Review: The Silent Woman — Janet Malcolm

Read: 64
To Go: 36

Book List
61. Skyward — Mary Alice Monroe
62. The Journals of Sylvia Plath — Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes
63. Dust Tracks on a Road — Zora Neale Hurston
64. The Silent Woman — Janet Malcolm

 After Anne Stevenson’s controversial biography on Sylvia Plath, Bitter Fame, was released, she was vilified in the press for having allowed Olwyn Hughes to manipulate the writing of it. Janet Malcolm, an admirer of Stevenson, came to the rescue with The Silent Woman, an examination and critique of biography as a genre, which looks at the myth of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. (Another class read, if you couldn’t tell.)

The Silent Woman is another book that I don’t have a lot to say about, so I’ll give you the quick and dirty: I liked it, mostly. I was able to finish it in less than a day, and it kept my interest throughout, so that’s always a plus.

Though Malcolm does say at one point that all writers need a motive, hers was painfully transparent: as much as she was coming to the rescue of Anne Stevenson, as well as the Hughes family, to attempt to restore them into the press’s good graces, it also seemed quite obvious that she was trying to rebuild her own reputation. After the publication of one of her earlier books she was slammed with a libel charge, which she could not prove incorrect because she didn’t have a tape recording of the alleged conversation, and thus the case got dragged out for (if I remember correctly) about 10 years. She won, but at the expense of her reputation. So, throughout The Silent Woman, she throws in a lot of “I recorded this” and “I took extensive notes on this,” as if she’s trying to prove her legitimacy as a journalist/biographer.

As well, it was pretty clear that she had fallen in love with her subject (in this case, Ted Hughes), so hearing him described was occasionally a little nauseating. But that’s just a side point.

However, it was well put together, definitely interesting, and moved like a train. All good things.

Next book: Memoirs of Montparnasse — John Glassco

Next feature: Well, you know…whatever I put up when I’m not feeling so lazy/busy.

– Kelsey


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