No longer on the shelf.
Publisher: Broadway (Random House)
First Published: 2012
Date Reviewed: 28th April 2013
At fifty-four years old, Clover feels invisible as a woman. One day she wakes up and it’s no longer a feeling – she is literally invisible. Going unnoticed by her family, she discovers a group of women like her and starts attending meetings. The other women have worked out what’s gone wrong, but is there a way to fix it?
Calling Invisible Women is a book that starts brilliantly and has a fantastic premise, but rapidly falls to what’s most comfortable in a way that provides a negative impact. The premise, or at least the supposed premise, of a middle-aged woman feeling invisible, is fresh. The possible metaphor of literal invisibility standing in for the invisibility of middle-aged women in a society that values youth and beauty, is promising and had a lot of potential, but sadly Ray does not take the opportunity presented.
What is good in Calling Invisible Women is the laugh-out-loud humour of the first half, the fine writing, and of course the social issues referred to. But that is where it stops. In Clover there is a character who feels invisible but has done everything that will insure she’ll remain so; a woman who simply does not fit her time period. If this book had been released in the mid-twentieth century, understanding Clover would be easier.
A typical example is Clover’s relationship with her daughter. Ray’s descriptions and the dialogue show Evie to be a self-absorbed person who cares not a jot for others unless she needs something. When Evie needs clothes, Clover describes how she’ll be giving her daughter, who is 20 and hasn’t realised her mother is invisible, the money for these clothes. If Clover spoke of how she should stop and how she lets her family walk all over her, it would be okay, but she doesn’t. There is also a situation where Clover and Gilda stop their grown-up sons making their own life choices, and when Clover tells her women’s group what happened “The group let out a moan, the collective heartbreak of all suburban mothers.” Given the subject at hand, Ray affectively wipes out a great number of potential readers from her audience as well as providing an out-dated social commentary on something that is widely considered an individual’s choice.
After the initial set-up, wherein one could suppose the women have become invisible because of society and the way they themselves feel, Ray places the actual reason outside of the women’s jurisdiction in order to conduct a commentary of another subject. It means that the strength of the premise is destroyed, even if the commentary itself is an interesting one. This happens later also, in a minor way, by Clover’s changing thoughts about her family. This is a family who fails to notice that their mother and wife has become invisible, despite the fact that Clover continues a sexual relationship with her husband and affectively flies around in clothes, headless. There is also the fact that Clover’s issues really needed to be at the forefront.
For its premise this book needed strength and empowerment. The ending is little more than a summary and the action happens too late in the day. Calling Invisible Women could have been incredible, a friend to women entering middle-age and a lesson for those who are younger or who simply forget such women. Unfortunately, it is not and whilst it may be one thing to have an un-likeable character, it is another to have one who is nonsensical for no given reason.
I received this book for review from Crown Publishers.
May 13, 2013, 2:09 pm
I mostly agree with you about this one; not finished thinking about the book, but it seems that Ray, an older writer, is trying too hard to be like Clover–inoffensive.
May 13, 2013, 8:55 pm
I’m sad to hear this book didn’t fulfil its full potential.
May 14, 2013, 5:34 am
I’ve heard much the same from other bloggers. Such a disappointment – it has a fascinating premise!
May 14, 2013, 5:39 pm
Bummer — I got so excited as I started reading your review.
May 14, 2013, 11:42 pm
You know, I really enjoyed the other book by Jeanne Ray that I read, Eat Cake, but I didn’t finish Calling Invisible Women. The premise felt a little too heavy-handed for me, and if it doesn’t get better as it goes along, as you say, I probably won’t pick it up again.
June 17, 2013, 3:03 pm
Jeanne: Yes, I think you’ve got it in one there. There needed to be more opinion, and I think no matter the reader’s own thoughts on the subjects, having a more definite idea on the author’s part would’ve helped a lot.
Jessica: Indeed. It had so much potential, such a ‘new’ topic.
Anbolyn: So far, from what I’ve read, it’s the premise that the majority of readers are going for. (I can’t but wonder why this wasn’t thought of, or maybe it was and Ray just decided not to go with it.)
Audra: I wrote it very much as I read it, starting out well and then… So, yes, at first it’s exciting but then not so much.
Jenny: If I wasn’t so strict with myself about finishing books I would’ve given up on it, too. No, it doesn’t get better, I’d say opt for another of hers and leave this one.