Saturday, December 19, 2009

Illuminations - Gillian Polack

buy - author site

The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

One of the sections in 2666 covers a series of murders occurring in Santa Teresa. It does not attempt to lead the reader into solving the mystery or finding the defendants or figuring out why. It details the bodies of the murder victims when, where, and as they were found. They're all women. They're all raped and tortured. It doesn't take long for the gut-wrenching sexism and misogyny to wear you down, especially if you are a woman.

This divide between the sexes made me want to read something that was woman friendly. I looked at the pile of books I had read, and realised there were two (2) female authors in it. I looked at my shelves, and there were very few female authors sitting there.

How did it get to this? I buy the books that interest me, I read the ones I feel like reading at that moment...why are there so few woman?

Have I become a male reader?

This upset me. I felt I'd betrayed my gender. I wanted a book written by a woman, that was kind to me, the reader. I remembered Gillian saying that her book had been described as 'sitting down to coffee with old friends', and I picked it up and devoured it.

It is a gorgeous book! It switches between letters that Rose - an academic on a research trip in Europe - sends to her mother, and pieces of an manuscript that she has found and is translating, complete with footnotes. The manuscript tells the tale of Ailinn and Guenloie, two young women setting out on a hard journey in Arthurian Britain. Rose finds her personal life strangely mirrored in the manuscript, and between the three of them there are more than a few demons to be conquered.

And it is a wonderful book. Despite the fey evils stalking Ailinn and Guenloie and the all too ordinary evils plaguing Rose, the manuscript that adheres to an older set of narrative laws and expectations in which things do not work out fairly, despite the death and injustice and bitterness of it all, it is a healing book. A wonderful warm book full of love. A book that is, yes, like sitting down to tea (not coffee) with old friends.

It washed the misogyny highlighted in the violence of 2666 right out of my head. Of course women, especially Ailinn and Guenloie, are slighted as less important or capable than men, but this is a story about women who carry on despite that, or perhaps because of that. They do not need to bray their prowess. They simply are.

On top of all that, I also learned a lot about the practices of historians and Arthurian lore.

I do love this book. It's a quiet, quirky and unassuming little thing. It doesn't shout. It won't push you around. It doesn't need to. It will have its way with you gently and leave its mark on you deeply. You won't want to leave the pages when you're finished. I didn't.

Verdict: a gorgeous, lovely, wonderful, humourous, sad, comfortable, small, towering, warm story. Miss Apricot adores this book, she really does, and she has excellent taste. MOAR.


  1. I'm so happy you love it :).

    Safe and good trip, BTW, in case we're not in touch before then.

  2. It's a snug and cozy book, Gillian. Your first baby is a sweet thing!

  3. :)

    It's funny - my idea of sweet must be way more sugary than yours. I was so sure that a truckload of ordure and blood-drinking ghosts were evil. Mind you, I wrote Life Through Cellophane as sweet and I keep getting told it's mild horror. Just goes to show that a book is only partway alive without readers.