11 August 2015

Book Review: The New Woman by Charity Norman

"Luke Livingstone is a lucky man. He's a respected solicitor, a father and grandfather, a pillar of the community. He has a loving wife and an idyllic home in the Oxfordshire countryside. Yet Luke is struggling with an unbearable secret, and it's threatening to destroy him.

All his life, Luke has hidden the truth about himself and his identity. It's a truth so fundamental that it will shatter his family, rock his community and leave him outcast. But Luke has nowhere left to run, and to continue living, he must become the person - the woman - he knows himself to be, whatever the cost."

Rating: 5/5

Available to buy now.

I am thrilled to be part of Charity Norman's blog tour for her latest novel The New Woman. I really enjoyed the last book by Charity I read, so I was really looking forward to reading this. I didn't have much of a clue about the plot, but as I started reading, I was shocked and surprised, and completely absorbed by a refreshingly honest and brilliant story. It's very topical, especially with Caitlyn Jenner coming out as a transgender woman in recent months, and certainly opened my eyes to a world I hadn't ever really considered before.

I haven't had any experience of meeting transgender people before, or even understanding anything about the feelings of someone going through something like this in their life. Luke was the first character I've come across in a book to be facing these issues. It was even more poignant because he wasn't a young man, but rather similar to Caitlyn Jenner actually. He was married, had children and felt he had been in the wrong body his entire life. The story focuses on Luke's life as begins to transition into life as a woman, the impact it has on his family and his own life, and his own personal journey.

I loved the character of Luke. I applaud him for finally standing up for what he believes - that he should have been a woman, and he was so brave being able to finally come out and admit it, especially to his wife and children. Charity Norman really gets into Luke's head so well, telling us his deepest secrets, his feelings, whether they be about how he feels putting on his make-up or wearing a dress, or how he feels about the impact it's having on his beloved wife and children. You know that as he reveals his bombshell that it is going to explode his world apart as he knows it, and that is what makes this book so compulsive - you just have to find out how his family will react and deal with the shocking news about Luke.

It was the relationships that Luke has in the book that were the most compelling for me. In fact, the relationship with his wife was my favourite in the book - Norman writes it so brilliantly. You feel every emotion along with Luke and Eilish - I felt so sorry for Eilish because she honestly seemed to be stunned by the news, and felt her world was falling apart, and could understand all of her actions throughout the book. I loved Luke's devotion to his wife however - no matter whether he was a man or a woman, he loved her and that was unchangeable and extremely touching. I looked forward to Eilish's parts of the book very much - seeing her coping and changing her life was fascinating to read and it made me wonder how I would deal with such a life changing set of circumstances.

The relationship with his son Simon and daughter Kate were a little different. I cannot imagine as a child what it must be like to hear that your father wants to start living life as a woman, and the differing reactions his children had were realistic and believable. It left me feeling very emotional as I read it, and couldn't get Simon's reaction in particular out of my mind. As well as the impact on his family, we also learn about the impact his gender dysphoria has on Luke, and the hatred he has to endure from some about his transition. It wasn't easy to read, people being nasty, perhaps because they don't understand or simply because they can't accept what Luke was doing. It's all in this book, and Luke's emotions, from fear to grief to acceptance are portrayed rawly here.

This book was truly an eye-opener, and really allowed me to see into a world I had no experience of previously. Gender dysphoria is a very real issue, and by approaching it in fiction, and as people such as Caitlyn Jenner have done, it hopefully releases some of the taboo surrounding the subjects and allows us to understand what they are going through. Norman's book is a brilliant read - emotional and raw, yet handled sensitively and with complete compassion for the topic. Hopefully, books like this can educate us, stop our ignorance of such things, and open up the lines of communication for people like Luke so that they don't have to live a lie and be who they truly are. A stunning book.

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