An immersive, absorbing novella told over the course of a pivotal day in Swiss history in 1959, when men voted against women’s suffrage.
Threaded with engaging detail on class, and the pull between traditional ideas about how women should live and the drive for female independence from men, Clare O’Dea’s Voting Day is an absorbing, read-in-one-sitting novella.
Told from the perspectives of four women in 1959, on the day Swiss men voted against giving women the right to vote, the author reveals the differences between women’s lives and attitudes, and also what unites them. It’s a delicate, illuminating and immediately engaging work, told with elegance and insight as the women’s lives intersect on this decisive day.
First we meet Vreni, a hardworking farmer’s wife who’s heading from the countryside for an operation in Bern, but not before she’s prepared her household for her absence. In Bern, Vreni meets Margrit, her daughter. With Margrit trying to forge an independent life, their time together reveals the pull between the old and the new, country and town, and intergenerational conflicts, but also the persistence of male control over women no matter what their age or location. The fact that it’s Vreni who tackles her daughter’s predicament also sheds light on the way assumptions about people can blind us from seeing the truth. While outwardly confident, in reality Margrit feels like she’s in a “thorny, overgrown forest from the most frightening fairy tales…lost and helpless”, while her apparently old-fashioned, downtrodden mother asserts herself with glorious verve.
At the hospital we switch to Esther’s narrative. She’s a cleaner with connections to Verni and Margrit, a young mother who’s been abandoned by her husband and left in dire straits. In turn, hospital administrator Beatrice has been campaigning for the “yes” vote and is determined to help Esther.
The four characters, and the connections between them, embody and amplify varied realities of women’s lives at this time — still restricted by men clinging onto power over public and private life, but straining towards a new era of greater equality.
In February 1959, Switzerland held a referendum on women's suffrage. The men voted 'no'. In this powerful novella, Clare O'Dea explores that day through the eyes of four very different Swiss women. Vreni is a busy farmer's wife, longing for a break from family life. Her grown-up daughter Margrit is carving out an independent life in Bern, but finds herself trapped in an alarming situation. Esther, a cleaner, is desperate to recover her son who has been taken into care. Beatrice, a hospital administrator, has been throwing herself into the 'yes' campaign. The four women's paths intersect on a day that will leave its mark on all their lives.
|Publication date:||1st April 2022|
|Primary Genre||Literary Fiction|
'An uplifting story of hope and solidarity, as well as a vivid, fascinating snapshot of a recent (almost unbelievably recent!) moment in Swiss history. I devoured it in one sitting.' - Jonathan Coe;
'O'Dea's storytelling is delicate, tender and insightful. The lives of four Swiss women in the 1950s are opened up to us with care and beauty. A work of fine historical fiction not to be missed.' - Anne Griffin, author of 'When All is Said';
'Through deft storytelling skill and narrative imagination, Clare O'Dea's novella shows how a particular moment in history was experienced through the eyes of real women. Subtly and ingeniously, 'Voting Day' points to the many small and big ways in which womens' struggle for equality still prevails.' - Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, author of 'The Apple Tart of Hope' and 'All The Money In The World';
'Clare O'Dea's gripping novel is a valuable testament to a moment in history. In a critical yet caring way, the author movingly portrays the fate of four disenfranchised women who are nevertheless striving to take control of their lives.' - Barbara Traber, Swiss author and translator;
'One critical day in the imagined lives of four women might initially seem to us to have taken place several generations ago, at a time when women were literally second-class citizens, but their emotions and humanity resonate to this day with unchanged relevance. A lot has changed for women; little has changed. Clare O'Dea has brilliantly captured this dichotomy in her compelling depiction of a so-called bygone era.' - Alison Anderson, author of The Summer Guest