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.
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I was a Woman Against Feminism too
- 2 Fifty Shades of Grey movie trailer released: First look at Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey
- 3 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 4 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 5 Israel has discovered that it's no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media
Comic-Con 2014: Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch and Game of Thrones' George RR Martin set to attend
Hercules, review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson takes centre stage in preposterous movie
Fifty Shades of Grey movie trailer released: First look at Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?
George R. R. Martin responds to 13-year-old fan's 'heartfelt' letter asking for a grisly death in Game of Thrones
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia