The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb | Book Review

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‘I need a wife’

It’s a common joke among women juggling work and family. But it’s not actually a joke. Having a spouse who takes care of things at home is a Godsend on the domestic front. It’s a potent economic asset on the work front. And it’s an advantage enjoyed – even in our modern society – by vastly more men than women.

Working women are in an advanced, sustained, and chronically under-reported state of wife drought, and there is no sign of rain.

But why is the work-and-family debate always about women? Why don’t men get the same flexibility that women do? In our fixation on the barriers that face women on the way into the workplace, do we forget about the barriers that – for men – still block the exits?

The Wife Drought is about women, men, family and work. Written in Annabel Crabb’s inimitable style, it’s full of candid and funny stories from the author’s work in and around politics and the media, historical nuggets about the role of ‘The Wife’ in Australia, and intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia.

Crabb’s call is for a ceasefire in the gender wars. Rather than a shout of rage, The Wife Drought is the thoughtful, engaging catalyst for a conversation that’s long overdue.

+++ Image and blurb from Penguin Books Australia +++

 

5 Bring-on-the-Rain Stars

I picked up this book with the assistance of the Adelaide Writers’ Week – to whom I am always grateful for boosting the diversity of my reading – but I had seen Annabel before on TV and when she interviewed Stephen Fry at the Dunstan Playhouse. Needless to say, the title alone sparked my interest, as many organisations and Government offices in Adelaide have restructured their management opportunities for women advancing up the professional ladder. Obviously, these changes have been accompanied by backlash, confusion and a whole lot of head scratching silence – as these ‘women only’ roles are considered to circumvent meritocracy and only give the workplace a healthy gender statistic. So naturally, with these changes taking place around me and the book questioning the assumed social roles of women and men, I had to read it.

Annabel Crabb manages to deliver a humorous and insightful perspective of the pressures faced by women and men in the professional spheres. Yes, this book delivers the hard truths that women who wish to pursue professions are often deterred, judged and criticised when wanting a family and a career – as the societal assumption that women are defined by their family and men by their job is still a giant spectre hovering over us. Therefore, women who wish to continue with their career need the support offered by a wife. Crabb by no means expects the partner to leave work to and perform the lion’s share of housework and childcare, but the work and childcare are shared and there is open communication between the couple to support each other in their career pursuits.

Another great point Crabb touches upon is the derision and confusion men face when they want to take parental leave or reduce their hours to spend more time with their families. To the extent that one man was asked not to involve himself in his young daughter’s Year 1 classroom activities, as is was a space for mothers and children. These social assumptions not only affect relationships and career growth but hinder the potential economic growth that can be achieved when women and men are happier in their work-family-life balance.

 

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Annabel Crabb – ABC political journo and presenter of the excellent TV show, Kitchen Cabinet.

Crabb offers facts, personal experiences, interviews and statistics with a flair and passion that makes the information understandable and motivational. She concludes her book perfectly, that this drought is not only affecting women’s careers but men’s family life and therefore rain is good for all parties. So I recommend this book to everyone who is curious how out-dated assumptions of the roles of women and men in the home and workplace still affect careers and family life. Whilst some knowledge of the Australian political figures would be handy, it is not necessary as Annabel guides you effortlessly through the maelstrom that is Australian political history.

 

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Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

‘Newt’s Emerald’ is a guilty pleasure wrapped up in the guise of a regency romantic adventure with sorcery and deception – but it had me at ‘Garth Nix’. I have been a long-time fan of Nix ever since I discovered the world of Sabriel, and I have read all of his books I could get my hands on.  I was not disappointed in this short and sweet tale of Truthful Newtington and her chase after the powerful Newtington Emerald.

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Great Cover illustration by Kali Ciesemier

The heroine, Truthful, is surrounded by her three cousins and cantankerous father when the family heirloom is stolen amid the damages of a magically conjured storm. The father falls into his sick bed, the cousins into absurd plans hatched whilst they were ‘in their cups’ and it is left up to Truthful to investigate the matter from her Great-Aunt’s house in London. A minor hitch in her desire to enter society, but her eccentric, fez-wearing, power glamouress of a Great-Aunt is ready to help her search for the famed Emerald, albeit in a way that will not compromise Truthful’s reputation. So she becomes her pious, shy and effeminate distant French cousin, Henri (the disguise held together with a magic mustache – which made with chuckle every time), and undertakes her search through London for the Emerald.

