The feminist press £11.99 (327pp) (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Love Children, By Marilyn French

When The Women's Room was first published in 1977, it was as if Marilyn French had dropped "a bomb in the comfortable concentration camp of the American suburbs," says Susan Faludi. The psychodrama of Mira's stultifying, ball-and-chain marriage to Norm outraged the critics, roused a generation of housewives who had sat, anesthetised, in the dull suburban drawing rooms of East Coast America and became, in part, the fire in the canon of second-wave feminism.

Now, some 30 years after that explosive moment comes the follow-up, The Love Children. The final novel French wrote before she died last year, it is not so much a bomb as a round of gunfire aimed at the present day. She had fired such sallies before – in 2006, she bemoaned that "feminism has almost disappeared from the surface of our society". With this novel, French takes us back to the beginning to reflect on the ideals of this apparently lost cause.

It begins, like The Women's Room, in 1968, but if that book was about the "half-lives" of wives and mothers, The Love Children is about their daughters' lives fully lived. Jessamin is a feisty child of divorce who grows up amid Harvard campus intelligensia after her mother kicks her (famous artist) father out of the marital home.

"We refused on point of death to compromise on our principles", says Jess, before she drops out of college life and heads for the hills to live in a commune. It doesn't work out but Jess, pregnant and unmarried, decides to keep her baby and juggle motherhood with a career. It ends in the present day with reflections on whether the gains of Jess's generation can still be felt.

The problem with this very readable psychological portrait is its inwardness, which leads French to fall prey to the same criticisms angled at second-wave Feminism. Jess's world is one of white privilege, filled with books, menstruation parties and collegiate conversation about deconstruction and Derrida. Whenever she runs out of money or options, she has her wealthy parents to fall back on. Her father helps her raise her child, her mother sends her money at the commune, her friends' paramount concern is to go to a "good school"– to be a Harvard or Smith grad over an Andrews one. Women's liberation, it appears, is for the comfortably well-off.

In attempting to crystallise the essence of a generation, French ends up presenting "sisterhood" as a monolith that eliminates the differences which many modern feminists feel is vital to acknowledge. Feminism long ago became feminisms and I am not sure French's misty-eyed picture of these burnished days of middle-class empowerment captures this reality.

As a curious quirk, almost every woman in the book is tall and strikingly slim. Looks matter to French, but then again, why shouldn't they? There are some lovely period touches in the book – "What are organic vegetables?" asks one character, while another describes the joys of an answering machine: "It's a machine answering the phone!"

French describes the generation with an almost comical gusto: "Sandy announced that she was gay...Hearing this, I confessed I might be gay too" ..."You know what an orgasm is, don't you? You masturbate, right?" This perfect reproduction of the past is both its success and its failure. Together with the waft of weed that hangs in the air like a period piece, so too the air is laced thick with nostalgia. "I think our generation was great," says Jess's husband, while Jess bemoans "the (modern) world is as terrible a place as ever".

One wonders if Jess's story is all nostalgia, or if it's relevant in an age when lone mothers are commonplace and when the pressures on women to "have it all" weigh heavy, which Jess' struggles do not begin to address. Women's issues of the day - the growth of plastic surgery, Playboy culture, new representations which are not necessarily more liberating but which the previous generation could not have imagined - are not even briefly referred to in this reminiscience. French does herself, at the end, question whether old-style sisterhood still applies. "I wonder... Is it important in the scale of things that a few people achieve happy lives? Does it change the balance for the rest? Does it create a usable example?" The reader wonders too.

Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit