Of No Consequence is a novelette, which I read on request from the author, partly to counteract all the light, fluffy, chick lit type stuff I’ve been reading lately. Still a novel about a woman, but in a very different way, Of No Consequence is about Zahya, whose husband leaves her and their children in order to find work in Libya. After he leaves, he is not heard from for two years, and in order to support herself, Zahya goes out and gets a job as a maid in the house of a rich woman. Basically, the story details the vulnerability of women, and the atrocities which can happen due to the failure of society to recognise the same standards of moral behaviour for women and men, and the rights of women.
I like to have a little bit of background information when I’m reading, if possible, so here’s a short bio of the author:
Egyptian born American writer Sonia Rumzi travels with her husband writing wherever they land. Experience as a wife, then ex-wife, then single mother and grandmother, she writes from life. Most of her writing centers around women’s issues.When asked once to describe what she does in one sentence she said, "I am a Desert Queen who writes about what people do to each other."
I’d just like to say at this point, and I will get into this in more detail in a separate post, that I feel that one of the great strengths of fiction, is that it is a way for the horrors of reality to be distanced enough for people who don’t like to read misery memoirs (like me), not to be totally disassociated from the awful things which happen in the world. By no means do I read solely fiction about the awful and disgusting events that take place, but I do feel it’s important to educate people about things which occur outside of their realm of experience, and fiction seems to be a powerful way to do this.
Writing about what people do to each other is a very accurate description of Of No Consequence, primarily, what men do to women. The storyline is motivated by the actions of men, firstly Zahya’s husband leaving her, and never being heard from again, and then the situation that she ends up in through the abuse of another man, brought about because of her husband’s abandonment. I have to admit that I wasn’t immediately grabbed by the opening of the story: I found it a little clunky, with an overuse of adjectives. It felt as if Rumzi was trying to split the telling of the story between dialogue and adjectives, but to me, the adjectives seemed like they were substituting for a fully formed descriptive passage, which would have given the story more momentum. Because of this the beginning, I felt, didn’t pull the reader in as much as it could have. Despite this, though, after a few pages, the plot really picked up pace, and from a storyline point of view, it was incredibly strong and moving, with a twist at the end, which totally shocked me. The story is written from Zahya’s point of view, and her voice is very clear throughout, which for me, was the strength of the story.
The fact that Zahya is twenty, and had her first child at age fourteen was very strong for me as a reader. The thought of a woman three years younger than me having already had three children, and been abandoned by her husband to raise them alone, seems incomprehensible, but I know from friends and acquaintances, as well as from reading (obviously) that having children so young is considered the norm in many countries. The idea of having to get married and have children is totally foreign concept to me, and probably to many of my readers – despite my religious upbringing, I’ve always taken it for granted that when or if I got married and had children was up to me, and nobody else. I can’t imagine me at twenty being even slightly mature enough to support three children as well as myself, and I’m totally in awe of anybody who does!
As you may be able to tell, I really liked Zahya as a character. She had a very innocent and naive quality, which really made me warm to her. There were other characters that I liked a lot less – some because I wasn’t meant to like them, and some because there were things that I found very annoying about them, for example Zahya’s employer, Mrs Shaheen. Midway through the book, before the tumultuous events leading to the finale, Zahya attempts to have a conversation with her employer about the fact that in her religion, it is a sin for her to serve or carry alcohol, and Mrs Shaheen merely dismisses it as Zahya being ‘young’ and having ‘a lot to learn’. To me, this smacks of intolerance and the kind of disgustingly patronizing condescension which really annoys me. I’m not sure if this is what the author intended, but it really got to me.
The story illustrated very succinctly the most disgusting kind of objectification of women. The character I most disliked, Mr Shaheen, only sees Zahya for her body; he doesn’t think about her children or care about her life after she leaves his house. He was a character written to be so absolutely disgusting that I would defy anyone not to end up wanting to punch him.
Despite the slight awkwardness of the writing at times, for me, Of No Consequence was an overall success. I cared about the characters enough to really get angry when Zahya is taken advantage of, and the following events left me speechless. Stylistically and grammatically it wasn’t always perfect, but in terms of plot, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was captivated from the third page onwards, and was completely unsuspecting of the shocking twist at the end, which made it all the more powerful.
I don’t want to ruin the ending, so I won’t say anything about the climactic event, except that right at the very end of the story, a male character says something so absolutely disgusting and despicable that it made me hope fervently that there are no men in the world who actually believe it to be true, while despairing slightly, as I know that without a doubt, there are.
Of No Consequence is definitely not a cheerful read, but it is important for people who live lives such as I do, to realise that things like this are happening to women all the time, in so many different places. In order for women to not ever have to suffer through the things that Zahya does in this story, I think it’s really important for everybody, both women and men, to be completely aware of the awfulness of the things which can happen, especially to women. I’m very glad I read this book, and glad that I stuck with it through the first few pages, as the rest of it was much better than I expected it to be from my first impressions.
This novelette was received in e-book form via smashwords.com, courtesy of the author.