18 May 2023

We Can(ada) Read: WOMEN TALKING by Miriam Toews (Book + Movie Review)

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Author: Miriam Toews
Series: N/A
Source: Kobo
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: April 2, 2019

Overall Rating:
Diversity Rating:
Representation: N/A

One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.

While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women—all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in—have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?

Based on real events and told through the “minutes” of the women’s all-female symposium, Toews’s masterful novel uses wry, politically engaged humor to relate this tale of women claiming their own power to decide.
Amazon | Chapters
Content Warning: non consensual drugging, domestic abuse, and rape.

Book Review

My issues with this book are things that I think will make for an excellent movie. Honestly, I did pick this up mostly because I’m curious about the film adaptation coming out sometime this year and loving the cast. The premise intrigued me enough that I wanted to read it before seeing the film.

Firstly, the book isn’t very long. It’s just over 200 pages. Additionally, the entire story takes place over the course of about 2 days; though it’s a reaction to events that happened in the past. So the characters are grappling with things that they’ve experienced but that we don’t ‘see’ happen on the page. That’s interesting and I think Toews does a good job giving us enough information without bogging the story down in exposition.

There are a lot of characters, however, for such a short book. It was hard to keep track of who each character was and their relation to one another until about halfway through the story. And because, as the title suggests, this story is essentially just about a group of women talking to one another, the dialogue moves quickly from character to character and keeping up with their conversations—many of which are circular or lead nowhere—was difficult at times.

That being said, I found the topic fascinating, especially knowing it’s based on a true story. I think the conversations, though circular, circled around topics that I find particularly fascinating as well; those of forgiveness, the nature of sin, love, family, lots of big themes but given a very specific context within this story.

I’m excited to see how they adapt this because it could be an incredibly powerful and thrilling story that translates better when you can see each character, hear their voice and their opinions, rather than just reading words on a page.

Movie Review

Sarah Polley's film adaptation removes a couple of layers of this artifice: August is present, scribbling away on the periphery, but he is not the narrator, although August's crush on the dreamy optimist Ona is still there.

The "women talking" move front and center. Polley's adaptation doesn't quite deal with the ramifications of this point-of-view shift. August can't get into their interior lives, what it's like inside their hearts, so he just writes what they say and what they do, trying not to editorialize. Some of that imposed distance still remains in the adaptation.

One of the strongest elements of the film is the debate itself, much of which is lifted wholesale from the book. There's a thrill in watching a group of people hashing things out, arguing with a purpose. "12 Angry Men" has the same structure.

I enjoyed watching it and thought it was a good adaptation of the book. Even though I haven't been a fan of Sarah Polley's writing, her filmmaking is incredible.

Are you going to pick this up?

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