My thanks to Fairlight books and NetGalley for a review copy of the book.

Voting Day tells the stories of four different women in Switzerland whose lives are intertwined in known and unknown ways, and whom we follow on one day, 1 February 1959. This was the day when Switzerland, or rather, its men voted on whether women were to be ‘given’ the vote or not. The vote failed and it was only over a decade later in 1971 that women finally got suffrage.

The four women we follow are Vreni, a farmer’s wife who works tirelessly to look after and cater to her family—husband Peter and three growing sons, helped by a little errand boy Ruedi. Vreni is heading to town to the women’s hospital to undergo surgery, which gives her the first ‘break’ she’ll have had in years. In town, before going to hospital, she plans to spend some time with her oldest child, daughter Margrit, who is working in the city having trained as an accountant sponsored by Peter’s aunt. Vreni is pleased her daughter has a chance at a different and better life than herself. As our story shifts to Margrit, we see that while she is living a different life from her mother, she too faces restrictions and also an unwelcome situation at work that she doesn’t know how to handle, and from which there seems no escape. At the hospital, we meet Esther who works as a cleaner and learn her story and the various hardships she faced when left a single mother with an infant to care for. And finally, we follow Beatrice, an older lady who works as administrator at the hospital and who also takes an interest in Esther’s welfare. Alongside she has also been campaigning with other suffragists trying to ensure that Swiss women finally get the vote. Then in an epilogue of sorts, we see how all the women are getting on.

In these stories, except perhaps in Beatrice’s story, the decision on women’s right to vote that is to take place that day is only touched on slightly, while our focus remains the four women’s lives. But through them, we are shown the limited choices available to them (and by extension, women in general) in terms of what they can do in and with their lives, the stereotypes they are forced to conform to, the hardships they must endure, all because they are not seen as ‘equal’ to their male counterparts. Vreni has worked in the past but has had to settle down to be a farmer’s wife, the only respectable choice that was open to her (even if it wasn’t a ‘wrong’ one per se); Margrit is working but living in a shabby little room and must face harassment and blackmail at work with no visible means of escape because her career can be made or ruined by a man; Esther who is an orphan takes the only path open to her when her husband pretty much abandons her and their infant son, and for that must face the consequences; while Beatrice though from a wealthy background still doesn’t get the chance to fully explore her talents for it is her brother who is given the better education, but she is still able to lead a life without marrying. Her brother incidentally faces troubles of his own relating to other prejudices in society.

The vote might just be about making a tick on a piece of paper but it means far far more—a significant step towards equal treatment, towards new opportunities, perhaps some of those stereotypes and restrictions being eased. But this too has been left to the men to ‘give’ them.

This was a small book (144 pages in the edition I had) but one that showcased well the inequality, lack of opportunity and limitations women faced until so recently, and continue to face in different contexts and to different degrees. But it also shows more positively, how by supporting each other and working within the means one has, change and betterment are still possible.

An excellent read!

4.5 stars

Bookish coincidence: The author of this one Clare O’Dea shares a surname with a character in another of my recent reads, The Christie Affair, a name I haven’t come across that often in books.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Voting Day by Clare O’Dea

  1. This one sounds really tempting! Amazing it was as late as 1971 before they got the vote. It makes me wonder what would have happened here if the decision had been dependent on an all-male referendum – I suspect we might still be waiting, haha! It also sounds as if she shows well how political power or lack of it affects people. The lives of women here have improved out of all recognition since we got the vote, even if there are still some aspects of sexism to overcome.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. I was surprised to learn this and as far as I understood, the vote was eventually ‘given’ since it was a requirement for joining the EU. Apparently they even tried to claim an exception in that regard. I mean to look up more about this–this was the information I got from the author’s note.

      Liked by 1 person

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