Book reviews: Emma Donoghue writes Anne Lister

Inanna by Emily H. Wilson. 2/5
I understand what Wilson is trying to do here, to tell the story of Inanna and the gods and demi-gods of Mesopotamia, like Gilgamesh. But the characters mostly don’t have a lot of personality, andthe ones who do aren’t written to be very deep. Their dramatic reversals of emotion and loyalty and action are a clunky, and the book drags and drags. How can you make Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s relationship boring? Well, write it like it is in this book. For the truly determined reader, there are a few payoffs: Ninshubar grows from a character who is just a collection of proud statements into someone with personality. But overall, the moments of enjoyment were few and far between for me.

Cities of Women by Kathleen B. Jones. 1/5
Remember my #1 complaint about people in books dealing with delicate/old manuscripts: WE DON’T WEAR COTTON GLOVES. Moreover, and despite the author being an academic, the whole “abandon one research specialization for another when you’re up for tenure and then get more funding for the new project” is also NOT a thing. C’mon. Also not good in this book: the multiple but voices that all read the same; the forced, no-chemistry-at-all romance between the protagonist and a really unpleasant and controlling person–didn’t the protag leave Regina for the same exact traits?; and a lot of wishful thinking about how art history works in the academy. It was also, I’m sorry to report, boring. How you could make Christine de Pizan boring is beyond me, but in omitting a lot of context about her and her world, Jones instead gives us an overwrought housewife. Does she not think readers are smart enough to get the philosophy of the City of Women and other books? Finally, the millions and millions of adjectives used in describing every detail regardless of whether it’s important and the horribly stilted language in both eras is just cringeworthy. Ugh.

Learned by Heart by Emma Donoghue. 5/5
If you know anything about Anne Lister or enjoyed Gentleman Jack, this is the book for you. It’s also the book for you if you like beautiful writing, queerness, the 19th century, boarding school drama, sad endings, beauty, joy, rebelling against the patriarchy, and adventure. Focusing on Eliza Raine’s relationship with Lister at school, the treatment of women and women’s health and bodies in the 19th century, women’s autonomy, race, and class, Donoghue’s newest novel is gorgeous, tragic, and a treat to read.

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