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Book Review: She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations June 1, 2021

Posted by Onely in book review, Guest Posts, Onelers of the World, Reviews.
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Welcome to the latest installment in our series, Onelers Of The World. Today I’m reviewing an important memoir by Australian author Donna Ward:  She I Dare Not Name: A spinster’s meditations on life. (Allen & Unwin 2021.) Previously I interviewed Donna for our series Onelers of the World. Part one of the interview is here. Now we have a treat for our U.S. American readers: She I Dare Not Name is being released in the U.S. TODAY (01 June 2021). You can get it at her publisher or at your favorite Indie bookseller or via the Evil Empire (no judgment–I personally have financed at least one of Jeff Bezo’s yachts)

Ward makes innumerable stinging and touching observations about a world where women like her and me are “less than”.*  I went a little crazy with the Kindle highlighter while reading this book. Ok, a lot crazy. My screen looks like Jackson Pollock was trying to understand the tribulations of unmarried childless women. 

Not that I’m totally on the same page (pun intended) as Ward. She started her journey through singledom reluctantly, expecting and hoping to become a partner and a mother, until it became clear that fate had other plans for her. I, on the other hand, never cared much one way or another if I were a partner or a parent. Her story is about coming to terms with her fate and learning not only to accept it, but to relish many aspects of her solitude. She pulls no punches in describing her roller-coaster journey from subtle pariah at the mommy-brunch (and recipient of the “frying-pan-for-one” present because it doesn’t look like she’ll “ever meet anyone”) to satisfied single whose solitude “endows an intimacy of one and a romance with the world”. Even for those of us like me who have always leaned towards single-at-heart, the process of recognizing and loving our solo selves can be a roller coaster, as we duck and dodge the prejudice society throws at us. Five stars say you’ll want to go along with Ward for her ride. 

Contrary to what most believe, solitude is a direct path into a relentless intimacy with oneself. I have learnt to be kind. (She I Dare Not Name, 17) 

Ward applies her poetic voice and powerful imagery to institutionalized singlism, meaning laws and commercial practices that blatantly and legally privilege married people. In other hands, this topic could come off dry: estate taxes, next of kin, social security. . . But don’t be foxed!**  In She I Dare Not Name, LINK the topic is tinder waiting to conflagrate. 

Here’s one part where Ward describes institutionalized singlism

Spinsterhood, bachelorhood. Such a first world problem. What easy victims we childless never-marrieds are. No need for ghettos, concentration camps, or gulags. We are disappeared in plain sight. Invisibles, working at our desks, walking the streets, sitting in cafes, taking in entertainments, paying taxes without family concessions and deductions or tax-minimisation entities. (145)

Here’s Ward talking about how childed people (mostly couples) are privileged over non-childed people (mostly singles):

Australian men and women are promoted, elected, included socially, given tax breaks and discounts, if they have a family. Even if that family lives in several houses between which children migrate. Even if that family is a single-parent household through choice, divorce or widowhood. As long as he or she has children, an Australian is a legitimate member of society. (140)

Here she is weaving the two threads: 

I long for a rich, intelligent, elucidating conversation about my life that doesn’t compete with the agonies of partnering and parenting. I yearn for the inalienable right of economic equality and respect that comes with citizenship. (208)

I could continue populating this review with quotes from She I Dare Not Name. But you should check it out yourself. Here are some of the things you can read about:

–Ward’s fascinating insights into the differences between the American view of marital status and the settler Australian view. (more…)

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