This book is very different from the kind of book I usually read. Let's just say that I sometimes like to get a more feminine perspective on things.
My copy of this novel has had an interesting journey. It was first sold in the U.K., and then someone took it to Australia. It was sold a second time to a used bookstore there, and was subsequently taken to Bali, Indonesia, where my wife bought it. She tried (and failed) to get through it, and after learning more about the author I began reading it in Taiwan, where we now are.
"There was a tap on his shoulder. It was the former Minister who had spoken before him, whose own days of glory were long passed.
"'Nicely done, lad. You'll get plenty of Brownie points for that. One little problem you'll have to watch, though.'
"Anthony craned around and looked enquiringly into the rheumy eyes.
"'Just remember this. If you're going to take your stand on 'Back to Basics' and all that, you'll have to be like Caesar's wife. If not - if you're only human like the rest of us - bear in mind the eleventh commandment. D'you know what it is?'
"Anthony waited politely.
"'Don't get caught.'"
Edwina Currie served as a Member of Parliament. After leaving her office amid controversy she became an author. Her first novel, A Parliamentary Affair, is her most famous work. Her Diaries, detailing a long-standing affair with fellow parliamentarian John Major, were also a major success. I haven't researched her career in any depth, but I feel like her fiction is very autobiographical in nature.
In A Woman's Place, Elaine Stalker, newly elected to government office, attempts to negotiate the parliamentary bureaucracy and the pitfalls of male chauvinism. Along the way several other Ministers rise and fall, with the plot culminating in Elaine's disillusionment with government and her finding romance in the arms of an older man.
At 651 pages, it's the kind of novel designed to take up time, and I doubt that many of its readers would take much time to reflect on its overall quality. In the hands of a differently-minded editor this book could have been edited down to 400 pages or so, and the result would have been far more concise. But of course 400 pages isn't really enough for someone pursuing reading for the sake of diversion, and I understand the reasons for making it longer.
This aside, A Woman's Place suffers from four major weaknesses, which are by no means particular to its genre: 1) most of the characters are inadequately described, and are virtually indistinguishable from one another, 2) the settings are likewise inadequately described, 3) the workings of British government are never adequately described for those unfamiliar with them, and 4) the ending, although largely predictable, is something of a non-event.
Weaknesses 1) and 2) aren't particularly damning given the genre, but 3) and 4) are. Because the procedural aspects of parliamentary life are taken as understood by the book's readers, I'll assume that the author only intended this book for people within the United Kingdom. Some of the intrigues present in the plot were completely incomprehensible to me, and as an American I often found myself wondering what the big deal was.
The book's conclusion is the biggest problem. Near the end Elaine has an encounter with a deranged man, and even though the development is (somewhat) foreshadowed earlier in the book, the shape that this encounter takes is so out of left field that it threatens to derail the entire novel. One gets the feeling that this story thread was inserted after the fact, to make the novel seem less "dry," but because it's not built up effectively it's at best perplexing, and at worst off-putting.
So, did I enjoy A Woman's Place? No, I can't say that I did, but at least it wasn't as terrible as I thought it would be. I can't recommend it, but anyone considering it probably wouldn't put much stock in my advice anyway.
"April Fool's Day" by Bryce Courtenay (1993)
"Teacher Man" and "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt (2005 and 1996)
"The Clan of the Cave Bear" by Jean M. Auel (1980)
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson (1971)