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New Release and Book Excerpt for "Voting Day" by Clare O'Dea

Author Bio:

Originally from Dublin, Clare O’Dea has lived in Switzerland since 2003. After studying French and Russian at Trinity College Dublin, she had a varied media career in Ireland, with a freelance stint in Russia. Clare worked for the state broadcaster (RTÉ), the Irish Times, Today FM and the Gúna Nua Theatre Company. Her first non-fiction book, The Naked Swiss: A Nation Behind 10 Myths, was published in 2016 by Bergli Books. A second updated edition followed in 2018. Clare turned to Ireland as a subject for her second book, The Naked Irish: Portrait of a Nation Beyond the Clichés.

Book Blurb:

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.

‘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

Book Excerpt:

Maman would laugh if she could see her now. And, knowing her, it would be a cruel laugh. She’d never had any time for Beatrice’s bleeding heart. ‘This one always has a dirty little creature to save,’ she would tell visitors. Only now it wasn’t a dehydrated hedgehog or a stunned bird; it was a woman with many years ahead of her, a woman who deserved a better life.

Beatrice was not sure Maman would have approved of her work with the Bern Women’s Vote Association either. She could be very scathing about Swiss women. In her eyes, they were doing womanhood wrong – not feminine enough, not demanding enough. In her forty-five years in Switzerland, she never made a real Swiss friend. Couldn’t even bear the sound of Berndeutsch. Always making comments about the clothes and the hair of the other mothers as soon as they were out of earshot, sometimes sooner. No wonder people steered clear of her.

The only reason I am here is because of you, she would say, looking at Beatrice and Gabriel with a sour expression. One could say the same thing in a loving way. Well, Maman had been no better than any other bourgeoise Swiss woman herself, had she? A doctor’s wife obsessed with running a perfect home, giving ever more onerous instructions to a succession of maids. She dressed carefully every time she went out, even if it was only to go to the market or return a book to the library. She may have kept her figure, but she wasted her talents.

Beatrice glanced at the window and saw her reflection. Bad posture, mon Dieu! What on earth are you doing? she scolded herself. A sixty-one-year-old woman at her workplace on a Sunday evening thinking mean thoughts about her dead mother.

The clock on the wall showed almost a quarter to seven. And Gabriel was expecting her on the hour! She hated to keep anyone waiting, especially her own guest. She flung her coat over her shoulders and changed quickly into her outdoor shoes. Would her brother keep his promise to cook something fine in her little kitchen? Beatrice had skipped lunch in anticipation of a good dinner. For his sake, she hoped he hadn’t forgotten.

On the tram on the way home, she scrutinised the faces of the other passengers, a handful of men as it happened. The result would be in by now, Beatrice knew. Did she see the smugness of victory written there, or a faint shadow of shame? More likely what she saw was indifference. But to think of it! Beatrice would cherish the experience if only she could vote, she was certain of that. At the last meeting, one of the women had brought in her husband’s voting papers to show the group and Beatrice had inspected them longer than anyone else. Discarding the envelopes and information booklet, she had held the little slip of paper with the yes and no boxes. It looked so inconsequential. All you had to do was take a pen and put an X in the box of your choice. A sliver of power. Was it too much to hope for?

Gabriel would be the one to break the news to her. At least he would be kind. At the thought of Gabriel, the mild hunger pangs grew more insistent. She sat up straighter and clutched her bag a little tighter.

The tram trundled to a stop and she swung easily out of her seat and down the steps. She hated the way older women moved, either hesitant or lumbering, or both. There was no reason for it. Despite being in her seventh decade now – how shocking that sounds – she had no intention of adopting the mannerisms of an older woman. All it took was a little discipline – the morning exercises, lots of brisk walks. She stuck to her pact to walk to work three days a week, weather permitting; perfectly manageable with the right shoes.

Ah, she loved the little enclave of turn-of-the-century townhouses in her neighbourhood of Breitenrain. Close enough to her beloved botanical gardens and the Aare, with all the shops she needed and a settled place with not too many children. She made it from the tram stop to Schützenweg without meeting anyone she knew. The lights were on in every apartment. A pleasant feeling of welcome came over Beatrice, knowing she was approaching her own cosy home. It helped push away the thought that bad news might be awaiting her there. But the illusion faded the moment her hand touched the cold gate. It was time to face the truth.


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