Monday 7 November 2011

Devouring Books: Stir-Fry by Emma Donoghue

This is another one of those 'I read it in the dead of night for the readathon' books, and this is also the point where I'm going 'I should have just done a post reviewing all the books I read for the readathon together', but I obviously couldn't do that because I have to review Stephen King books separately, and The Hunger Games deserves its own post where I'm going to talk about the trilogy seemingly endlessly, plus I read two books for the GLBT Challenge, and they really need separate posts too. So my brain remains relatively logical, albeit a little bit unhinged.

Anyway, Stir-Fry is relatively simple to sum up- naive Irish country girl goes to the Big City (in this case Dublin, which I'm not sure is that big. But anyway) unwittingly moves in with two lesbians, and then starts to explore her own sexuality, as well as learning a lot of new things about people, having previously only been exposed to her family, and I guess, some sheep and potatoes. I realise I'm sort of taking the piss out of this book, and I am a little bit, but I also found it really fun, lighthearted, and a really great coming-of-age story. It was also nice to see a less 'woman held captive in a room' side to Donoghue because, although I did love Room (in a wholly depressing way) I couldn't have coped with another book like it, probably ever.

Anyway, Stir Fry. I think what I probably liked best about it was the memories it evoked for me from university. Not the whole 'OMG, Uni was the best time of my life so I'm never going to move past it' way, because UGH, but more of a measured 'this is what it's actually like, and it's a nice experience, but you don't have to be a twat and get continually drunk to have a good time.' There's actually one part that I remember sort of inwardly cheering at, which was where the main character Maria (rhymes with pariah) and her brand new friend go to some awful sounding club night thing and her friend's all 'let's talk to people!' and Maria's like 'How are we meant to talk to people when we can't even hear ourselves think?' and I'm just like, 'Say it sister!' Basically, I am Maria- she also says something about how she always just hears about the things other people do and is just on the sidelines of their lives, and I kind of feel like that sometimes too- that nothing ever really happens to me, so I'm listening to other people's stories and not having my own, which I guess is one of the maladies of reading too much...

What I also really liked about Stir Fry was the fact that Maria's sexuality is not at all fixed, and nor is it just used as a plot device. Instead, what you get is something that I feel is quite realistic, in that, she doesn't really know what her sexual orientation is, and she goes from fancying this boy, but then finding him lacking, whilst also being mildly freaked out to find out her flatmates are lovers; to being open to the suggestion of a relationship with a woman. Nothing ever feels forced, and this all just feels like a natural progression of Maria's character- that she's blossoming and learning who she might be, while also not being forced into any stereotypes, or anything that doesn't seem completely right for her character.

While the book is mostly focused on Maria and her evolving friendships with her flatmates, there is also a glimpse into other people's opinions on homosexuality. And, they're not the best, shall we say. While there's not really any outright hostility, the flatmates have to keep their sexuality hidden from their less than forward-thinking mothers, and even Maria's friend is sort of mocking/hostile to the entire concept of lesbianism (is that even a word?!)- she treats it as a kind of joke, and sort of warns Maria 'ooh, you know what people will be saying about you!' It's juvenile and disappointing, but I'm not sure that it's inaccurate, which is even more disappointing. But it's a minor part of a book that is much more interesting than the prejudices of a few.

Basically, well played Emma Donoghue! I'm definitely glad that Room wasn't  a one-off of goodness from her, and I'm quite excited to read Hood now (which is the last book of Donoghue's that I own, I'm still open to more of her stuff). I'm also definitely thinking I'm going to re-read Stir Fry when it's not 1.30am and I haven't been reading for like 13 hours already, because I'm sure there's more I could mine from it then! But until then, let's just say I liked it.


  1. Oh, Emma Donoghue. You are not quite as awesome as Sarah Waters, but you are still Very Good.

    Yeah, I'm totally going to read this now. I've done Landing, Slammerkin, and Kissing the Witch (liked them the most in reverse order from what I listed). She basically seems to write about whatever she feels like writing about, which I admire. Woooooo Emma.

  2. I heart Emma. Although I've only previously read Room, but that was clearly awesome too (READ IT!)

    I've literally just started Tipping the Velvet, and so far there's been a lot of talk of oysters, which is clearly a euphemism, yes? But anyway, it's my first Sarah Waters, and I am excited :)

  3. So I wrote a whole comment and then blogger was like "what? you can't post that here" and deleted it but I swear there was nothing offensive in there (not that blogger normally cares) so I'm going to assume it's just not a Donoghue fan. Anyway, here's the gist of what I wrote:
    So far I've only read Room and I want to check out Kissing the Witch and now I'll need to add this onto the list. That was lame. Actually I said something after this, but now I can't remember what. I'm sure it was brilliant though.

  4. Ok, reading Tipping the Velvet first means all of her other books will be at least SLIGHTLY disappointing, because TtV is like "OMG SO MUCH LADYACTION" and all her other books are like "I have a genuine plot and not that much in terms of sexytimes" and then I get sad. They're still all really good, but she wrote TtV to show all the different kinds of lesbian relationships available at that time period, so there's...there's just a lot. Damn I love that book.

  5. I have read three of Donoghue's books and enjoyed all of them, although this one is new to me. I definitely want to read it!