bully) and her elder daughter, Elspeth. They share their guilt - Dolores is of course less to blame that Victor - but don't come to any sort of resolution, or really make any clear decisions about their future - the book just drifts off into a rather unresolved ending.
I count myself as a feminist - I believe one should aim for absolute equality between the sexes wherever possible - but I found French's comments about women and how they regard their status patronizing and inaccurate (even bearing in mind the fact that this book was written several decades ago). It is not the case that all women resent having to do the 'marketing' (shopping) or cooking dinners - some of us actually like it, and like keeping a clean and pleasant house! Men are not all automatic philanderers, any more than women are always constant, and caring. The whole book relied on stereotypes of 'male' and 'female' that were horribly simplistic. I hated the way French refused to portray even one happy heterosexual relationship (Dolores's friend, who claimed she was happy, was predictably living with an idle bully) or offer any hope for progress other than women 'ghettoing' themselves off. Not only this - the book was terribly boring! Victor was a stereotype of the tough businessman rendered speechless by a feisty woman, Dolores was a windy bore, her husband Anthony a spoilt little toddler - and none of the other characters were very well realized. Nothing much happened other than the two main characters monologuing at each other, or a few lugubrious flashbacks. I found what happened to Dolores's daughter Elspeth, who seemed to progress from good teenage student to wild drug addict in the blink of an eye, unlikely (and why didn't her mother get her some help?) and found the whole description of Victor's marriage unbelievable - plus he and his wife seemed both so unpleasant that I couldn't care what happened to them. And though at times French's descriptions of mother-love, of various places in the UK and Europe and of the power of friendship can be lovely, some of the writing was so bad that I was surprised to read that French was a Professor of Literature - things like 'Dolores balled her fists and howled with rage at the world' (or words to that effect).
All in all this book offers a feminism that is as narrow as chauvinism, and very little else (at least French's enormous 'Her Mother's Daughter' offered some interesting glimpses into social history and immigrant communities, even if it did need a good edit). I will read 'The Women's Room' at some point, but from this book I sense that French's style and beliefs are not on the whole for me.
An emotional book that leaves you thinking when it's finished. I read it all in two days and while The Women's Room is her best known book, this is quite amazing. I felt it quite tiring, being a feminist but I get it. The stories of both marriages are a revelation and it's a book I won't forget in a hurry.