Cephalopod Coffee House: An Unnecessary Woman

Welcome to the Cephalopod Coffee House hosted by the Armchair Squid. The purpose of the Coffehouse is to share the best book you read in the past month.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51wZ6gTSIbL.jpgThis month I read An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine. This National Book Award Finalist tells the story of Aaliyah Saleh - or rather, she tells her own story - an elderly Lebanese woman who secretly translates novels as a way of coping with her life.

An Unnecessary Woman is a rather formless novel. There isn't much of a plot to speak of, and most of the narrative is given over to vignettes of Aaliyah's childhood, her early marriage and divorce, the civil wars of the seventies and eighties, and her thoughts on literature, music and philosophy. The book is more a novel of themes exploring loneliness and isolation

For most of the novel, Aaliyah seems to take pride in herself as a woman living apart with no familial or societal responsibilities. She relishes in the idea of being different, and of being unsentimental. Her favorite authors are people she feels are like her: alone, socially awkward, living outside their respective communities. However, as the novel goes on, cracks begin to show in her facade and it becomes obvious that Aaliyah is a woman who is nearly drowning in her isolation.

I'm usually not one for plotless literature. It generally irritates me, when characters mope around for three hundred pages, but Aaliyah is not that sort of character. What the novel lacks in forward momentum, it makes up for with the complex character of Aaliyah Saleh. She's keenly observant of her surroundings, brilliant, wryly humorous and sad all at once. Each memory she relates, every anecdote, every literary reference reveals an aspect aspect of her personality, her way of thinking, and her world outlook. I would recommend An Unnecessary Woman just for the character of Aaliyah Saleh alone.

Thanks for stopping by for my review. Now visit some other reviews at the links below:


  1. The other day I woke with a title in my brain: An Inconvenient Woman. I was (somehow) reflecting on a rather famous movie from my childhood about a mistress to a mob boss, if I remember correctly, and then drifted into macabre thoughts of Marilyn Monroe, so I was really intrigued by this post.

    I read too much, and sometimes everything I pick up feels formulaic, so I'm often captivated by the character novels, like this one. It's not likely I'll pick it up, but I can see how finding this one would be a balm, more than a trial.
    Thanks for sharing!
    V of V's Reads

  2. A little surprised I haven't seen this one around my house. Seems the sort of thing my wife would have read.

    Arab literature is hit or miss for me. As you have noted here, plot frequently takes a back seat to other elements, usually the poetic language.

  3. I'll have to remember to take a look at this if I come across it.
    It's the kind of thing that sounds like I would find interesting but would take me months and months to read, like The Casual Vacancy did.


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