Invisible Ink: No 225 - Fatal Femmes


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The Independent Culture

In the last two or three years, many prolific writers, whose work seemed lost forever, have started reappearing.

Jane Rice was that rare creature, a female science fiction and horror writer, who debuted with “The Dream” in 1940. It often seems that those best qualified to write about evil are themselves deeply religious. Rice was strongly Roman Catholic, and created one of the most superbly monstrous children in all literature in her much-anthologised story “The Idol of the Flies”.

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding was a New Yorker who switched from romance to Chandleresque hard-boiled detective novels after the Wall Street Crash. Her subtle, worrying prose is at its peak in the novel The Blank Wall, and has been filmed twice, most recently with Tilda Swinton, as The Deep End.

Often sought after for their excellent covers, Helen Reilly’s paperbacks are a joy. She was a fecund mystery writer working from 1930 to 1962. Most of her novels feature NYC cop Christopher McKee, and were among the first proper police procedurals. They’re pulpy, colourful, slightly paranoid thrillers filled with interesting ambiguities, and deserve rediscovery.

The California-born Jean Stafford deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize for her collected stories in 1970. She was disfigured in a horrific car crash, and further destabilised by two unhappy marriages (a third proved more successful), but alcoholism and depression dogged her throughout her career, and she died at 63. Her prizewinning collection of stories is now available again.

Jody Scott wins the uncoveted title of “best unknown deceased female science fiction writer” which is a shame because she’s smart and witty, and her best-known works, Passing For Human and I, Vampire (which has very little to do with traditional notions of bloodsuckers) have links to Virginia Woolf. Naturally, she’s too good to currently be in print, but there’s hope.

Ann Quin was a Brighton-born experimental writer who committed suicide by drowning herself from the pier in 1973 at the age of 37. Because of this she is often compared with her friend/rival BS Johnson. The book with the most critical impact was Berg, which involves patricide, taunting tramps, and the mutilation of a ventriloquist’s dummy. It breaks normal narrative conventions, yet is the most straightforward of her quartet of novels, and was filmed as Killing Dad. As the Sixties progressed, her narratives fragmented and all but disintegrated, and the sense of despairing madness becomes palpable. No longer forgotten, she has returned to print.