“Shut Up You’re Pretty” by Tea Mutonji— A Short Story Collection

Mutonji, Tea, “Shut Up You’re Pretty”, Arsenal Pulp, 2019.

A Short Story Collection

Amos Lassen

In Téa Mutonji’s story collection, “Shut Up You’re Pretty”,  “a woman contemplates her Congolese traditions during a family wedding, a teenage girl looks for happiness inside a pack of cigarettes, a mother reconnects with her daughter through their shared interest in fish, and a young woman decides on shaving her head in the waiting room of an abortion clinic.”

The stories bring together desire and choice as they explore the narrator’s experience as involuntary. With pathos and humor, the stories examine the moments in which femininity, womanness, and identity are not only questioned but also enforced. Each woman is on a journey to find out who she is and what kind of love she deserves. Taken as a whole, the collection becomes a microcosm of how messiness can hinder the process of a woman becoming something more than a source of sexual pleasure or a worker for her mate.

At the center of the stories we find girlhood, womanhood and femininity. The women explore sexual expressions, friendships, romantic entanglements, complex familial ties and the power of being a woman as well as the reality of existing in a society that imposes certain expectations on their gender. We read of unsafe situations, relationships that are one-sided or that are established only as a means to an end. We see how much or little woman values herself and we want to see healing and reconciliation.  

The stories tie together and the characters we meet are all important in their own way. Mutonji’s prose is beautiful and gets and carries our attention throughout.  The content of this book can be hard to stomach at times and makes the reader consider the implications and issues that are raised.

I was uncomfortable with some of what I read here but I think that was meant to be. My own preconceptions and prejudices were exposed to me as I read. I was tempted to judge the choices of the narrator and some of the characters but that is a sign of good literature. It pulled me in. This is a heavy read written in light prose.

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