BPS Book Club January 2019

Review of Educated, by Tara Westover

I found the reactions to this book interesting across the group. Most of us used quite extraordinary adjectives – “ remarkable, fascinating, absorbing, gripping, amazing “ and gave it full marks for readability. However a notable strand, those women who have professional knowledge or experience of women’s rights, domestic abuse or child protection, could not mask their distaste or horror that this sort of life is ‘allowed’ in contemporary America. It has been a huge bestseller in the USA. So is it giving the citizens of that country the same feeling of distaste, or is it simply a voyeuristic fascination about what actually went on?

I felt the book tipped just on the ‘correct’ side of this equation in the latter stages, when Tara Westover explains very clearly why she wrote the book and opens her experience out into universal questions of separating oneself from family if those relationships are not healthy.

The book splits into several distinct and different strands – her mother and father and early childhood, the relationship and episodes with Shawn, and her gradual exploration of her own intellect.

All agreed that she was ‘loved’ in her early childhood, albeit within different parameters of normal parenting. Whilst her father clearly had mental issues, whether schizophrenic or otherwise, he is not in any sense holding her back from her own ambitions. The mother on the other hand takes on an increasingly sinister and unsupportive role as they both get older, and in fact changes her own personality from timid wife to successful ‘spiritual leader’ of healing and herbs. It is a salutary tale for feminism, marked by a complete lack of support or solidarity from the female members of her family who are all to some extent subdued and subordinated to the male family members.

Her gradual exit from the family, with a superhuman personal effort in terms of willpower and academic striving, is a moving tale. She is able to convey painful moments, and key moments of realisation in a way which personal but not schmaltzy, rational but not over intellectualized. This I think is what makes it so appealing.

Some expressed concern that this might ever be taken down the ‘Hollywood movie’ route as it’s really just too unenlightened, let’s hope that some subjects are better left to books. As a memoir/biography, all agreed that it ranks highly on the essential factors of truthfulness, honesty and ‘selective rather than exhaustive’ anecdotes.

Lots of people referenced other books that felt relevant to the discussion so I’ve decided to list them here in case of further interest.

 

Hillbilly Elegy, by JD Vance

The Butterfly Collector, by John Fowles

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls

 

February 08, 2019 by Linda Murray