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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Big Women
(Big Girls Don't Cry)

Fay Weldon

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To purchase Big Girls Don't Cry

Title: Big Girls Don't Cry
Author: Fay Weldon
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997
Length: 346 pages
Availability: Big Girls Don't Cry - US
Big Women - UK
Big Girls Don't Cry - Canada
Vier starke Frauen - Deutschland
  • UK title: Big Women
  • US title: Big Girls Don't Cry
  • Big Girls Don't Cry was made into a TV miniseries for Britain's Channel 4 by Tariq Ali, under its English title, Big Women.

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Our Assessment:

A- : broad, terse, elegant attacks, in a well-crafted novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph B- 17/1/1998 Jane Shilling
Denver Post C+ 1/11/1998 Robin Vidimos
The Guardian C+ 8/1/1998 Natasha Walter
The NY Times Book Rev. B 25/10/1998 Elizabeth Gleick
The Spectator B 10/1/1998 Jane Gardam
The Sunday Times B 11/1/1998 Penny Perrick
The Times B+ 24/1/1998 Lisa Jardine
TLS . 23/1/1998 Nicola Shulman

  From the Reviews:
  • "Big Women, with its sentimentality, and the cold-heartedness that is sentimentality's twin sister, offers a kind of semi-skimmed, or Disneyfied account of human emotion, in which no one really gets hurt, and everything comes all right in the end." - Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph

  • "(A)lthough Weldon seems to want to celebrate her protagonists' achievements, you close the novel wondering if she has risen much above such caricaturing herself." - Natasha Walter, The Guardian

  • "(A)t least Weldon can be counted on for one rare quality: in her hands, nothing, truly nothing, is sacred." - Elizabeth Gleick, The NY Times Book Review

  • "The plot of Big Women is skimpy, but the dialogue is resolutely witty, the action slick, the pace racy - vintage Weldon at her inimitable best." - Lisa Jardine, The Times

  • "The novel is as much a celebration as an apology, and, at the last, the women make "a lively, intelligent, attractive, undisappointed lot". But perhaps not everyone will find them as alluring as what Weldon has made of them: a lively, intelligent, undisappointing novel." - Nicola Shulman, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Weldon does not get sufficient respect for her books from her American publishers -- in this case the Atlantic Monthly Press. Whereas previously she has altered some her novels for their U.S. editions, to accommodate the American market (a concept that mystifies and concerns us), here she was not permitted to keep the original title of her novel. (Well, we're sure she graciously acquiesced to the change, but it is unacceptable nevertheless.) The British title was Big Women, a perfectly reasonable title, much simpler than the one that was substituted, and more importantly an appropriate one. The last sentence of the novel reads: "Big women, not little women, that was the point, and still flourishing." Obviously her American publishers missed the point, and so much for Ms. Weldon's creations flourishing. The idea that calling a book Big Women would be found offensive by large (in both percentage and weight) segments of the reading public, preventing them from buying the book, is ludicrous. Aside from being the perfect counterpart to the famously titled Little Women (surely a far more offensive title), it is simple, to the point, and catchy. The new title, Big Girls Don't Cry is far weaker, less appropriate, and more complicated. But the publishing industry likes to shoot itself in the foot (not to say the head) wherever possible, so we should not be surprised. Only here it is Ms. Weldon that suffers too. So, our first piece of advice is: don't be put off by the title.
       The book is fairly typical of Weldon's work, following the lives of a number of women (and, peripherally, the men and children in their lives) over the course of several decades. Told in four parts, the novel spans several decades, dropping in, as it were, in each new period and giving a more detailed account of what is happening and then jumping over a few years. The story begins with several women founding a feminist publishing house, Medusa (sounding, in all respects, suspiciously like the publisher Virago), and follows the success of the publishers. Using it, and the women involved, to show the differing face and roles of feminism from 1971 to the present, Weldon paints an effective picture.
       Weldon does not suffer fools gladly (which makes us wonder why she puts up with publishers who tamper with her creations), and while it is a novel that is told from a woman's perspective it is not simplistically feminist in any way. Weldon is hard on all her characters, the men as well as the women. She even emphasizes their weaknesses -- a breath of fresh air given the overly sympathetic modern fiction one is usually faced with. The characters are all very human, and while they profess idealism Weldon ruthlessly shows how difficult it is to live up to it. Even so, the characters do grow (and grow on the reader), as Weldon subtilely weaves here intricate story.
       The style of the book is familiar: short episodes presented in short chapters, paragraphs separated, scenes fleshed out, but then not immediately followed up on. It is a tapestry Weldon weaves, and the story does come together very well. Weldon's succinct style, with few wasted words, her dialogue brutally honest and straightforward, her explanations always cutting to the quick make for a powerful reading experience. Not everyone likes their fiction so direct, but we approve heartily and recommend the book highly.
       We do not think men (or women -- even big women) should be put off by the idea that this is feminist fiction. It is, of course, but it is not a militant or emotional feminism. It is, we suppose, a rational book, and there is great comfort in that. Shrewd observer Weldon must appeal to all at least for her honesty (though we imagine both feminists and many men fume at her clear pronouncements). More importantly, this is simply a fine book, well told and very well written.

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Big Girls Don't Cry: Reviews: Big Women - the miniseries:
  • IMDb site on the miniseries
Fay Weldon: Other books by Fay Weldon under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       Fay Weldon, born in England and raised in New Zealand, received her M.A. in economics and psychology from St. Andrews University in Scotland. She is the author of nearly two dozen novels.

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