I have a couple of friends who worship at the altar of Emma Donoghue, and I think I bought this in a sale back when someone was being particularly vocal about Donoghue. As a piece of imaginative reconstruction, as historical fiction, it’s well enough done — I think there are a couple of anachronisms, potentially on purpose for convenience, but for the most part, it evokes the era it’s set in. The main character, Emily Faithfull, is based on a real person who is pretty fascinating: she was a women’s rights activist and publisher, who got entangled in a famous divorce case. This book tries to untangle that and see what part she had to play.
Which is where it falls down for me, because Fido (as she’s called) is clearly head over heels for Helen, and it’s just as clearly pathetic. It’s not going to happen. Take this scene, for example:
Fido winces at the image. She bends over Helen. “Lean on me, my own one. I’ll stand by you.”
“I can stay?”
“For as long as you need.” Forever, Fido’s thinking, though she doesn’t dare say it, not yet.
“Oh Fido, how did I ever manage without you, all those lonely years!”
Her mind is leaping into the future. Why not? Women do live together, sometimes, if they have the means and are free from other obligations. It’s eccentric, but not improper. She’s known several examples in the Reform movement: Miss Power Cobbe and her “partner” Miss Lloyd, for instance. It can be done. It would be a change of life for Helen – but hasn’t her life been utterly changed, without her consent, already? Can’t the caterpillar shrug off its cramped case and emerge with tremulous wings?
Gaaah, no, Helen is lying and manipulating you — as always. It’s Tegan and Sara’s ‘Boyfriend‘; it’s the straight girl relying on her lesbian friend’s feelings for her to get away with anything. It’s not a story I’m interested in, because it is one which is played out with boring regularity.
Frankly, I was bored. Nothing about this sparkled enough to get over the fact that I just was not interested in that central relationship. Been there, done that.