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In keeping with my new year’s resolution to keep track of what I have read:

 

The alabaster girl.

 

I am not the target audience of this work. As such I found it oft-times rather risible.

 

I have met them before, those men who love women, who are addicted to their company and delight in simply sitting in the same room as one even without talking. And I admit that the man who loves women is, for a straight female, good company. Even for a little bit more if you feel so inclined – and why not? Being lovers of women they are concerned that the encounter should be agreeable all round. But such men are unreliable for anything more than this, being in love with the woman as an archetype, the beautiful, the work of art; the human soul behind is sadly often obscured behind the ‘love’ for women in general. I find their company, although superficially pleasant, unsustaining for long and leaves me with the urge for real conversation about the real world.

 

This book was written by the self proclaimed ‘globally acknowledged authority in seduction’, a practitioner of the art of love, for those men who wish to have more success with the female of the species. It is intended as a (much needed admittedly) challenge to the pick-up artist movement which regards women as the barely sentient quarry for the satisfaction of male lust and vanity. The book notes that women need to be listened to, to be enjoyed as people in their own right. Men and women should live in a series of exquisite moments, enjoying the chase and culmination that comes with the union of masculine and feminine.

There is a lot to be liked about his advice, not least his insistence that men should actually talk to women and listen not just regard them as canvasses of their bragging- why is it that such a patently obvious things need to be reiterated?

However my complaint of this book (or the ideas behind it) is that it is written by a benevolent sexist who despite claiming to be responsive for the human desire for adventure, beauty and romance.

I agree these are necessary and at gloomy moments to have been given an admiring gaze has done me me more good than all the philosophy and planning in the world.

But the woman is not just an exquisitely beautiful thing to be enjoyed and then remembered fondly. We are organisms who fart and poo and have to leap out of bed after lovemaking to pee as a guard against UTIs (not talking from personal experience here tralalalala). The alabaster girl of the title is an archetype which may or may not chime with the experience of the individual in question. (I don’t even what to get started on how distressingly heteronormative the whole text is!)

Finally at the end of the day the wonderful moments are fine, but I am sure that most of us also long for the deeper connection that comes from getting to know a real human who does the dishes and laughs at you when you fart. As a primer for dating you could probably do worse. But please actually talk to some real humans who identify as women lads!

 

The Dark Side of Love – Rafik Schami

 

“Damascus isn’t so much a city, a place named in an atlas, as a fairy tale clothed in houses and streets, stories, scents and rumours” (p317).

 

Although the year is young I think I can confidently say this is one of the best books I will read in 2017. It is wonderful.

 

At its heart is the often tragic love story of Farid and Rana (the scions of 2 warring families) but in the background we have family feuds, the turbulent history of 20th century Syria, murders, jokes and friendships. It begins with a murder mystery, who was the murderer of Mahdi Said? This we discover but not before excursions into the realm of the Arabian Nights with the history of the Mushtak family, founded when George Mushtak and his lover fled as her parents had already promised her to another man and his fateful rivalry with the Shahin family which has consequences which, in the way of the middle east, reverberate for decades to come. The mosaic reads like individual stories cobbled together to create one majestic whole and includes a whole host of episodes which could be cut yet you would not wish them to be for they are as dazzling as the wares of a souk and adds to the whole sensual experience of Damascus a city I now grieve for because I will never know it as it was.

As I read it, I heard about Assad and the war and now the whole catastrophe seems so much more vivid having read this. In the last part of the novel I read of the early experiences with dictatorship and torture and of men being arrested on whims and to satisfy bloodlusts began decades or even centuries prior. Somehow it made sense when read against the backdrop of the news.

 

But above all it is an absolutely thrilling family saga and a loving portrait of a country and a city which, despite its many dark sides, is obviously so longed for by the exile.

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