An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Posted March 4, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

An Untamed State by Roxane GayTitle: An Untamed State (Goodreads)
Author: Roxane Gay
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2014
Pages: 384
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Mireille Duval Jameson thinks of life as a fairy tale, that was until a trip home to visit her parents sees her kidnapped in broad daylight. Her father is a wealthy man living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and her captives are none too pleased with him. An Untamed State is a brutal, unflinching debut that deals with poverty, corruption and the damaging effects of being held captive.

“Once upon a time, my life was a fairy tale and then I was stolen from everything I’ve ever loved. There was no happily ever after. After days of dying, I was dead.” 

Roxane Gay had a fantastic year in 2014, her collection of essays Bad Feminist received a lot of praise in the bookish community and her debut novel also released in the same year was a stunning success. An Untamed State was not released in Australia until recently and I was finally able to see why this book was hyped so much. While this was a fast paced thriller that flowed quickly, the brutal nature of this novel made it difficult to read. I felt myself picking up pace multiple times only to hit a brutal gang rape or abusive part that tripped me up and brought my reading to a slower speed. This is a very difficult book to read but I still think it is an important novel.

An Untamed State is hard hitting and deals with some very complex issue; the type of issues that need to be talked about. I was a little put off by the over-representation of violence but I wonder if we can talk about this issues without getting a feeling of just how devastating torture, rape and kidnapping can be on a person? Not only are we reading about the psychological damage done to Mireille’s life and family, An Untamed State deals with the issues facing a country like Haiti. The crippling poverty of the country, while a few live in luxury and the corruption of the government also play a major part in this novel.

The book is told in two parts; the first half deals with the kidnapping and the unspeakable things that happen to Mireille while held captive waiting for her father to pay the ransom. Then the second half deals with the aftermath. This allows the reader to look at the damage; from post-traumatic stress to the psychological impact on Mireille. An Untamed State was dedicated to women everywhere and it was interesting that such a brutal book would have that inscription. Although it is time we had a conversation about rape and its damage; I think this novel does this successfully.

An Untamed State may be an unflinching and brutal novel but it is a powerful literary debut that deals with some important issues. I am hesitant to recommend this book or even praise it, however it does need to be discussed. You are in for an uncomfortable journey and Roxane Gay will not hold back. I think this will make for an interesting book club selection but I think that could either make for a fascinating discussion or kill the book club completely.

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