Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

"On becoming a fairy godmother" by Sara Maitland (Maia, 2003)

I thought at first that the repetition hinted at the character's early onset dementia. When it happened again, I thought that maybe it was an attempt at rhetoric. When I saw that the only two acknowledgements were for BBC Radio 4 I realised that the style might suit radio well. Here are some examples of repeated or daisy-chained phrases

  • I have gone over and over it with my sister of course. We have wondered and speculated and been sad and curious and have missed her and hated her and loved her and envied her. We have been angry on our behalf, on her grandchildren's behalf, and on grounds of abstract morality, but we cannot be angry on his behalf, p.68
  • My lover has a ribbon, a twisted purple ribbon that run across the white skin of his belly, across the contours of his white chest, p.73
  • She woke up too early, restless and hungover; dry mouth, blurry eyes, a little nauseous, slightly achy. And tired: tired from the whole of the day before and tired again from sleeping badly. She had fallen semi-stuporous into her bed, but before sleep had reposed her she had been awake again. Her skin had itched ... So she she was restless and tired and hung over, p.93
  • I was a Child Protection Officer. It is a terrible thing to be. I came too near to the foulness - to the stenching, sulphurous pit. I also came too near my [sic] own incompetence, omniscience, self-righteousness and smug, ugly pride. None the less I was a good Child Protection Officer, p.114

Subject matter includes witches, step-mothers, abandoned wives, childlessness, menopause (Eve menopausal, Helen of Troy at 60, thin and brittle hair, etc), couples breaking up. The situations are explored inventively (I like the Tarot reader) though some stories are light, with little exploration - "She was locked into perpetual passivity and gratitude and love", p.34. Sometimes there's more reflection, about people as well as literature -

  • I'm not exactly looking for self-justification. There's this thing going on at the moment where women tell all the old stories again and turn them inside-out and back-to-front - so the characters you always thought were goodies turn out to be baddies, and vice versa, and a whole lot of guilt is laid to rest: or at least that is the theory, p.28
  • So in the end - and yes I have examined all the motives and reasons why one woman should be cruel to another and I do not find them explanatory - so in the end I was cruel to her, p.33
  • regardless of women's rights and post-modernity, you still have to play one role or another in the old tales, p.126

The later stories are more interesting - "On becoming a fairy godmother", "Helen of Troy's Aerobics Class", "Choosing Paradise" and "Having Sex with a Saint". I was hoping that "Loving Oedipus" would be saved by its ending. It wasn't. "Sybil" began rather predictably but became prose-poetry by the end. She's not Angela Carter, but she shouldn't be underestimated.

Other reviews

  • Goodreads (There were some terrific standouts, like "The Wicked Stepmother's Lament", "Sailing the High Seas", and "Choosing Paradise". "Foreplay" and "Loving Oedipius" were good, and "Helen of Troy's Aerobics Class" was fun. But there were a few that were uneven, and one or two that could have been left out of the book altogether ... Some hit, some miss. I like the story of Cinderella's stepmother's point of view. And another about Helen of Troy. But some just fall flat for me. ... Although I liked some of the stories, overall I found this anthology disappointing. Too many of the stories shared the same characteristics of voice and theme)

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