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October 16, 2021

The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall ~ an Audiobook Review

by Donna Huber


I really enjoyed Zoe Whittall's 2017 novel The Best Kind of People (read our reviews) and though I wasn't totally sold on the description of her new book The Spectacular, I loved how she tackled difficult topics. As I'm behind on reading my review copies, and MK has already reviewed the book, I got the audiobook from the library. 

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

The Spectacular
September 2021; Ballantine Books; 978-1524799410
audio (11h 54m), ebook, print (368 pages); women's fiction

The book's description states, "The Spectacular is a multi-generational story exploring sexuality, gender and the weight of reproductive freedoms". So the novel is pretty timely, but the story starts in 1997 and then shifts back and forth, going back as far as the 1920s, before fast-forwarding to 2013 in the second part. It is also told from the perspective of 3 women: Missy is the main female character, but the story often shifts to her mother Carola in alternating titles. Then there are 7 chapters at the end of part 1 that features Ruth, Missy's paternal grandmother.  Their stories intersect and diverge in the various issues facing women no matter the time period and the choices available to them given their time period. Some of the issues trickle down the generations because of the choices made by each of the women.

The shifting time periods and character POVs were a little difficult to follow with the audiobook. I think it was more the shifting time periods as each character has her own voice actress making it easy to distinguish between the women. 

I felt there was too much time spent on the past, and I struggled to get through part 1. Missy's chapters were a bit too much "sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll" (in Missy's case it is Indie Rock). The book opens with her at a planned parenthood type clinic seeking a tubal ligation (she wants her tubes tied). She wants to party as hard as her male bandmates and doesn't want to be hindered by the possible consequences that her bandmates don't face. However, she is only 21 and all the doctors think she will change her mind later in life about wanting children.

To tell you the truth, I didn't connect with any of the characters and that made it more difficult to enthusiastically embrace the novel. I did start to like them more in part 2 and wish that section had been longer and more of the focus of the story. I think that I could have appreciated where life led them without so many of the details and I enjoyed how they dealt with the choices they had made. 

As MK said in her review, Missy and Carola do experience a great deal of character growth. As someone who prefers character-driven novels, I appreciated the amount of growth and being able to see the entire arc.

Though I don't think it was really my type of story, Whittall does another great job of exploring issues of motherhood and being a woman in general. Whittal doesn't shy away from the complexities and messiness of these issues. Instead, she fully embraces it. I think this would make an excellent book for discussion so if you are in a book club make sure this book is on your recommendation list.

Buy The Spectacular at Amazon


Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.


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