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The Life And Loves Of A She Devil (1995)

The Life and Loves of a She Devil (1995)
4.37 of 5 Votes: 2
0340589353 (ISBN13: 9780340589359)
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The Life And Loves Of A She Devil (1995)
The Life And Loves Of A She Devil (1995)

About book: 4 StarsThis is one of those books for me - like Robin McKinley's Beauty. It has a special place on my book shelves and I come back to it again and again. Yes, believe it or not this feminist manifesto, revenge fantasy, social satire sits on the same shelf as Robin McKinley. This is a significant book for me; and that is all the connection that these two books need for me to keep them side by side on my bookshelf.In a nutshell - and I will try not to bore too much with plot synopsis or all of the theories of feminist literary criticism that this book invokes - this is the story of Ruth's revenge on Mary Fischer, the woman who stole her husband. Ruth is a woman outside the bounds of what the world traditionally would call attractive - she is plain. The woman who stole her husband, the romance novelist Mary Fischer, is diminutive and precious - in affectation and appearance she is the very embodiment of the feminine ideals. Ruth, of course, is the exact opposite of this - she is tall and broad and strong - better suited to the everyday physical duties that come with the role of wife and mother than to the fainting couch. After Ruth is left by her husband, instead of succumbing to despair or doing the makeover/ find your self esteem/ "you go girl"/ win your husband back but decide that you don't want him dance, Ruth plots revenge. She financially, emotionally, and physically destroys Mary Fischer - and her husband too - sort of. Ruth turns her back on the almost sacramental belief system of romantic love that is surgically wrapped around the very strands of the female DNA in Western society to become an acolyte of revenge. Ruth sheds her sex - well not really she is still female - but she sheds all of the preconceived notions and beliefs that go along with the feminine in this society. Ruth gives up love to un-wife, un-mother, and essentially un-woman herself to become the she-devil - the making of the witch.But It's Really a Fairytale: And in reading other peoples' review of this book, I noticed that a lot of reviewers criticized Weldon's intractable, inflexible characterizations. The characters don't really experience anything that could really be called "growth" or "change" - no levitating out of the grooves of their ruts to grasp a glimpse of the objective. Ruth's transformation from mournful, mousy housewife to she-devil being the only exception of course. The characters all seem to be riding unyielding rails that drive them to their bizarre and sometimes horrifying ends. But I think Weldon did this by design. The characters are meant to be as rigid as the archetypes in a fairytale because Weldon is telling us a deeply disturbing and twisted little fairy tale here - an unfiltered by Disney- Brother's Grimn story. And this is supported by the tone and feel of the novel - especially the haunting repetition of the phrase - "Mary Fischer lives in a castle by the sea…" that opens almost every chapter.This book was written in the 80's. Does it still even hold up today - is it pertinent or is it dated? Well, it is a little bit dated - some of the social and feminist issues Weldon writes about and satirizes - well yes, there have been some gains. The issues have become more subtle and nuanced - women in the work force, careers vs. motherhood, the welfare state etc., etc. - the war limps on but it has changed and shifted battlefields. I still find this a significant work - still an engaging read - just for what it says about romantic love, women and their rage, and how living up to the impossible standards of the feminine ideal is dangerous for both of the sexes.Me and the She-Devil: I first read this book in my 20's and what I appreciated most was the unflinching characterization of Ruth. She is the archetypal plain woman/ beast of burden who despite not being the societal idea of sexual attractiveness has this undeniable power that pulls people to her. Ruth claims her sexuality with a frankness and self-awareness that gives her power and makes her a magnet for other people. After her transformation to she-devil, Ruth is never without a whole cadre of willing lovers and admirers. But things change in the second half of the novel, as the reader jumps ship from fairytale to Frankenstein. In the second half of the novel, Ruth endures surgery after surgery to physically change herself - to force her physique into the narrow margins of the feminine ideal. Ruth jumps ship from revolutionary to player; from "monstrosity" to goddess. But Ruth the monster was the character that I most identified with; the character who actually gave me the most hope (and hope is a very funny thing to find in this novel - because this is not a very hopeful story). In her planning and her schemes - even as she derides and sheds her old "plain" physical form, she knows herself and accepts herself. In my teenage years I spent far too much time mourning the distance between my