In a future in which most hereditary diseases have been cured, Jimson Allecca is one of the unlucky ones. His rare form of cancer is treatable only as long as he stays on the colony world of New Terrain. To leave the planet, he’d have to get on a star ship and go for a ride through The Hype. Doing this would quickly and fatally accelerate his condition.
Jimson is a celebrated artist with a privileged life, but he decides that his desire to experience “a different light” is more important than reaching old age. He undergoes a sinister telepathic examination and receives permission to leave New Terrain. While hanging around in Port City, looking for a ship to take him off-world, he meets Leiko Tamura, an-out-of-work pilot who becomes his lover. Leiko introduces him to the Port Bar, Rin’s, where he meets Ysao, an engineer and a giant of a man.
We didn’t buy each other any presents this year because we spent our December budget on going away for the holidays. However, any hopes that this decision would result in less stuff entering the house were quickly dashed by the presence of secondhand bookshops in the town where we stayed.
I was very pleased to pick up Elizabeth A. Lynn’s fantasy trilogy, The Chronicles of Tornor (1979 – 80), which I mentioned in my post about her short stories. You’ll often see one of these in secondhand bookshops, but rarely all three together.
At the age of twenty-eight, Laura Willowes is quite content with her life. She feels no interest in marriage and lives with her father on the country estate, spending her time reading, brewing and indulging her fondness for botany. But then her father dies and she finds herself prevailed upon to move in with her brother and his wife in London.
There she lives passively, tucked away in the “small spare room”, helping to look after the children and being “indispensable for Christmas Eve and birthday preparations”. As Laura herself will observe of another woman later in the book, she has become the “typical genteel spinster” who spends “her life being useful to people who don’t want her”.
Gay’s the Word is an essential stop for us whenever we visit London. This time around, we picked up Alexis De Veaux’s Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde (2004) in the used section for £5. The used shelves also yielded up a couple of good lesbian short story collections: Anna Livia and Lilian Mohan (eds.) The Pied Piper: Lesbian Feminist Fiction (1989), which contains stories by the likes of Gillian Hanscombe, Patricia Duncker and Mary Dorcey, and Ruthann Robson’s Lambda nominated Eye of a Hurricane (1989).
Andy bought a new copy of Lolly Willows (1926) by Sylvia Townsend Warner. This is a novel about a middle-aged spinster who abandons her family responsibilities to become a witch. She also got Ash (2009) by Malinda Lo, which is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella and had the shop assistant raving. Apparently, he’s bought it for all his friends.
I’m not a girl
I’m a hatchet
I’m not a hole
I’m a whole mountain
I’m not a fool
I’m a survivor
I’m not a pearl
I’m the Atlantic Ocean
I’m not a good lay
I’m a straight razor
look at me as if you had never seen a woman before
I have red, red hands and much bitterness
– Judy Grahn from Edward the Dyke and Other Poems
Life Mask is set in the world of late eighteenth-century British high society. This period saw economic crises, impending war, and the threat of revolution, but also an increasingly educated population and more social mobility. A few women were beginning to access careers, especially in literature and the arts, but they still lived in a world in which reputation was everything and entering public life remained extremely risky.
Following the early death of her boorish husband, aristocratic Anne Damer has been able to enjoy a relatively independent life and has made a name for herself as a sculptor. Eliza Farren, meanwhile, has risen from her working-class origins to become a successful actress on the London stage, one of the celebrities of the period. The lives of these two women are linked by their relationships with a powerful man, Edward Smith-Stanley , twelfth Earl of Derby, an old friend of Anne’s and suitor to Eliza. Despite the difference in their social positions, Anne and Eliza become close friends, but when ugly rumours about the nature of Anne’s sexual preferences begin to surface, they threaten to bring scandal and ruin down upon all their heads.
There were moments, while I was reading this book, when involuntary exclamations would burst from me. “Argh!” I would cry, and my partner, who had already finished it, would look at me sympathetically and nod her head. Are You My Mother? came as something of a shock to my system, inducing far more powerful resonances with my relationship with my own mother than I expected to experience, and which I’ll be processing for some time to come.
This is Alison Bechdel’s second memoir; the first, Fun Home, took as its subject her relationship with her father who committed suicide when she was nineteen. Her mother is a shadowy figure in that book, but in Are You My Mother? she takes centre stage (I use the cliché consciously – Bechdel’s mother is an actress). One of the many things that impresses me about Are You My Mother? is just what a different book it is to Fun Home, in tone, style, structure and artwork. It is most definitely not Fun Home ‘part 2’, but it’s clear that Bechdel is not someone who ever takes the easy route, in her life or her art.