Books: Women who fall for women who play games

Georgiana's Closet by Dale Gunthorp Virago pounds 9.99

There's something intriguing about good writers who start late. You can't help wondering what they've been up to all this time. Perhaps, like Annie Proulx, they were busy marrying and raising families. Perhaps, as for Frank McCourt, it took most of a lifetime for the story finally to work its way out on to the page. Or perhaps they were just having too good a time to get around to the laborious business of writing it all down.

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.

Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
The party's over: Paul Higgins and Stella Gonet in 'Hope' at the Royal Court

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special

Broadcaster unveils Christmas schedule

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital