Monday, 6 July 2015

Bitterfittan / Bitter Bitch av Maria Sveland (3/5)

First published: 2007
Page count: 221
The back says:
On a miserable January morning Sarah is sitting on a plane to Tenerife - dickheads' destination of choice - for a week-long getaway. She's just realised that she's very angry and becoming a bitter bitch, despite being just thirty years old. With her on the plane she has a copy of Erica Jong's Fear of Flying and wishes it were 1975 instead of 2005. Sarah never intended for things to turn out the way they have: she just dreamed of love like everyone else. But now she's sitting here, thinking about all the injustices she's suffered. Thinking about how thoroughly fooled she was by the promise of love - the one that makes us want to start a family. Thinking about all the women she knows who, like her, were drained of all their energy by family hell - an inheritance passed down directly from generation to generation, from her restless mother's eczema-covered dishpan hands to her own nervous over-achiever complex. Angry and candid, Bitter Bitch is an uncompromising novel, at the heart of which is one of the most important women's issues: how can we ever have an egalitarian society when we can't even live in equality with those we love?

This is, according to Sveland, not an autobiography but rather a work inspired by her own experiences. The book criticizes the institutionalized nuclear family from a feminist perspective, pointing out issues such as women's unpaid domestic labor, sexual violence, and the disproportional male/female use of parental leave.

I say: I read this in Swedish, but since it has been translated I may as well write the review in English.

As Wiki states: “Bitterfittan is a Swedish compound noun, and could be translated either as The Bittercunt or The Bitter Cunt, or, less literally, The Bitterbitch or The Bitter Bitch.”

I wanted to like this far more than I did, and I think it’s because I remember the hype around it when it was first published. A few friends and I could identify with what was being said about the book, and what Sveland was saying, so much that we refer to our far too seldom get-togethers as bittercunting - as in,

it’s time for some bittercunting.

What I loved about the book was Sveland’s flashbacks to her childhood and the way she understood and connected the relationship she had with her parents to the relationships she had with other people. I often find it interesting to see which episodes of a person’s childhood they mark as significant and how they affect them as adults. Sveland is very candid about her feelings towards her parents and her husband, and what struck me was that she was reluctant to call it a betrayal when she was forced to stay in the hospital due to illness after giving birth and her husband decided to go home at night with their new-born son. She explains it in more detail, but it was interesting that she didn’t feel entitled to own her own emotions;

to title them as she saw fit.

What I did not really care for was the constant referral to Erica Jong's Fear of Flying. I haven’t read it and probably won’t unless I have to, but even though the referrals flowed within the text, I wasn’t interested in the way Sveland compared her life/experiences/expectations to those of Jong. This is a huge part of the book, which is why it didn’t really appeal to me.

Another part that didn’t really appeal to me was the feminist perspective that Sveland writes from. I am not going to go into a discussion about it, but I read and agreed with some of what was being said, and disagreed with other. There’s a lot of contradictions in here and I appreciate that she was aware and highlighted most of them. The book is written in such an everyday language that made for a quick read, but because it is occasionally stream of thought it was also somewhat scattered jumping from anecdotes to quotes from Jong to social commentary.

All in all 3/5 because it was a somewhat worthwhile read.

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