Books: Women who fall for women who play games
Georgiana's Closet by Dale Gunthorp Virago pounds 9.99
Sunday 20 June 1999
This last seems the most likely explanation for 58-year-old and first- time novelist Dale Gunthorp. With Georgiana's Closet, an arch and affectionate chronicle of closeted queer miscreants in London at the precise moment of Thatcher's demise, she has produced a brittle and brilliant comedy of manners which, with one eyebrow provocatively raised, scrutinises the irresponsible goings-on of a bunch of 40- and 50-somethings who have spent far too many years in each other's company, and in each other's beds.
Georgiana's crowd, featuring an eclectic selection of professions and pastimes (foreign office diplomat, frequently resting clairvoyant actress, alcoholic ex-schoolmistress, hypochondriac choirmaster, animal- loving ex-lesbian who's now a gay man) isn't your average bunch of queers. For one thing, their particular London charts an unfamiliar and faintly glamorous geography of shabby and faded gentility, where threadbare carpets line the floors of drafty mansion flats in St John's Wood, Frognal and Marylebone, and where Dalston is a clear signifier of danger.
For another thing, they wouldn't dream of calling themselves queer. It's vulgar and political and, besides, they're actually not that sexually discriminating. Green-eyed actress Chelsey still hasn't been forgiven for scrawling "lesbian bitch" in scarlet paint over the wall of Georgiana's flat many years ago. It was never discussed. She was simply allowed back after an appropriate exile.
Georgiana herself, an ageing parody of fine bone structure, presides over her colourful crowd with practised grace. For more than 20 years, on the third Saturday of the month, she has been throwing parties for the same select group of friends in the same large room of her tiny flat - the one with the three beautiful full-length windows and the glittering chandelier from an old set of The Cherry Orchard. All is well until Fiona and Lorraine, partners of 10 years' standing, pillars of their small society, co-owners of a house and a dog and a shared conviction that their marriage is both wonderful and invulnerable, turn up with a stranger in tow: a plain, macrobiotic-looking little thing called Lucy, just 26, wearing a duffle coat and a rucksack and waiting, "with the air of a dog tethered outside a shop" for attention to be dispensed her way. Lucy is dangerous. She is desperate to belong. She believes in sisterhood, and sharing, and honesty. She is sleeping with Lorraine.
You can tell it's the end of an era. Not even hypocrisy is as simple as it used to be. Georgiana's seemingly inviolable temple of loyalty, friendship and smug insularity crumbles deliciously into dust with the merest whiff of danger- ous liaisons: after all that experimenting with trust and non-monogamy, it seems that women can't play those games with each other after all.
Gunthorp's story is racy, her writing stylish and her wit seemingly effortless, but what lifts it above the level simply of well-written cynical observation are the unlaboured and beautifully realised moments of insight and experience which underlie the whole brittle surface of Georgiana's Closet and its inhabitants - the private fears of loneliness, of menopause, of ageing and dying; the terrible fragility of human connection. It's a great debut, with a clear moral: live first, write later.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 School kitchen manager 'fired from Colorado school for giving hungry students free lunches'
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 3 Amber Peat: Body found in search for missing 13-year-old who ran away after argument with her parents
- 4 Gay teenager 'forced to have sex with his own mother' to 'cure' his homosexuality, campaigners in India say
- 5 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
Game of Thrones season 6: George RR Martin doing 'anything he can' to get new book The Winds of Winter out before next HBO series airs
Game of Thrones, Battle of Hardhome: 20-minute Wildlings versus White Walkers battle took a 'solid month' to film
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9, The Dance of Dragons: Jon Snow returns to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Touch-screen Teletubbies say hello: Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are back, now with smart technology
Black Angel: Long lost Star Wars precursor to be made into crowdfunded feature film
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers