Book review / Menaced by a stick of rock
THE PRIVATE PARTS OF WOMEN by Lesley Glaister Bloomsbury pounds 14.99
Sunday 07 April 1996
Inis and Trixie alternate the narration but there are two other voices, staccato Boy and sluttish Ada, who seem gradually to gain in strength and malignancy. We figure out much sooner than Inis does that Trixie is sharing a body with two competing personalities. Inis just notices that the self-reliant, hymn-singing old lady has disconcerting mood swings, and periodically dons a bad wig, drinks, torments the cat and harps on the fact that Inis is an anagram of "I sin".
Lurching melodrama is undercut by the cool clarity of the prose, and it is testimony to Glaister's powers that Trixie emerges as more than just a basket-case from central casting. Her childhood is text-book dreadful: a twin brother born dead, an unloving father who dresses her up in boy's clothes and shoves her into the wardrobe, a disturbed mother who favours "the Reflective Punishment", forcing her unwanted daughter to stare in the mirror for hours and meditate on her own wickedness.
In adulthood, as a member of the Salvation Army saving souls in the East End, Trixie is still prone to blank stretches when her body becomes the playground for Ada's erotic adventures. One day she wakes up with a mysterious, matted scab on her inner thigh, which drops off to reveal a tattoo. There is the terrible, unexplained mystery of a missing baby, a farcical "death" by water and rebirth, and the episode, as funny as it is frightening, of the stick of rock, a phallic present offered by Inis and turned into a weapon.
Sweets and stickiness smear the text, creating an exhausting, overbearing physicality even more oppressive than the pervading sense of mental airlessness. Trixie remembers her Sally Army days in language of tired religiosity, and, when holy Harold responds to the slut within, novelletish cliche. Boy and Ada are banal commentators, prodding the plot along with all the literalism of the unconscious. Boy's commentary is in menacing free verse: "Now I am very angry and / She will be sorry" mutters he. "Watch out / When I'm about." Ada's contribution is more conventional but equally obvious: "I should have held us together. Because that boy is a monster. That boy will kill."
In a climax of stifling horror, Inis blunders into Trixie's attic, a hell of musty clothes and spilled urine, "stenches, rotten lilies, ancient perfume, unwashed linen, the secret, festering reek of body juices dried to crusts". The dual narrative is propelled by twin engines of self-exculpation, though the older woman loses focus and sympathy as we near the sensational conclusion. Trixie and Inis may not be "pretty inside", but they are interchangably pathetic and eminently forgivable.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Game of Thrones season 5: Emilia Clarke praises characters who 'accept their femininity'
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate