An Unnecessary Woman

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

Aaliya is a 72 year old woman living alone in a Beiruit apartment. From childhood she has felt somehow different from others, a difference she sometimes carries with a small amount of pride but  which has always left her with the awkward feeling of never belonging anywhere. She has spent most of her life translating works of literature into Arabic, translations that no one will ever read because as she finishes them, she boxes them up and stores them in her spare room She's been doing this for 50 years.

Aaliya is the narrator, so we have the privilege - and it is a privilege - of being inside her head throughout the book. Through her thoughts and memories we experience her childhood, her family, her awful marriage, and her despair. Her love of literature fills every chapter with enough book references and quotes to keep you adding titles to your tbr for days.

She is, has always been, lonely, yet tends to keep apart from other people. She is quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and she doesn't like her mother, brothers, neighbours, or herself. She is one of the most honest characters I've ever read, or maybe it's just that I recognize bits of my flawed self in her, those bits you just don't talk anyone. Alan Bennett has said : “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours”. When I was reading this book I felt the author was reaching out her hand and taking mine. You can't ask more from a novel than that.

This opening line: "You could say I was thinking of other things when I shampooed my hair blue, and two glasses of red wine didn't help my concentration." begins a novel that doesn't rely on plot, but on her memories, her present situation, and her ideas and philosophies, formed mostly from the literature to which she devoted her life. I am taken with the way this author expresses herself, how neatly her sentences convey her thoughts, and the clarity and impact of her imagery. Here are a few other lines/phrases that caught my attention:

"Beirut is the Elizabeth Taylor of cities: Insane, beautiful, tacky, falling apart, aging, and forever drama laden. She'll also marry any infatuated suitor who promises to make her life more comfortable, no matter how inappropriate he is."

There is no one more conformist than one who flaunts his individuality.

I know. You think you love art because you have a sensitive soul. Isn’t a sensitive soul simply a means of transforming a deficiency into a proud disdain?

…the impatience of the entitled...” This one stopped me in my tracks.

…with an Egyptian pyramid’s worth of effort....” I love this. 

I don't recall where I heard about this book, but I feel very lucky to have found it; it's one of the best I've read this year.


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