Book Review | Spinster, by Kate Bolick

I felt like a parody, picking up Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own from the library and tucking it into my over-stuffed backpack.

Having been happily (for the most part) single for the last three years, I am evermore curious about the idea of single life and what it really means. Living a whole and happy life as an unattached almost-thirty-something is liberating and exciting, but it comes with its obstacles too. Namely fighting off societal expectations; navigating around feelings of failure; braving events, weddings and holidays alone; and coping with the sensation of being ‘left behind’ … all despite the fact that you are, by all means, still young, still desirable, and still ‘in your prime, as well as perfectly content.

When I stumbled across Kate’s book on Goodreads, promising an exploration of the idea of singledom and seeking contentment with your own company, I was curious and, I admit, in need of reassurance from another like-minded woman. I wanted to read more about how I was ok on my own, and why it’s a blessing, and not the curse that others might claim it to be.

Spinster fuses together Kate’s own experiences as a single woman in her twenties and thirties in New York (mostly) with stories about a number of American women in history who defied social expectations and norms of their time to pursue their own life’s interests, passions and goals.

It sounded, to me, ideal. Strong women, doing what they wanted, defying the pressures to date, marry, settle or whatever else women were supposed to do, across the centuries. Taking inspiration from other women outside of our own generation to inform our own romantic habits and lifelong aspirations.

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This book hooked me at the very start. I love being nosey and reading about other people’s’ life experiences, and I got sucked into Kate’s life, her curiosities, her attitudes, encounters with boys, and her relationship with her mother and her home.

I was intrigued by the women she chose to lead her life around, despite having never heard of them, and her passion for following them in their footsteps and exploring their fascinating histories was very evident.

This book not only explores romantic relationships – Kate herself ends a number of them after being inspired by her muses, embarking on an exploration of her own dating habits – it also looks at a how women balance work and ‘play’. More accurately, how they might actually prioritise a career over marriage, and how this was received ‘then’ and now.

Spinster is an interesting read, well written, and Kate’s passion is evident. I found myself nodding along more than a handful of times.

This book is also very well researched and thought out. Kate’s knowledge about and passion for these women of note is impressive, and her love for their lives is clear through the detail she includes and the way she writes about them. After all, she spent much of her twenties fixated on these women; she knows the ins and outs of their lives and, subsequently, has shaped much of her own life around the way they lived theirs.

She speaks avidly about how these brilliant women focused their lives on their passions; their careers, their writing, their explorations on sexuality, going against everything that was expected of them. This is exciting and exactly what I wanted from Spinster when I first picked it up.

However, I must admit, there were times when it started to drag a little, and I found certain parts harder to follow.

Even as a non-American, I didn’t expect to feel so detached from the historic segments of the book, but I gradually began to lose interest in these stories from the days of yore; they eventually bled into each other, and I found it hard to differentiate one woman from another.

Don’t get me wrong; it was brilliant to consider how these women stood up for their own ideas at a time when defying convention was risky. They were, it sounds, impressive, strong, and sensational, and worthy of sharing. I just felt like the anecdotes about their lives were so vast that I struggled to keep up.

I really enjoyed reading about Kate’s own love-life experiences; she is relatable, talking about the effects of moving in with a partner, or suddenly finding yourself knee-deep in a serious relationship, or how college takes its toll on romance, or how love can take time away from self-exploration.

I’ll admit, there were times when I did wonder at times how deceptive the title of the book is. Kate is more often than not, throughout the book, in relationships (albeit pining for singledom, by the sounds of it) or dating. I was anticipating a relatively man-free existence throughout. But after she described having to be put on a dating ban by a friend (and failing it within a week) I felt a little cynical. The real idea of the spinster in my mind means very little romance, and Kate seemed to have plenty of that, and very little time truly alone.

I did enjoy this book; it’s well written, well researched, and the concept is a good one. I loved that Kate has created an honest and unique book that explores modern perceptions of singledom in women in a novel and detailed way. She proves that the idea of a ‘spinster’ has not only been plaguing women for centuries, but it has also been defied and re-defined by strong women for centuries, too; and if they can do it, so can we.

I respect Kate’s passion, and there are so many parts of the book that speak to me, inspire me, and stoke the fire in my belly; but the expanses between these moments meant it was hard to keep that flame alight the entire time, and I admit, I almost sighed with relief when I closed that last page.

I’m really glad I read it, and would recommend you give it a go if you’re curious, but it does, at times, read as a long essay about some very obscure American women with personal anecdotes woven in.

My search for a truly relatable and completely captivating exploration of living a lonely life in modern times continues.

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