There’s going to be a lot of defensive denial from readers who look upon my copy of Walk to the End of the World (1974) by Suzy McKee Charnas with “The terrifying science fantasy about a world ruled by men” blurbed on the cover. Knee-jerk responses will vary from “pshh, that’s not fantasy, that’s reality” to “that would never happen this author is a man-hater.” The cover image of an enslaved woman kneeling before two stern-faced men is equally contentious. (cover below, for I could not bear to make it the lead image for this post. this red one over here isn’t much better.)
With a title that recalls Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), but with a structural concept that’s more reminiscent of the Mrs. Dalloway-inspired novel, The Hours (1998), Anne Charnock’s latest employs a layered, parallel structure that follows three generations of women whose divergent lives converge at the presence and suppression of art, addressing the erasure of female artists from historical memory. A low burn, yet smolderingly feminist, Sleeping Embers highlights the progress of change in women’s lives over the centuries, as well as the hidden corners of stagnation.
The central narrative is that of Antonia Uccello, the real-life daughter of renowned Renaissance painter Paolo Uccello. Antonia is an artist herself, though we only know that by the occupation listed on her death certificate, as none of Antonia’s works have been discovered to this day. Charnock takes advantage of this lack of information about Antonia’s life to fictionalize her story and to advance her argument about the willing social neglect of women artists—and women, in general. Continue reading →