BOOK REVIEW / Of blood and stone: 'Marble Skin' - Slavenka Drakulic: Women's Press, 5.99

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The Independent Culture
THE NARRATOR of Slavenka Drakulic's second novel is a sculptor. She has just exhibited a work in marble entitled 'My Mother's Body' - a work of such chilling force that when her mother sees a photograph of it in a newspaper, she attempts suicide. Her daughter is then forced to return to the childhood home that she fled at the age of 14 and take care of the fragile old woman. There, she cracks open her past, reliving the events that led to her escape.

Marble Skin is about sexual jealousy between mothers and daughters: the mother's jealousy of the daughter's potential; the daughter's of the mother's proven prowess. The narrator does not remember her father, who died when she was a baby, and Drakulic is at her most powerful when she captures the claustrophobic intensity of the young mother/adolescent daughter relationship: the mother correcting the girl's posture before realising that hunched shoulders are a disguise for rapidly developing breasts, or showing the daughter

how to wash bloodied underwear - 'White, one hundred per cent cotton, that you can boil'; the daughter's bid for freedom and a separate identity in a haircut. Here, in the everyday, Drakulic's writing is precise and touching, and delineates a condition that many women will recognise.

Elsewhere, Drakulic's perception of femininity - heavy breasts, a lumbering gait and an unstoppable flow of menstrual blood - verges on the gothic. Both prose and story are liable to overheat, and as the narrator relives the trauma of her stepfather's entry into the previously female household, the writing loses its sureness and clarity. When he begins to make advances towards the adolescent girl, the novel becomes psychodrama, blurring the book's impact. Mothers and daughters have enough trouble understanding each other without the complication of a seductive child-abuser coming between them.

Drakulic tells an awful tale of a mother, a daughter and the man who both connects and estranges them, at the expense of something even more compelling: an exposition of the guerrilla warfare mothers and daughters are capable of waging on each other all by themselves.