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The Book of V.


The Book of V.

Weaving together stories of women biblical, powerful and plain, Anna Solomon’s THE BOOK OF V. is a kaleidoscopic portrayal of the dichotomies of womanhood --- and the courage it takes to be a woman in any time, social class or relationship.

At the heart of the novel is the story of Esther, the biblical Jewish queen of Persia. Orphaned at a young age, Esther lives with her aunt and uncle, along with their children. But when she starts to blossom as a woman, her uncle, troubled by his attraction to her, seeks to get rid of her. When the King of Persia casts off his wife --- for refusing to walk naked in front of his men --- he invites his citizens to offer up their most beautiful, talented and seductive girls and women, from whom he will choose his new queen. Esther’s uncle finally sees his chance and submits her to the harem of women both vying for and desperate to avoid the King’s attention. Against all odds, it is plain, Jewish Esther who “wins” the King’s proposal and becomes the new queen.

"THE BOOK OF V. is a disturbing and harrowing look at womanhood, yet somehow it is hopeful.... Beautifully written, smartly constructed and, above all, endlessly introspective, this book will stay with readers long after they have finished it."

Combining elements of consent, female empowerment, rage and even lust, the tale of Esther serves as the backbone of THE BOOK OF V., as readers watch similar stories of competition, sex and power play out in Washington, D.C. and Brooklyn, New York.

Living in Watergate-era Washington, D.C., Vivian Barr is the picture-perfect political wife. Her husband is Senator Alexander Kent of Rhode Island, and though he has remained popular throughout his term, he was appointed only because his predecessor died, and now he has to win his title fair and square. There is just one problem: Alex’s official platform hinges on his support of the Equal Rights Act, but he has not always acted like a gentleman with the women in his life, most notably the current wife of one of Rhode Island’s most important and wealthy political donors. With the future of his campaign resting on one blowout party, Vivian --- Vee --- finds herself wondering just what it means to be a good wife.

Meanwhile, in 2016 Brooklyn, Lily is struggling with...everything, from her role as her husband’s second wife, to her decision to choose motherhood over her career, and even her ability to fit in with the other wives and mothers in her community --- all while Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency looms over her thoughts. Lily’s daughters are putting on a play about Esther, and the constant rereadings of their dumbed-down, undersexualized children’s book about the queen are prompting Lily to question everything she thinks about desire, empowerment and lust. Although she was happy at one point to choose becoming a wife and mother over everything else, her radical feminist mother, Ruth, nitpicks her every move, begging her to realize her full potential as a career woman and reverse her decision to be “nothing but a mother.” Soon Lily starts to wonder just where her husband --- and his wishes --- ends and she begins.

Alternating between the awakenings of each woman, Solomon explores the dual standards to which women are held --- virgin or whore, mother or career woman, wife or partner --- and unpacks some heavy and deep-seated beliefs about womanhood, feminism and power. Each of these characters is held back by the leading man in her life, and each, though held under the rule of the patriarchy, holds a secret power, a way to say “no.” But THE BOOK OF V. is not just about women’s roles as they pertain to men; it is also about the ways that women compare themselves to, put down and champion other women. Alone in a room without men, the women here become tigresses: “They don’t protect each other’s feelings or pretend they don’t love their power, their direct means of manipulating the leaders of the free world.”

And yet, when the men enter their sphere, they are forced to become mindreaders, manipulators, seductresses or whatever identity they must assume to continue to move freely through the world without evoking the wrath of men. As Solomon astutely and brilliantly explains, “This is what men hate about women...that we are actors, that between our urges and our actions there are these layers, this angling and scrim. Yet aren’t they, almost always, the beneficiaries?” Simultaneously unpacking the inherent power of women and highlighting the ways that society has bound them, Solomon embarks on a bold and unflinching exploration into the roles of women --- and how little they have changed since the time of the Bible.

THE BOOK OF V. is a disturbing and harrowing look at womanhood, yet somehow it is hopeful. Solomon is searing in her descriptions of brutality and abuse, but her women are so expertly rendered, so fraught with tension and complexity, that readers are still able to find the ribbon of humanity amid the world’s most monstrous acts. Beautifully written, smartly constructed and, above all, endlessly introspective, this book will stay with readers long after they have finished it.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 22, 2020

The Book of V.
by Anna Solomon

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 1250798442
  • ISBN-13: 9781250798442