‘We’ve reached our tipping point and we’re not afraid to say it. We’re not afraid to be dismissed, or belittled, or laughed at anymore, because there are too many of us. There’s no silencing someone who has tens of thousands of others standing right behind them. We can’t be silenced when we’re all saying the same thing.’
I wanted to start with that quote because this is the saddest book I’ve ever read, the saddest I’m ever likely to. Yet it’s uplifting too, funny in places and genuinely heart-warming and this, I think is one of its strengths. I confess that I struggle to find sensible words to describe the experience. Let me start with this. This is not based on a true story. This is not a glossed, glamoured, airbrushed, Hollywood-dipped impersonation of a true story. This is a conglomeration of many, many true experiences. These are the lives, day to day – day to day – of women. People you know. Your daughter your sister your mother your grandmother your wife your girlfriend your friend.
It’s taken me a while to get through it. This is not a quality issue. The book is very well presented and the writing (technically speaking) is easy to read. It’s what it actually says that’s not so easy. It’s the fact that it’s so unremitting. My teeth still ache a little. The extent of what women go through, daily, is astounding. As if that weren’t enough, it’s how that treatment is perceived that is truly unforgiveable. And just how early it begins. Do you have children in Primary school? Then there’s a fair chance they’ve heard rape jokes. Jokes about rape. Along with #everydaysexism and #shoutingback perhaps we should also have #rapeisnotfunny. Ask your kids what jokes they hear at school. Teach them that it’s okay to say ‘that’s not funny’.
This is not a book solely for women. There is nothing restrictive here. More men should read this book. For every man that does there’s a good chance that’s going to be one less exacerbating this situation. Men should tell their friends to read this book. Men should tell their friends to look at the timeline for @everydaysexism. If they feel the need to dismiss it tell them it could be their relation, their friend sending that tweet in. Make it personal. Tell your women friends too. All of them – mums, wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters. It’s highly probably they will identify with this book’s message. And in so doing you may well offer them one of the most important gifts you can – awareness. Awareness that they are not the problem, that it’s not their fault, that they are right to challenge it and that there are ways to do so safely.
Laura Bates, thank you. Thank you for persevering despite all you’ve seen and heard. Thank you for offering us all a way to see what’s in front of us. Thank you for opening our eyes.
This is a book you could quite easily rip through without even noticing. That’s not a detrimental statement. It’s one of those interesting stories where nothing much of anything particularly happens – which of course means that none of the big things you’d expect to drive the story happen. In fact all the action is peripheral to the protagonist, Alan.
It almost sounds like a recipe for disaster when seen like that but it’s not. It’s clearly intentional. Whilst heading a team attempting to sell an IT system that allows holographic interfacing to the King of Saudi Arabia, Alan’s life is as close to a hologram as a living person could be. He interacts with the people around him but, even as part of the team he’s with, as Facilitator for that team, his role is a little less than necessary. All Alan’s action is in the past. Alan used to be somebody. And here’s the lesson of the piece: Corporate America sold itself off cheap. When they were the major player in the world everyone came to them chasing the money. But the world’s a different place now. Globalised, outsourced, virtual. Does it even exist as a tangible thing anymore? Every day we’re interacting with people who aren’t really there. The rest of the world is cheaper and it’s America doing the chasing.
The prose is really quite sparse which lends itself to Alan’s situation perfectly, and the symbolism feels astute and – importantly – not overdone.
The rub of it, for me is that there were a couple of points where I felt lifted out of the story. Both of these instances were Alan’s interaction with women. It wasn’t Alan’s responses to them that stalled me but their responses to him. I found myself thinking, hmmm, really? At those points it felt more to me like Eggers needed those responses more than the story did.
Don’t let that be enough to put you off though. It’s worth the time.
Childhood is a branch line: stations of obliviousness connected by stretches of ever-curving track ahead that disappears into dark tunnels of ignorance. Scary tunnels, until you’ve been through them a few times. There can’t be a single person alive who doesn’t have a memory of a moment when they defiantly claimed they knew or understood something they didn’t. Nobody likes to be found wanting, even a child. The awkwardness is all there. The not-belonging and the desperately wanting to, and of course the not realising that you already do belong, in a wider sense.
It’s really quite a brilliant book. It’s not about plot twists, although with a title like Spies you’d be disappointed if there weren’t at least one or two. In fact the plot proceeds in a very pleasing way, the reader more-or-less aware of what’s likely to be happening and awaiting the proof positive. But that’s exactly the point. We apply our adult eyes along with the protagonist, looking back from a position of worldliness and assessing his obliviousness – his knowing and yet not knowing – and connecting with our own.
The relationship between the young Stephen and Keith, as seen through Stephen’s eyes is pitch-perfect. The finding of place in a social structure, the looming presence of adults outside direct family, even the humour in those childish slips, misunderstandings and fudged connotations inject pathos without sentimentality. If you haven’t read Spies yet you really should make the time. You won’t regret it.