Harcourt, 2006

Finished: July 11, 2010

Source: blog (forgot to write which one)

Genre:  chick lit madwoman in the attic feminist revenge tale

On the Scales: lightweight

I didn’t love this book, but I loved the ending.  If you have read it you will know what I mean, and what a meanie I am.

That is all I really need to say.  However, since you took the trouble of bringing me up in your browser I will also say:  Maggie O’Farrell does some fantastic writing.  She won my heart with this passage.

Iris and Luke came across each other two months ago at a wedding.  Iris hates weddings.  She hates them with a passion.  All that parading about in ridiculous clothes, the ritualized publicising of a private relationship, the endless speeches given by men on behalf of women.  But she quite enjoyed this one.  One of her best friends was marrying a man Iris liked for a change; the bride had a beautiful outfit, for a change; there had been no seating plans, no speeches, and no being herded about for horrible photographs.

Much my own feelings about weddings.  Thank God I’ve only got a few more half-siblings and cousins left to go.  She continues:

It was Iris’s outfit that had done it–a backless green crêpe-de-Chine cocktail dress she’d had specially altered.  She had been talking to friend for some time but had still been aware of the man who had sidled up next to them.  He was looking about the marquee with an air of calm assurance as he sipped his champagne, as he waved at someone, as he passed a hand through his hair. When the friend said, “That’s quite a dress, Iris,” the man had said, without looking at them, without even leaning towards them.  ”But it isn’t really a dress.  Isn’t it what used to be called a gown?”

Hee, hee!  What a line!

I have also (just once) experienced the magical effect of a Really Good Outfit on a nasty social event: a January wedding to which I wore a mid-sixties textured wool suit with three-quarter length sleeves which I had mended and altered myself, a new silk-satin scarf which complemented it perfectly, and a pair of very tight, unlined, never-worn, vintage 3/4 length kid gloves.  Still hated the wedding, but it was like I was floating through the awfulness on a cloud of fashion confidence.

Introverted party-goers, I recommend gloves.

Then we learn Iris runs a vintage clothing store.  After an extremely sensuous window dressing scene with with a red velvet haute couture gown, I began to think I was in for a bookful of the same ecstatic antique apparel fan-service I enjoyed in These Granite Islands.  It was not to be.  We never went back to Iris’ shop!

I was much more interested in modern-day Iris than I was in poor Esme’s past.  For one thing, I was embarrassed by the anachronisms in O’Farrell’s portrayal of 1930’s Edinburgh.  (Or whatever you call them; really they are anti-anachronisms–I mean when the past is more stiff-upper-lip, “In your place, young lady!”, dour past-y than it ought to be, given the setting.)  The mistakes weren’t horrible, but they were, well, agenda-ed.  It’s not a criticism I like to make, but since O’Farrell is actually a bit older than me, I will: this seems to be an especially noticeable fault in young writers.  A subtle ideological mishandling of the past, even when they’ve done their research.

The narrators of this past are a couple of old ladies, sisters.  Kitty has Alzheimer’s.  Esme seems to have something like Asperger’s.  This means you have to piece the story together, which is the point.  You, reader, are to be all the more horrified at what happened to Esme (who has spent the last 60 years locked up) because it is presented as the emotional equivalent of a strip tease.  Pretty gruesome.