physical self and the physical ideals set up for my sex. Every woman out there could write their own novel about this - the hate/shame game that American women play when it comes to their bodies. Coming across this book in my 20's - strangely - allowed me to step outside of that game and to gain some self acceptance and self knowledge. The body ages and fades - but the will and the imagination… that is the true spark of the physical. So I had/ have hope, that in accepting myself I would find someone, at some time who would accept me as well.Reading this again now - after taking on the mantle of wife and motherhood - the book means other things to me as well. Finding that anger - and boy have I had anger - slinking, hiding, deep dark below the surface anger. And boy does Ruth discover her anger and transmutes it into a power and will that could practically destroy the universe. And I see the possibilities of the un-love - of taking up your anger as your lover and your life - just like Ruth does - but it is as much of a trap as some of the silly notions of romantic love that Weldon is so busily skewering. For some reason, I have made this book my touchstone, my talisman. In my youth and even now, I use it to tap into my anger - to seduce it to the surface - to make myself a portal through which the anger can harmlessly escape - like steam - blasting its way out and through. Better to make myself a portal for this rage than to leave myself a vessel that anger will eventually corrode and corrupt.And I have no idea if any of this is even close to what Weldon intended for her readers - and I realize I'm getting a little new-agey/ self helpey/ hippie chick here - blame it on my being in my 20's during the 90's. (In the 90's, everywhere you looked women were running with wolves and bubble gum wadding magic and psychiatry so that we could become whole, complete people.) This novel is about a woman who in her loss finds strength, self-knowledge, and power, but she doesn't use these things for self-acceptance. This is a novel about a woman who accepts and understands her anger, but she uses this power to practically destroy herself (view spoiler)[(because at the end of the novel she has legally killed off her Ruth identity to become the physical re-animation of Mary Fischer) (hide spoiler)]

I really loved this up until, oh say maybe about page 200 or so. And then I hated the end. But overall I still liked it four stars enough.Down with the isolated, taken for granted role of the suburban housewife and mother! Down with being overlooked just for the accident of being born unattractive! Burn all the houses! Get revenge. Cold, cold vengeance.A bit of hell-hath-no-fury-like-a-woman-scorned with a dash of i-am-woman-hear-me-roar thrown in.I do love a good vengeance story, and this on features at the top. Most of the vengeance I consume is in film form, and most of it is perpetrated by men. Male vengeance is all about the hunting with a weapon for the kill. The type of vengeance we're served in this book is incredibly elaborate, time-consuming, and miserable.(On a side note related to vengeance, I heard an interesting review on Fresh Air by David Edelstein last week: "It's written in the Bible, vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. But with cleverness and style, director Damian Szifron sums up humans' response since time immemorial. Sorry, Lord, only chumps wait for that." is a taste:"I know what life is like: I know what people are like. I know that we all make common cause in self-deception and wishful thinking, and who more so than adulterous lovers? I have time to think about it, when the dishes are done, and the house is quiet, and life ticks by, and there is nothing to do except wonder whether Bobbo and Mary Fisher are together now, now--how strange time seems! And I think and think and I act each role, sometimes him, sometimes her. It makes me feel part of the whole both make. I, who have been made nothing. And then Bobbo rings and says he won't be home, and the children come back from school, and a strange familiar silence descends upon the house, a think, white muffling blanket thrown over our lives: and even when the cat catches a mouse, the yowls and yelps seem to come from a distant place, another world." (6)"What I think is that the other women up and down Eden Grove are better than I am at telling themselves lies. Their own husbands are away often enough. How otherwise but by lies do they live, do they keep their self-esteem? Sometimes, of course, not even lies can protect them. They are found hanging in the garage, or cold and overdosed in the marital bed. Love has killed them, murderous in its own death throes, flailing and biting and poisonous." (6)"And how, especially, do ugly women survive, those whom the world pities? The dogs, as they call us. I'll tell you; they live as I do, outfacing truth, hardening the skin against perpetual humiliation, until it's as tough and cold as a crocodile's. And we wait for old age to equalize all things. We make good old women." (6-7)"Love, compared to hate, is a pallid emotion. Fidgety and troublesome, and making for misery." (10)"The judge took his work seriously. He knew he must stand above and beyond the common man, guarding himself from error, protecting himself from corruption. He knew how rare a man he was, how very few there were prepared to wield the fine rapier-blade of justice within the vulnerable substance of society: how difficult it was to dispose of another man's life when he personally had done you no particular harm, how peculiar to steal his time away in yearly chunks--twelve months for this, eighteen for that, a dozen years for the other. How disconcerting to be the one to say this is bad, this is worse, for this there's hell to pay! But there it was. And it was, when it came to it, a vocation. He had been born to it." (138)
