The tag line of Irish novelist Cecelia Ahern’s new collection, Roar, is “Thirty Stories. One Roar”: an on-the-nose message that, while every woman’s story is different, women’s collective rage is uniform – and powerful.
Ahern’s previous work, including PS, I Love You, There’s No Place Like Here and The Gift, are funny, light and often wise but didn’t entirely presage Roar, which is funny, wise and weighty – in a very good way. After all, when you write 30 stories about the dilemmas of people who hold up half the world’s sky, things are bound to get heavy. The women in these fables cope with discrimination, loneliness and abandonment, among other things. In “The Woman Who Had a Ticking Clock”, the main character’s sadness at her loud manifestation of a biological need is solved when she... oh, well, no spoilers here!
Some of the women have tragic outcomes. Witness “The Woman Who Blew Away”, a cautionary tale concerning a Kylie Jenner-ish young woman whose immense success and vacuous life untether her from reality. Or “The Woman Who Sowed Seeds of Doubt”, in which the protagonist’s discovery about her spouse leaves her with an uncertain future. But many more have HEAs (“happily ever afters”, in romance parlance), with the protagonists discovering reserves of strength to cope with inequality around the globe. (There are stories set in several different countries, including India). One older woman gets the opportunity to trade in her husband. Another finds herself afflicted with a need to eat family photographs.
One of the funniest stories concerns a woman who farts during an important presentation – only to find herself swallowed up by a black hole populated with other women in similar states of humiliation and shame. Not only does the story tap into something real, it recalls those endlessly popular women’s magazine staples in which readers share their most embarrassing moments.
One of the most affecting stories is “The Woman Who Grew Wings”, in which a young traditional Muslim mother struggles to integrate into the family’s new western home country. Her back hurts and hurts and one day during a particularly fraught school run, she “looks over her shoulder and there they are: majestic porcelain-white feathers, over a thousand of them in each wing; she has a seven-foot wingspan”. Her children’s delight in her new appendages makes her realise that she can give them “a better life. A happy life. A safe life”.
Another powerful entry, “The Woman Who Found the World in Her Oyster”, reminds us that the definition of “woman” has broadened to much more than cisgender and heteronormative individuals. A transgender woman readies herself to attend an important, fancy and quite femme-y business lunch, and her nervousness has little to do with reading the room and everything to do with a personal relationship. It may make you put Roar down for a while so you can think about what the word “woman” really means and why the roars women make sound so similar.
Which demands a caveat: it’s best to read just one or two of Ahern’s fables at a time. That way you can truly appreciate their wit, pathos and imagination. The author includes Helen Reddy’s famous lyric “I am woman, hear me roar” as an epigraph, but she might just as easily have used “I’m every woman. It’s all in me.”
Published by Harper Collins on 2 May, £7.99
This article was originally published on The Washington Post
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