The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for PMT


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: PMT

Cure: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Though at least half of humanity does not experience this ailment directly, few escape its effects. One only has to be in the vicinity of a woman to know about the black moods that can descend once a month: irritability, tears, a certain clumsiness, perhaps even out-and-out rage. A peculiar aspect of premenstrual tension is that sufferers frequently fail to recognise their symptoms for what they are – and the unwary female may at first try and find external causes to blame. We therefore urge not just women but those who live with them to avail themselves of our cure and – as it suggests – give those afflicted a wide berth.

The Red Tent of Diamant's novel is the place menstruating women go to escape. Indeed, all the female-only aspects of life happen here; and it is where Dinah, daughter of Jacob (of Old Testament fame) is born. With four mothers, 11 brothers and lots of goats, Dinah's world is a populous one. But, as the only girl-child of Jacob, she is allowed to enter the sanctuary of the Red Tent before her time. There she discovers a place of calm, secrets and wisdom.

The female perspective on this Bible story provides a radical new viewpoint. In the Old Testament version, Dinah is raped by Shalem, Prince of Shechem. In Diamant's, Dinah falls in love with the prince; but her brothers react to their romance by cutting the throats of all the men of Shechem. Dinah curses Jacob and her brothers – then flees to Egypt, has a baby and becomes a midwife, leaving the men to come to various dastardly ends.

Women are united here through the connection of their monthly cycles, and female readers will find it bonds them to the women in their lives, too. They might even be inspired to retreat into their own feminine haven once a month. Male readers will develop a greater sense of the cyclical nature of women's lives – and, perhaps, be a little more prepared when PMT next rocks their domestic boat.