Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Alison Fell vs Marilyn French


For the few weeks, on and off, that I read Alison Fell’s 1984 book Every Move You Make (Virago Modern Classics, but out of print), I kept being reminded of Marilyn French’s 1977 classic The Women’s Room (also Virago Modern Classics, albeit still in print). Marilyn’s book is infinitely better known, more readable and has coined phrases that have now entered our everyday language, even if we may wish they hadn’t (such as when the character Val claims that “all men are rapists”, after her daughter is raped).

To me, aside from being a really good novel, what The Women’s Room offers is a socio-historical snapshot into what life must be like for a bored, suburban housewife in 1970s America who discovers feminism and women’s liberation by chance. From that perspective alone, it is an important, historical text. And my reading of Every Move You Make sees Scottish author Alison Fell tackle a similar task but across the pond, here in the UK.

Set in London, Every Move You Make follows single mum June, who lives in a communal feminist house in north London (modeled on – and written in – Lynne Segal’s famous house in Islington, and Lynne makes reference to this in her autobiography Making Trouble), and works for a feminist press (Alison worked on Spare Rib). With her consciousness already raised before the novel starts, Every Move You Make follows June in the early 1980s as she struggles to marry up being a young single mother with her failed marriage, her two separate lovers, her failing mental health, the fight for feminism, and all in front of a background of Rock Against Racism concerts.

It’s not always the most engaging read (although this was Alison’s debut novel, so let’s cut her some slack), and goes through peaks and troughs of being enjoyable – but in a way this echoes June’s own struggles with her happiness, her depression, and her worries that she is not fit to be a mother in a society that is struggling to get to grips with what it now thinks it expects of a woman, wife and mother. One that we are still, to a lesser extent, seeing the effects of now. However, Every Move You Make is a deeply satisfying read, and fascinating as a snapshot into a period of history that has been a little neglected – especially in terms of England. It seems easy enough to find 1970s feminist memoirs of American women, but less so for our English sisters.

For this reason, I call on you to scout around charity bookshops (my copy came from the Oxfam Bookshop on Park Street, Bristol), or snap up one of the plentiful copies on Amazon Marketplace (yours for a penny), and rejuvenate this forgotten treasure for yourselves.

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