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Book review: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Can you enjoy a book that disturbs you and frighten you? Who am I kidding, I love a book that makes your stomach churn and your heart sink, and that’s exactly what happened when I read Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women.

I read this book when I was away on a weekend break with my kids and I had a lot of trouble putting it down. As much as I wanted to swim in the pool with them, I felt desperate to find out what happened to the three women Taddeo writes about.

I hadn’t realised the book was non-fiction before I bought it, but as soon as I started reading it I was sucked in to the lives of the women.

One was a woman who had taken her teacher to court for a relationship he had with her while she was at school. This story was devastating and illuminating, and revealed the depth of damage such a relationship can do. Most striking was Taddeo’s description of a young heart, of the all-encompassing desire of a crush, the yearning and the fragility.

Similarly, the story of another woman in the book uncovered the vulnerability of young women, when a girl is raped, and then cast off by her friends. Taddeo explores the effect of this experience on her future relationships in a way that is hopeful, but with a clear sense of despair. I felt desperately sad when reading this woman’s story, and even though I never had the same experiences, they somehow felt shockingly familiar.

The third woman had a complex family life growing up, and as an adult, has an unorthodox sexual relationship with her husband. It is hard to know whether it is one which she enjoys or not, and whether she has much control over.

The stories are full of ambiguity and pain, but are illuminating. In writing about these women, it feels like Taddeo is touching upon universal, and a story that must be told. It is one of the vulnerability of women, and their deep and painful yearning. It is about the way they are treated by men, and the scars that treatment leaves on them.

I felt like I knew the women in the stories, and the men. And it all made me feel awfully sad, but also freed of a reality that Taddeo has excavated. While this book was hard to read in ways, it was also a beautiful and truthful book that will stay with me.

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