The Occasional Virgin by Hanan al-Shaykh

The Occasional Virgin

Hanan al-Shaykh

Set in the Italian Riviera, The Occasional Virgin follow the tumultuous lives of two complicated, deeply engaging women torn between the worlds they were born into and the worlds they've created for themselves.

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In this frank and fearless novel, acclaimed writer Hanan al-Shaykh follows the tumultuous lives and sometimes shocking choices of women successful in their careers but unlucky in love.
On a sunny beach on the Italian Riviera, two thirtysomething women, Yvonne and Huda, relax by the sparkling sea. But despite the setting, as their vacation unfolds, their complicated pasts seep through to the idyllic present. Both women spent their childhoods in Lebanon—Yvonne raised in a Christian family, Huda in a Muslim one—and they now find themselves torn between the traditional worlds they were born into and the successful professional identities they’ve created.
Three months later, when Huda (a theater director from Toronto) visits Yvonne (an advertising executive) in London, a chance encounter with a man at Speaker’s Corner leads to profound repercussions for them both. As the novel continues, each woman will undertake her own quest for love and romance, revenge and fulfillment. Witty and wry, The Occasional Virgin is a poignant and perceptive tale for our time.

Advance Galley Reviews

Interesting and complex characters and story. The journey by the characters makes for an intriguing dynamic. 3 stars

I received this book through Penguin First to Read. The book starts out with two women originally from Beirut, one now living in Canada and the other now living in London, who have gone on vacation in Italy. Although both are successful in their careers, their love life's are a disaster. After their vacation, we next find them in London where Huda is now visiting Yvonne while there for business. While out walking, they come upon an open court religion shout out taking place. While Huda is Muslim, Yvonne is Christian. They meet a Muslim man that has extreme views. Huda takes him on thus infuriating the young Muslim man. All I can say about this book is that I thought it started out okay but quickly found no point whatsoever to the book. My review is jumbled, as was the book. Had I not been reading this from the Penguin First to Read, I would not have wasted my time. I really felt it had potential until you get to the core of the book, thus "the occasional virgin." It just made no sense. I would not recommend this to anyone. Just absolutely no point to this book at all. I give it 1 star and that's generous.

Not really my cup of tea. I definitely wanted to like this more than I did. It's an okay story that isn't really the kind of thing I care for but I'm sure that it would definitely be liked by people more interested in this genre. 2.5 stars for me.

I did not really enjoy this book that much. It is the story of two thirty something women. I was really fascinated by the concept of two women, one a Muslim and the other Christian. I thought it would capture my attention more, but it just didn't. There was nothing really bad about it. I just did not enjoy that much.

Interesting but at times a frustrating read. I thought the two main characters, both successful women in their thirties, would be more mature. I grew frustrated that both of these women would seek relationships with men who clearly weren't worthy of them. Wasn't quite the book I was looking for.

First Read Review - The Occasional Virgin by Michele Portlock Thank you for an advance copy of “The Occasional Virgin” - written by Hanna al-Shaykh in exchange for an honest review. I tried extremely hard to enjoy this book specifically because I needed to review it. I have to say if that weren’t the case I most likely would have just chalked it up to a bad choice and not finished it. I found the flow of the book very difficult to follow. I usually love the transitioning from past and present but in this case it was too much flip flopping from one girls childhood to the present and then to the other girls present and then back to her past as well. This continuous flip flop was very distracting and confusing at times. The first few chapters I could muster through and I thought the book might pan out to be a successful read. However shortly thereafter the book turned into very intense content that I did not enjoy and more of the flip flopping and the religious content was extreme. Not what I wanted to be reading by choice. The story is primarily about the reflection of two childhood friends whom are now grown women that were raised in Lebanon. In present day they are now in their thirties. Neither of them encompass lifestyles of traditional Lebanese with one living in Canada and the other in London. Both Yvonne and Huda’s physical appearance are very far from what American’s traditional “stereotypical” Lebanese women to be. (How/what society believes them to be). The novel focuses on this is in great detail. Both were raised in extremely religious families (Yvonne - Christian while Huda - Muslim). There childhood had many parallels between them because of their strict religious upbringing though from two separate religions. There physical differences were also evident with one fair haired and light eyed and the other dark hair and eyes but the reverse of what one would expect of the two. They struggle with their present identity vs their roots which are strong and hold ties to their original homes in Beirut. The adult escapades that we are privy to in the book are quite intense while others are quite boring. Both women are quite pathetic and desperate to secure marriage even though they are non traditional and consider themselves to be liberated. The characters I found quite immature and troubled. The book never seemed to come together and I managed to remain hopeful and held on until the very end to be very disappointed with the ending. Overall I unfortunately did not enjoy this novel at all. I found it neither wity or entertaining at all. I had trouble digesting a great deal of it. Sorry Hanna this was not for me and I don’t think it was all due to translation.

I really tried to read and hold interest in this book, however threw in the towel at around page 100. The book really seemed to be all over the place. Thanks for the opportunity to read this book, however it was not appealing to me.

When two young single women go on a wonderful vacation together, you can pretty much expect some real fun, either partying with new friends, soaking up the rays while enjoying great food, wine and music. What I didn’t expect were Huda and Yvonne, 2 thirty somethings who grew up in Lebanon, whining or looking for a lifetime commitment from an easy hookup. Yvonne, green eyed blonde Christian and Huda, the short dark Muslim are both accomplished professionals who feel that their lives would be perfect if Huda could capture a husband and if Yvonne never had to commit to one man. Each gets what the other wants but the journey is neither pleasant to read or particularly edifying. Perhaps I had difficulty identifying with these woman because this is a translation from the original or because they are so different from me culturally and in age. There are a few gems in the book coming from the look at how these very different women manage their unlikely, lengthy friendship but not enough to make me recommend this as a good read.

Thank you First To Read for giving me the opportunity to read an advanced copy of The Occasional Virgin by Hanan al-Shaykh. I was only able to get 15 pages into the book and had to stop reading. This book was not holding my attention at all and I felt as if I wasn’t getting to know the characters or even care about them. I really wish I was able to stick with it but after only reading 15 pages in two days I gave up hope.

I started off really liking this story about two friends who grew up in Lebanon and now live in Canada and London. But sometime after their vacation in Italy was over, I just lost interest in the story. There's nothing worse than feeling bored while reading and by the time you are done with the book feeling like you didn't understand the characters or whatever point the author was trying to get across. Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance digital copy! Unfortunately this book just wasn't for me.

I had a difficult time getting into this book. The narrative was rather boring and the two main characters were immature and conniving. Their behavior demonstrates that of teenage mean girls rather than full fledged grown women. Yvonne and Huda are opposites yet similar in their selfishness. One has a need to drive home a point (religion), the other determined to have her way at no cost and desperation (family). No doubt their friendship will last a lifetime and endure much. Humorous plot mixed with seriousness albeit dull.


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