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I expect that many people who read this will have seen the film, Lives and Loves of a She-Devil. The film is a lot of fun, but it doesn’t really do justice to the Fay Weldon novel on which it’s based. The film with Roseanne Barr and her rival in life and love played by Meryl Streep is really very funny, but the book is much, much darker, and while like the film version, this is a tale of revenge, the book is much more subversive and its humour is black. You’ll laugh at the film but chances are you won’t have the same reaction to the book. Weldon is an outspoken feminist writer who’s come in for her share of controversy, and simply because she is a figure of some controversy, she’s all too easy to misquote. Fay Weldon’s style is very typically spare, and low on descriptions. This novel is also high on mythic qualities and alternates between first and third person narrative.While Weldon’s work obviously fits in any feminist canon, her work can also be considered Transgressive fiction for the way her marvelous characters subvert societal norms. Weldon’s frequent themes include gender inequality, female reinvention, female identity and self-image and the often vicious relationships between women. Lives and Loves of a She-Devil is a tremendously powerful story–the tale of how one woman, a wife and mother, is abandoned by her husband and replaced by a prettier, sexier woman. Rising from her despair and thrusting aside all societal norms, maternal concerns, & obligations the discarded woman eventually triumphs over her enemies. Yes, a story of female empowerment and a rather frightening tale of a woman scorned who, because she’s willing to go as far as necessary, learns to live her life according to an entirely new set of rules. Ruth, an overweight, unattractive woman who’s 6′ 2″, is an excellent wife and mother. While she’s appreciated by her somewhat scatter-brained in-laws, she’s neglected and undervalued by her accountant husband, Bobbo, who at the best of times says that Ruth is “no beauty, but a good soul.” Ruth, who is virtually powerless in the relationship, does everything to please Bobbo, even tolerating his announcement that he wants an “open marriage.” She’s aware of his extra-marital affairs which he discusses with relish, but now Bobbo has fallen in love with one of his clients, Mary Fisher, a wealthy, prolific author of trashy romances. Ruth is trying her best to ignore the affair, but after a particularly degrading scene, Bobbo moves out of his home in the suburb of Eden Grove, abandons his wife and two children and moves to Mary Fisher’s splendid home, the High Tower.Mary Fisher is the embodiment of everything Ruth isn’t: small, petite, feminine and highly desirable. And here’s a quote that shows just how well Fay Weldon can write:"Now outside the world turns: tides surge up the cliffs at the foot of Mary Fisher’s tower, and fall again. In Australia the great gum trees weep their bark away; in Calcutta a myriad flickers of human energy ignite and flare and die; in California the surfers weld their souls with foam and flutter off into eternity; in the great cities of the world groups of dissidents form their gaunt nexi of discontent and send the roots of change through the black soil of our earthly existence. And I am fixed here and now, trapped in my body, pinned to one particular spot, hating Mary Fisher. It is all I can do. Hate obsesses and transforms me; it is my singular attribution."While Bobbo and Mary Fisher have the looks, the power and the money on their side, Ruth is dumped with the two squabbling children, a gluttonous vomiting dog who humps anyone lower on the totem pole, a cat who fouls the house, and an unfortunate guinea pig. Bobbo and Mary live in sex-soaked idyllic bliss while Ruth suddenly has to worry about money–how to pay bills and buy food (there’s one great scene in which Ruth directs the children to search the house for coins). To add to the worries, Bobbo tells her to move to a smaller, cheaper home. Part of Ruth accepts what has happened to her–after all, she reasons ”to those who hath, such as Mary Fisher, shall be given, and to those who hath not, such as myself, even that which they have shall be taken away.”Ruth has always behaved well and put Bobbo’s needs before her own. Why shouldn’t she accept divorce, destitution and displacement and be happy for the few years she had? But Ruth doesn’t see it that way, and she doesn’t react the way Bobbo expects her to. Strangely, once removed from the position of wife, something begins to happen to Ruth. Liberated