Review: As Little As Nothing by Pamela Mulloy

I started reading Pamela Mulloy’s lovely new novel As Little As Nothing the same day the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. 

I hesitate to call this day a milestone, although it is, of course, but perhaps turning point is a better phrase. A turning to the past, even as we hurtle into the future. Something of this staggering significance can only become one of those “Where were you when?” moments of which we all have so many in a lifetime. 

And so where was I? I had just arrived at the cottage at the start of my two week vacation, and Mulloy’s book was the one I’d chosen to read first. I felt angry and frustrated and hopeless, but it turned out that As Little As Nothing was an excellent book to experience on such a dark day. 

“Miriam knew she needed to fly when she lost her fifth baby.”

In 1938, one year before war is declared in England, we are introduced to Miriam as she leaves her bed, still weak from a miscarriage, in order to seek out a plane that she can tell is in trouble. 

The plane does indeed crash, and at the crash site Miriam meets Frank, another bystander and together they assist the injured pilot. Miriam and Frank become friends of a sort, even as we quickly learn they are from very different classes, and Frank works to help Miriam fulfill her dreams of flight.

In addition, we are introduced to Frank’s Aunt Audrey, a fearless, modern woman who lectures on women’s rights and advocates for safe abortions. She lives in a caravan and swims in the river, and is unlike anyone Miriam has ever met. 

It is through Audrey that Mulloy’s themes of early 20th century feminism are revealed. In addition to abortion rights and the rights of a woman to choose, Audrey wants the women she talks to to also understand desire, to be able to have sex for pleasure should they want to, and therefore to learn about various sorts of birth control available to them. It was so refreshing and the timing could not have been better.

 Layered in with these themes are the rumblings of the war that is just over the horizon. Mulloy weaves in newspaper headlines and snippets from news programs to illustrate an England, while perhaps not entirely in denial of what is to come, still somewhat reluctant to entertain the thought of another war. To me, there is always a delicious sort of foreboding in novels where characters go about their lives, preparing in small ways for something that we as readers know is monumental and about to change everything. In 1938 of course, they were still holding out hope upon hope that Chamberlain would be able to smooth things over with Hitler.

As Little As Nothing was a lovely read on a warm summer day, and it was also a reminder that women have been fighting for decades and will continue to fight, for agency and the right to make decisions about our bodies. And on a day that felt so heavy and like so much progress had been erased, it was so good to read a story about women looking to the future, and making a difference it the lives of other women.

I am grateful to Pamela Mulloy for writing such a beautiful story that is at once timely and timeless, and I am grateful to ECW Press for sending me the ARC to review. 

As Little As Nothing is out on October 11.

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