The primary object of the novella must be to entertain, because it is a fun, light read that has more of a focus on the magic adventure and leaves the romance to blossom in the background. The love interest was the irascible, direct, secretive Major Harnett (aka Charles), which at first met Truthful in her male disguise and aided her in the search for the gem. He was all chummy to her in a male disguise but was distant and abrasive with her ‘revealed’ true identity. He does act like a douche to her and she responds with anger and defiance, and such strong emotions were silently coupled with concern for each other (even though they would deny it). I was a little surprised how quickly they came together, and how his earlier behaviour was easily explained away – he needed to apologise at least.

It is a well-written novella that would be enjoyed by anyone with a penchant for regency era, adventure, magic, mystery, and romance – not to forget the pirate fighting.

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Cover concepts

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

I hosted a book club during 2013 and many of the books we chose were sensational, so I have decided to share my past reviews.

‘The Storyteller’ was my first Jodi Picoult experience… and I can say assuredly that I LOVED EVERY PAGE! I have had bad experience before with a big name author in the field of themed fiction, and I did have a small trace of dread when starting this book that the experience would be the same. I am not sure if it was the writing style, the use of characters or even the thick mystery that surrounded the plot, but this book captured my attention and made me wanting to keep turning the pages.

ImageThe story itself was broken into separate sections, the first being a relatively obscure story relating to a girl called Ania, her father the baker and a upiór (Polish vampire) . This was an interesting place to begin and it made more sense the further I read into the novel, especially linking it back to Minka’s experiences. Yet it was Sage’s narrative that introduced the reader to the novel, which I thought was an interesting choice of character to carry the story. I was conflicted whether I trusted her as a narrator, due to her shadowy past, being a self-confessed introvert, and her affair with Adam (the funeral director). She did help bring the story into the modern day and make it more accessible for the modern reader, but I was instantly questioning her morals as a narrator (which is a major question throughout the entire novel). However, in the same breath, it is Sage’s detachment from family and religion that make her the best narrator for the piece. As I have stated, Sage has a dubious past that involved the death of her mother, which she blames herself and gave her the facial scarring, and most of her existence is living in fear of family and guilt. She hides away by working night hours in a bakery (which is a passion of hers) and the only has limited social interaction, until she meets the kind old German man, Josef Weber. However, her new friend in Josef admits to her that he was a Nazi and he wishes Sage (a non-practicing Jew) to help him die.

Picoult definitely did not go for a tame topic of moral questioning, and the novel quickly is swept up into the fascination of the Nazi prosecution and moral question behind the relevancy of such “justice”. This is where Leo makes a tidy entrance (and did anyone else know immediately that he was going to be a possible love interest for Sage… I certainly thought so).  Leo, the US federal Nazi hunter, was an open, honest character; making his narration was easy to follow and often contained the humourous observations and interactions. Although I did not agree with his moral view point, which was strictly black and white, but that made him such an easy character to read as his opinion was brutally clear. Sage and Leo sections were also interlaced by Josef’s tales of youth and the Polish Vampire story, which kept the viewpoints changing and raising doubts in my mind of whether mercy is a possibility.

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Being a greatly interested in WWII, Josef story was fascinating yet confronting, which I am sure was the intention of Josef and Picoult (shock to create reaction). However it was Minka’s (Sage’s Polish Grandmother) epic recollection of her youth in Poland, then adolescence in the ghettos, and finally her experiences in Auschwitz, that really captured my attention. I think I connected with Minka a lot more than any other character, as strange as it sounds, but I think Picoult was trying to force us into that environment to challenge our impartial moral views and sympathy for the enemy, which Minka has in spades (also shown in her Polish Vampire tale). Regardless of length, Minka’s section was amazing and it linked the rest of the novel in so well, even posing more questions in the mind of the reader. I did think it rather coincidental that Minka would know the man, Josef claimed to be (but reading into Josef’s story and heart beyond Minka and Sage it was clear why he ended up where he did).

The novel raced to a conclusion after the revelation of Minka’s history, but the question of moral justice and sympathies towards an enemy was left open. As Sage took the situation out of Leo/ the Government’s hands and decided his fate, which also opened another can of worms on the euthanasia debate (which did relate to the Nazi mentality). I also guessed the reasonable terrible plot twist for Sage after the deed was done, early on in Minka’s narration and when I revisited Josef’s narration. Otherwise, it was an amazing read and so beautifully interwoven that I did not feel cheated in any part of the story; just utterly content and suffered ‘book hangover’ for a few days after.