Social commentary and think pieces

11 June 2020

4 books

                 

Unnatural Causes - Dr Richard Shepherd    5/5

In Unnatural Causes, Forensic Pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd re-lives the top cases of his high-flying career, in which he has performed over 23,000 autopsies.
Examining bodies in pursuit of the truth, Shepherd has faced the aftermath of all kinds of deaths, from those due to natural causes to the works of serial killers. In this fascinating book he tells the tales of what he has seen on the front line of some of the worlds worst disasters and killings - 9/11, Princess Diana, Hungerford, Clapham Junction, and much more.

The only book I've read before which I would think to compare it to is Adam Kay's This Is Going To Hurt, which details his time working as an NHS doctor in the form of diary entries. I found it both hilarious and fascinating in equal measure, but Unnatural Causes was without a doubt much better. It was hooking, though incredibly shocking at at times grotesque. If you don't mind reading the details of the deaths, descriptions of post-mortems, I would recommend. Unlike Adam Kay in This Is Going To Hurt, Dr Richard Shepherd goes into far greater detail of the impact his work has had on his mentality, living a life so steeped with death. It was immensely detailed, which made it all the more fascinating, whilst the talk of his personal life made it all the more hard hitting. Evidently, Dr Richard Shepherd is an incredibly intelligent man, who prioritises the truth above anything else. It was a fascinating book, which I would highly recommend. It was unputdownably good.


She Said - Jodi Kantor, Meghan Twohey    3/5

She Said documents the #metoo movement from start - the publication of Meghan Twohey and Jodi Kantor's 2017 New York Times article on Harvey Weinstein's questionable behaviour towards women  - to present. Co-written by both Kantor and Twohey, the book details in full exactly how the two Journalists encouraged not only top actresses - Gwenyth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Zelda Perkins - but also Weinstein's own employees, past and present, to speak up and stand together against Weinstein, and uncountable other high-profile men who abuse their power. The New York Times' initial piece ignited a fierce conversation about sexual harassment in all industries, though especially in Hollywood, and She Said relays the momentous impact that article would go on to have on American History, and the world as a whole, encouraging more and more women to come forwards with allegations not only against Weinstein but Trump, and many other prominent male figures in American politics and beyond.

It wasn't an easy read. The story - as expected - is complex and brim full of various different characters, who it can be difficult to keep up with. There are numerous different lawyers, attorneys and various other legal people, which was confusing to say the least, though I would not complain as they are entirely beneficial to the re-telling of the story. Weinstein harassed and assaulted a lot of people and the small portion of them who are included in the book - that is assuming that not all of his victims have come forwards, especially as he notoriously silences women through settlements - each have very similar stories, making it at times difficult to distinguish between each of them - though this does nothing but speak volumes of the extent of his misogynistic behaviour. Despite this, I would recommend the book. It wasn't an easy read and requires intense concentration. I found it really interesting, if not for the actual movement then for the detailed processes of the journalistic investigation. I didn't know much about the #metoo movement before reading this, only really knowing it as a hashtag to band around on social media, but the depth of the movement and the work that has gone to ignite it is really interesting and written about so insightfully in the book. I would recommend it.


Expectation - Anna Hope    4/5

Expectation follows the lives and friendships of three women - Hannah, Cate and Lissa - as they grow up and find their way through the world around them.
I suppose the sole premise of the book is that life never turns out how you expect it to. When you're young, the promise of a happy future, stable career, long-lasting marriage, family and children almost seems a given. But, as some may know better than others, this is rarely the case.
In Expectation, Anna Hope explores this harsh reality, writing characters who each have their own personal battles and sense of lacking - a dream career that never seems to take-off, inability to conceive, an unhappy marriage, depression, the feeling that you're failing as a mother, as a wife and even as a woman. But, each woman seems to crave what the other has, not realising the extent of the pain which each of them co-exists with, because to present that pain to others is a rarity.
There's a guilt in their unhappiness, a sense that their pain must be measured against each others in order to determine its worth. No pain will ever beat the pain of infertility. But, Anna Hope makes the point that you feel what you feel, and though that pain may not be as painful as another's, its still pain and so it should be felt, guilt free.
Whilst one woman may appear to have conceived with great ease, her marriage is not that of a happy one. Whilst one aspect of their lives may appear satisfactory, other aspects may be lacking, because we can't have it all. Often our expectations of how our lives will turn out to be are unrealistic and a reality we cannot ever hope to live up to. And this, at times, causes Hannah, Cate and Lissa great pain, as each of them compare their lives to one and others. At times this drives the women apart, altering the dynamic of their friendship. But, once they accept that they will never live the life they had naively expected to in their younger years - because that expectation was unrealistic - they get over their competitvity and learn to appreciate that they do have, and everything falls into place. Their lives never will be perfect but they have learnt to be happy.

It was an easy read. Its 320 pages but could easily be less, given its relatively large font size. Don't let the size of the book fool you.
Linguistically it was relatively basic and understandable. However, there's a subtlety to the emotions that populate the book, which I think may be harder to grasp for younger readers. I am aware myself that with age the subject matter will ringer far truer to me and I will get so much more out of it as I get older. But, it did make me think a lot. The subject matter and emotion involved is really moving, whilst also incredibly thought provoking.
Its also largely set in North London, which I loved as this is where I have grown up. There's something really nice about reading stories set in places you know so well. Being able to visualise exactly where a character is at certain points in the story, recognising place references - which Expectation is full of - and even knowing the social groups the writer describes, is oddly comforting, having seen it all first hand.
The book was brilliant. I would highly recommend reading it. Grazia says "If you wished Normal People tackled female friendship, try Expectation." 


Educated - Tara Westover      5/5

In Tara Westover's memoir Educated, she writes eloquently of her experience growing up in her radical Mormon family. They don't believe in modern medicine or state education and so Tara had never set foot in a hospital or classroom. Instead she is homeschooled by her Mother and any injuries - no matter how severe - are treated at home, using her Mother's herbal blends. She hasn't been registered for a birth certificate so, according to the government, she doesn't exist.

As she grows older she begins to question her family's radical beliefs more and more. Her father becomes far more radical and her brother far more violent and so, at sixteen, she leaves home, in search of an Education. A grievous sin, as far as her family are concerned.
Her decision to seek state education causes a rift between her and her family and she begins to feel herself drifting further and further away from the daughter her father raised; the person she used to be.
In Educated, Tara Westover writes of discovering who she really is, as an individual rather than a member of her radical mormon family. She begins to realise that she cannot exist within both her family's reality and the reality which she has created for herself; a reality her family believe to be plagued by socialists ready to brainwash the innocent. And so Westover writes of her decision to exist  on her own, cutting ties from her family, and the price she must pay to do so.
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