A Woman Alone at Night
A Woman Alone at Night is a story loosely based on St. Mary of Egypt, a prostitute who "reveled in her sexuality before repenting". Throughout the novel, Berger walks a dangerous line between portraying a female character who is empowered in her sexuality, and adding to the stereotyped idea that all sex workers choose their work willingly.
Early on, Mira meets an older man, John, who rapes her then forces her into amateur porn, although the description of the novel frames his actions as him "taking advantage of her willingness." This discrepancy alone illustrates the real risk this book takes in being put out into a society where women are usually seen as either helpless innocent victims or whores, and where sexual consent is rarely promoted as a necessity. Mira then meets Adi, a stripper, who introduces her to the world of sex work where the rest of the story runs its course.
I got to the end of the novel feeling as if there were few moments when Mira is not being degraded by her johns, the religious Gio or her cousin, Ezrah, who attempts to "rescue her from 'sin.'" The inclusion of religion in this novel was confusing, hovering at times towards implying that women who engage in sex work are held up somehow through the text of the bible, but more often looming towards a deep-seeded disgust of women who are in sex work. Although the end of the novel is supposed to be Mira repenting, I felt it was more like her being taken away again against her will.
I was excited at the possibility of a story that explored the multidimensional facets of female sexuality, but read the story as an illustration of the conflict of perspectives with the character of John encompassing one perspective: men think a woman walking alone at night is a whore. Mira's more devastating observation is another interpretation: "why does every girl have to get fucked?"