You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

Browser review: Also, Respectability and Reform: Irish American Women’s Activism, 1880-1920

Curtis Sittenfeld. Photograph: Dilip Vishwanat/The New York Times

Curtis Sittenfeld. Photograph: Dilip Vishwanat/The New York Times

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You Think It, I’ll Say It
By Curtis Sittenfeld
Doubleday; 2f6pp; £16.99

With the title You Think It, I’ll Say It, Curtis Sittenfeld is simply describing human nature. Through characters voicing sentiments we have all thought at one time or another – some of which are not very nice and a lot of which are spot on – Sittenfeld creates 11 short and sharp vignettes, consistently jolting us from any sort of comfort zone in her quest to uproot assumptions. Harbored high-school jealousies, petty grievances and marriage problems are all par for the course while also bringing into question societal power dynamics, feminism and the state of American politics today.

Led into the collection by The Nominee, a highly-qualified US presidential candidate describes her decades-long relationship with a female journalist, highlighting society’s gendered double standard. In A Regular Couple, Sittenfeld narrates a bride’s encounter with a high-school foe on her honeymoon while also navigating modern marriage qualms. In all, Sittenfeld demonstrates a gift for weaving the banal into the culturally significant, making this collection a touchstone for the present day. Aisling O’Leary

After the Winter, by Guadalupe Nettel
Translated by Rosalind Harvey
MacLehose Press; £14.99

Winner of Spain’s prestigious Premio Herralde, After the Winter is a melancholy account of how two disturbed people crave intimacy yet are incapable of it, and the many ways in which we are haunted.

Too detached to be called a love story, the novel dissects the relationship between Cecilia, abandoned as a child by her mother and fascinated by graveyards, and Claudio, a fastidious man who fashions an idyll out of isolation. Each has a lover who embodies their neuroses and disorders: Claudio with submissive, craven Ruth, and Cecilia with dependent, moribund Tom. Reminiscent of Sartre, its themes are pungent: the dead are with us always, les jeux sont faits. The prose is fragrant from the original Spanish, testament to a sensitive translation.

While the psychological paradigms are impressive – the characters’ inability to communicate is mirrored in an intentionally aloof, cool narrative style – ironically this means there is no quickening in the novel; there are the facts of love, the chemistry of sex, the mysticism of death, but you can’t help feeling it’s missing its heart. Ruth McKee

Respectability and Reform: Irish American Women’s Activism, 1880-1920
by Tara M McCarthy
Syracuse University Press; 321 pages; £34.95

This interesting book will go some way to fill a void in historical studies as, while much ink has been spilled on the work of John Devoy, O’Donovan Rossa and other men in the Irish national movement in America, relatively little has been written about the role women played there, in not only the national movement, but also in the suffragette and progressive movements.

The author, a professor of history in Michigan, also traces Irish and Irish American women active in the trade union movement, the Ladies Land League led by Fanny and Delia Parnell and in Catholic organisations. She apparently breaks new ground by examining some of the fault lines in New York between the Cumann na mBan led there by Dr Gertrude Kelly and Cumann na mBan Inc, led by Sarah MacKelvey and Alice Comiskey. Also considered are the contemporary cartoons depicting the simianised Irish “Bridget”, the uncooth, illiterate and barely intelligible Irish maid in New York homes, only too ready to steal from and even threaten the middle-class, respectable lady of the house. Frank MacGabhann

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