A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray Book Review

history of britain
Title: A History of Britain in 21 Women
Author: Jenni Murray
Country: UK
Pages: 227
Year published: 2016
My rating: ★★★☆☆

From Boudicca to Nicola Sturgeon, the rainy territory currently known as the UK has had its fair share of women that were ballsy enough to challenge male domination. “A History of Britain in 21 Women” by Jenni Murray examines the achievements of, you guessed, 21 of the individuals who left a mark on British history and society despite being born with what was (and sometimes still is) considered second-class genitalia.

Some of the women portrayed in the book are Oscar-level famous, such as Elizabeth I and Margaret Thatcher, while others are less so, which makes for a very balanced read. Some of the chapters were rather boring because they covered facts most people have read before, but others taught me things I didn’t know.

The complete list comprises Boudicca, Aphra Behn, Elizabeth I (this chapter will also feature Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots), Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft, Constance Markievicz, Nancy Astor, Ada Lovelace, Caroline Herschel, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Emmeline Pankhurst, Gwen John, Rosalind Franklin, Ethel Smyth, Margaret Thatcher, Nicola Sturgeon, Mary Quant, Barbara Castle and Mary Somerville.

While the subject is highly attractive to anyone interested in history and feminism, I was a little disappointed by the way the way the book was constructed. Firstly, I understand that the choice of personalities to include was a highly personal one for the author, as she mentions in the beginning, but to write something like this and leave out names like Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria, or George Elliot seems a bit odd.

Next, don’t expect a coherent read – this is not an in-depth analysis of the lives and achievements of these women. It couldn’t be so, taking into account the fact that there are 21 chapters plus introduction and postface and the entire book has 227 pages. The entries read more like blog posts, with brief introductions about the personality and question intertwined with highly personal remarks from the author. You can actually feel how Jenni Murray is star-struck by some of these women, so a couple of entries read like posts on a fan blog.

All in all, it’s not a bad book if you’re interested in learning more about (some of) the women who shaped Britain, but this is a rather basic read. I suppose it would be a good introduction to the subject for high-school level.


Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey – ARC Review

whistle in the dark emma healey
Title: Whistle in the Dark
Country: UK
Pages: 304
Year published: 2018
My rating: ★★★☆☆

For some reason or another, I haven’t got round to read”Elizabeth Is Missing,” even though I heard good things about it. And I’m not sure I will read it now that I’ve finished Emma Healey’s “Whistle in the Dark,” which is due in May.

This is not a bad book, but it was a bit difficult to follow, mostly because of lots of unnecessary digressions and I feel it should have been a lot shorter. The characters seem forced and by the end, I couldn’t say I cared about what happened to them too much.

This is the book blurb on Goodreads:

“Four missing days. Could you cope with not knowing?

Jen’s 15-year-old daughter goes missing for four agonizing days. When Lana is found, unharmed, in the middle of the desolate countryside, everyone thinks the worst is over. But Lana refuses to tell anyone what happened, and the police draw a blank. The once-happy, loving family return to London, where things start to fall apart. Lana begins acting strangely: refusing to go to school, and sleeping with the light on.

As Lana stays stubbornly silent, Jen desperately tries to reach out to a daughter who has become a stranger.”

It sounds more interesting than the book actually is. The story is not so much about Lana, the missing teenager, but about Jen, her hapless mother, who tries in vain to reconnect with her daughter. The feeling I got was that this reconnection was mission impossible, not because of the incident that led to Lana’s disappearance, but because the connection wasn’t there in the first place.

Lana is a teenager who struggles with depression and wants to kill herself. She mentions this to her mother in the most peculiar moments, casually, as she was talking about what takeaway to get for dinner. Jen is obviously worried and does her best to get to the bottom of the problem, but fails because she is too normal a woman to deal with this sort of mental health issue. Healey did a good job of describing the mother-daughter dynamics but somehow failed to make me care about either of them.

The flatness of the story is what ruins what it could have been a great rendition of being a mother of a troubled teenager / the daughter of a run-of-the-mill mother. As someone who was raised in a family where no one besides them suffered from depression in their life and knows first-hand how it feels like to be brushed off as “difficult,” I figured Lana would be developed into a more complex character. That didn’t happen, and by the middle of the book, I got bored with all the angst that seemed somehow forced.

The ending was the best part of the book, but even though it wasn’t predictable, I was still left with a “meh” feeling. I loved the writing at the end, as it was more powerful than the rest and it somehow made it up for a book that felt like going on forever.

*I was sent a copy of this book for my independent honest review from the publishers.