Lipstick, gender and a WWII novel: A book review

The Last Correspondent by Soraya M. Lane

The Last Correspondent: Amazon.co.uk: Lane, Soraya M.: 9781542023573: Books


My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The premise of this book was powerful, and had the potential to be an interesting and relevant story highlighting the role that women played as war correspondents during the second world war. However, there were far too many irritants in the book for me to properly enjoy it.

First of all, there was not enough disparity between the voices of the three women from whose point of view the narrative is told. In fact, I would argue that they were all the same voice – just an ambitious woman at a different stage of finding her confidence or her life passion. Even some of he more idiosyncratic words tended to be repeated by more than one of the women – two of them being caught in the ‘crosshairs’ of whatever was going on in their world.

While that irked, what really grated was the constant use of the word ‘gender’. Now, as someone who tends to hold a gender critical view in my feminism, the repeated use of the word gender (and it occurs many, many times), spoilt the telling of the story. Every time either Dannii or Ella bleated about being discriminated against because of their gender, what they really meant was they were being discriminated against because they were a woman – because of their sex.

Now, it would be fair to say that it is only in recent times that the words gender and sex have become conflated, so that, from a historical perspective, perhaps the use of the word gender in place of sex is entirely appropriate. Indeed, I tried to do some reading around the etymology of the word gender, which only rose to prominence in 1970s academia, and has since become something it was never intended to be – a feeling based on regressive stereotypes that boys like blue and girls like pink. But which ever way I looked at it, and because the word appeared so many times across the narrative, it just didn’t sit right within the context of the book.

But even if I was to forgive this, the one sentence that really, really got me, was the way in which Dannii reflects that her lipstick helps her remember that she is a woman. If I wasn’t reading off my kindle, I would have thrown the book across the room. After having spent the entire book reminding us of gender discrimination, it takes lipstick for her to remember that she is a woman. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? Being a woman is baked into her experience throughout the entire book. She doesn’t need a fucking lipstick to remind her of her sex – every single one of her experiences reflects her sex-based reality. Talk about resorting to a regressive stereotype. Yep, in the middle of a warzone, when you are fleeing for your very life, by all means, take the time to put on some lipstick to help you remember you are a woman.

That was the final straw for me. So much promise in the book, and yet so flawed. The only thing salvaging it, for me, was the fact that the research of the author was evident, and it led me to doing some of my own research to find some of the women who did go out and become war correspondents. That is a fascinating history, well-worth spending some time on.



View all my reviews

Published by Deborah Siddoway

Dickens enthusiast, book lover, wine drinker, writer, lover of all things Victorian, and happily divorced mother of two lovely (and very tall) boys.

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