My ‘rambling’ review of Laurie Penny’s ‘Unspeakable Things’…

So, I’ve recently read quite a few non-fiction books and you can find reviews for Peter Oborne’s ‘The Triumph of the Political Class’ and George Monbiot’s ‘Captive State’ elsewhere on this blog. Both are excellent and worth your time if you have an interest in politics. I am also currently reading Owen Jones ‘The Establishment’, which I will eventually review, but in this post I’m talking about ‘Unspeakable Things’ written by Laurie Penny.

I discovered the writings of Laurie Penny fairly recently when I took out a short-term subscription to the New Statesman. My wife and I had attended a rather incredible evening that the magazine had arranged featuring Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. Gaiman and Palmer put on an incredible (if ramshackle) show and both my wife and I had an wonderful time. When we found out that this duo were guest editing an issue of the magazine, we knew that we needed to read that issue and so I began a very reasonably priced twelve issue subscription and quickly fell in love with this publication. My current financial situation prohibits my taking out a year-long subscription, but as soon as that changes I will be doing so and if you have any interest I would recommend that you take advantage of their excellent short-term subscription offers. In my opinion, reading the articles on the website is just not the same as enjoying the magazine.

Anyway, on to the writer of ‘Unspeakable Things’, Laurie Penny. She is, in my opinion, one of the finest commentators writing today for the newspapers and magazines that I currently read. I’m quite partial to the Guardian, the New Statesman and the Independent, which I used to read more of but slowly drifted away from, and though I read a wide-range of columns written by excellent commentators, I find that she is one of the best. Her writings have a way of cutting through the bullshit to get to the heart of the matter and she writes with wit, anger and passion. I will always find time to read her columns and when I discovered that my local library had a copy of her latest book I knew that I had to read it and I’m glad that I did.

Unspeakable Things is an excellent book, written with Penny’s characteristic wit and anger and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Despite that, I find it quite a difficult book to summarise. It’s a rant against the way in which our modern society and neo-liberalism have twisted the world against our interests, a polemic against neo-liberalism, something which I completely agree with, and a work of passion and power that I can’t recommend highly enough. It talks about love and life and how things like masculinity have been used to twist men and how the shaming of women is used as a weapon against them both online and in the real world. Having an entire book of Penny’s writings to enjoy was a real treat and I shall be looking forward to the next.

My only problem with reviewing this excellent book is that I don’t really feel that I am the target audience and I wish that I was. I really enjoyed it, and I took a lot away from it, but I feel that I would’ve taken more had I been the intended reader. I’m not even sure who that is, per se, but I don’t feel that it is me. I am male, white, straight and cis and I think this book would speak more to someone outside of those categories. Maybe I am wrong but if you are female, gay, black, trans or anything besides what I am, then I think this book would be an even more incredible read. And I truly wish that I was the intended audience so that I could feel that Ms. Penny was speaking directly to me. Despite that, I found Unspeakable Things an impressive read.

The thing that I enjoyed most about this book was the way Penny rips apart matters such as the way that our society currently deals with things like love and how our perception of love has been twisted so that failure to find “the one” facilitates our own desperation and destroys our self-worth, even if not everyone’s lives works out the way that Hollywood fantasies tell us that they should. She also talks about how we are expected to accept a lot of the way the world currently is when there is no need for us to do so. As with ‘Captive State’ and ‘Triumph of the Political Class’, ‘Unspeakable Things’ is something of a call to arms to the younger generation to rise up and challenge the status quo and remake it into something better than what it currently is. And I agree, I really do. A revolution needs to come and soon!

Reading this book I also came to understand how lucky I am in some respects. One of the chapters describes how the concept of masculinity is used to control men and, while those who know me would hardly describe me as a masculine person (actually quite the opposite), reading this I realised that being free from this constraint has allowed me to be the person that I am. Since going to university I have had more female good friends than men. Growing up it was the other way around but something changed when I left home and since then I find that I get on better with girls than guys. I have had good male friends in the last decade, just more girls than guys. Or it might be that I get on well with a specific type of guy, someone more like myself, and less so with guys who fit a more traditional stereotype. I also realised that my parents (more specifically my mother) always allowed me to be whoever I wanted to be since I was a child and I was placed under no restrictions and I now realise how freeing that situation was. I’ve been asked several times during my life if I were gay, which I am not, though, given my temperament, I am never surprised to hear that question. Now, I realise how lucky I am.

I will always recommend that people read the works of Laurie Penny for, as I said, I find her to be one of the finest writers currently working today for the newspapers that I read and I will certainly be hunting out any books that she writes in the future. I just hope that the next book speaks to me in the way that I expect that this book speaks to others. If it does then I suspect I will find it to be one of the best books that I have ever read. Until then I shall continue to enjoy Ms. Penny’s works at the New Statesman and the Guardian and I would recommend that you do that same. If you are anything like me, you will enjoy them immensely. Cheers!


My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, is available now from all electronic retailers. Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, self-publishing! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!



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