sunnuntai 30. tammikuuta 2011

Emma Donoghue: Life Mask

Emma Donoghue: Life Mask

Donoghue is an Irish writer and historian. She currently lives in Canada, but most of her books (at least all that I have read) take place in the British Isles. I have enjoyed enormously all her books I have read so far and had high expectations when I started reading Life Mask.

The novel is set in the 1780s and 1790s London. The main characters, who also act as narrators, are based on historical characters. Anne Damer was a sculptor, Eliza Farren an actress and Edward Smith-Stanley was an Earl who affected in politics. This is historical fiction as its best; Donoghue has taken historical characters and events and blown life into them. She writes from the point of view of all her main characters and each one of them starts feeling like a friend after a few hundred pages. The historical events, especially the French Revolution, affect the character's lives and set the tone for the book. The time of liberation, human rights and democracy is coming and the book is set at the brief space between the old and the new. I have little knowledge of English politics in the 18th or 19th century, so as for many British or Irish readers part of the fascination of the book must be knowing what comes next, how the world will develop and who will be in charge in ten years, to me the novel actually taught more than I had known before.

The characters are lively, charming and philosophical. Anne Damer stole my heart; her struggle to first realise her sexuality and then learn not to think of it as a vice, opens up a little the struggle many homosexual women have had to go through during the history of our civilization. Eliza Farren is proud and independent and her struggle has more to do with class than sexuality. She is an actress from a poor family, but at the beginning of the book we see her entering "the World", the social circles of the rich aristocrats of London. Edward Smith-Stanley is rich and an Earl, but he has chosen to be in the political opposition. He is fiercely loyal to the leader of his party and the idea of freedom. I don't know if it is his gender or aristocracy, but Edward Smith-Stanley didn't make an impression to me the same way Anne Damer and Eliza Farren did. His role in the book is important, but he seems to have less internal conflicts than the woman characters.

All in all, the book was wonderful, I wasn't the least disappointed although I had high expectations for it. The characters start to live with you, I found myself missing them a few days after I finished the book. The world is realistic for a non-historian, but trusting Donoghue to be as good a historian as she is a writer, I believe it to be accurate, too. The issues addressed - homosexuality, class, politics, importance of what others think about you - were interesting and handled with time and thought. I would recommend this to anyone interested in the history of Britain or the history of homosexuality, or just anyone who enjoys reading good novels.

Ireland Reading Challenge: Well, the author is Irish. Ireland, or Dublin, were mentioned a few times, Eliza Farren toured there, but not described or commented. I would be interested to read about Donoghue's Ireland, historical or contemporary, but this book had little to do with Ireland.

GLBT Challenge: Homosexuality was one of the topics of the book and for a lesbian reader it seemed to be the most important topic. There is romance, but it isn't romance as literary tradition usually describes it. The realisation of the feelings towards another woman takes up most of the book, and the relationships of the women are mostly described when they themselves think they are "only" friends. There is a little bit of sex and there is a happy ending for the couple (although it might not be what you learn to expect).