from her own repressive behavior, ”Hate obsesses and transforms” her, and she has revenge in mind. As events unfold, it becomes clear that revenge is an emotion that can take you to the place you want to go. Ruth abandons the roles assigned to her: doting wife, patient mother and begins a transformative journey–both literal and figurative, and along the way she confronts other women in various miserable circumstances including a clueless welfare mother who’s impregnated by a series of transient rogue males, a group of Wimmin, and also the much-abused wife of a judge who has a secret “passion for bondage and whips.” As Ruth continually reinvents herself, she leaves an imprint on the lives of everyone she touches, and rather magnificently, she becomes all the things her husband, to assuage his guilt, accused her of. She becomes a She-Devil who “creates havoc and destruction all around,“ and by abandoning the roles she is expected to endure, and breaking all the ”rules” she plots her revenge…
This novel is something of a cultural artifact, from a time when feminism had won most of its legal victories but the idea of equality hadn't become socially or culturally entrenched. Consequently, although the book depicts the complete triumph of a scorned woman over her cheating husband and his mistress, this victory is mostly won on anti-feminist terms. Ruth shows herself capable of building a successful business (albeit, one partially based on the exploitation of other working women), and her investments bring her fortune. Yet she achieves most of her goals by manipulation and deceit, rather than by claiming an active place in the world as a person of power and influence. Ruth also submits herself to a long series of painful and medically unnecessary surgeries, to recreate herself in the image of the small and delicate woman for whom her husband abandoned her. As Ruth breaks further and further away from her unhappy past as a suburban housewife, though, it becomes increasingly difficult to see why she continues to spare any thought for her callous husband or his shallow paramour. (It's also difficult to determine why the mistress, whose life is turned upside-down by Ruth's husband and children, doesn't simply cut her lover loose.) In short, this book is not about a woman who defies an unjust system, but about people who wage bitter and unpleasant battles, in order to succeed on the system's biased terms.
Kerrie Hinton
My all-time favourite and much-loved book! Fantastically written.The story is told by the main character’s point of view; a woman and wife called ’Ruth’, who as been wronged and betrayed by love and goes on her own liberating and justifying path seeking revenge. However, in doing so she must cross over to a darker side of human nature: The She Devil.This book is psychological, raw, hard-edged, ironic and cynical. It is a skilfully written moral fable telling a candid story from the wounded woman’s perceptions on life and other people.I had been waiting forever for a book to come out where the victim could get back at all the selfish, cold-hearted, small-minded and petulant people who have ever affronted them in their lives; and here it is! I doubt any genuine and wronged person would not like this book.This is generally a woman’s book specifically for those who have ever encountered nasty characters in their life or relationships. It’s very uplifting for anyone who’s ever fantasised about vengeance. While Ruth patiently plots the enviable downfall of both her husband and lover, she is also sealing her own moral demise. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could actually get away with inflicting that kind of plotting, power and vengeance over those who have emotionally hurt us!The She-Devil eventually and cleverly strikes back at cold-hearted and manipulative people by taking way the things that would hurt them the most - money, material- wealth, sex and freedom. In the end I think Ruth finally teaches Mary Fisher about the meaning of Love. Nevertheless, by then it is too late, the damage was already done, not only to herself, by becoming the She-Devil, but also through the punishment she inflicts upon the ‘newly awakened’ Mary for taking her husband with no conscience or remorse. The husband, Bobbo’s, character is so typical of the selfishness and narrow-mindedness of so many people like him in this world that the reader could wonder why Ruth is even bothering with her campaign against him. All I can say is, read, enjoy, and find out.The book gets the reader thinking and is not just about a woman scorned, but portrays how society sees the undesirable and the unfortunate.It’s just an absolute joy to read from start to finish and I never get tired of reading it.In fact, I’ve read it so many times that the book I bought a number of years ago actually fell apart. I have since bought it on my Kindle, so I can read it whenever I wish.I won’t ruin it for new readers; let’s just say that the ending has a strange and unusual twist with a thought-provoking - ‘what goes around comes around’. The Book is a lot better than the TV Series, where things have been cut out and the viewer is subjected to bad 80,s fashion.
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