A tale of unlikeable women

Sarah Tinsley in The F Word:

Flesh-of-the-peach-e1500485033954This book starts with a lovely little note: “To all the unlikeable women in fiction and outwith it.” Despite having to look up “outwith”, which I discovered is a Scottish word meaning “outside” or “beyond”, I liked this sentence immediately. The lack of women in literature of any kind is woeful, but it’s just as important to have the ones we despise as those we admire. Too often, prominent women are held up as some sort of beacon for the whole of womankind (often because they’re one of the few out there), or characters are expected to be inspiring role models. The fact is, more women are needed, full stop. And why not the ‘difficult’ ones? Human experience encompasses everything from the divine to the terrible, and we’ve certainly had enough despicable men. From Gatsby to Holden Caulfield, they leer over the literary landscape with their entitled breaths falling on the reader and charming them into believing them somehow flawed or fallible, rather than the downright misogynist bastards they actually are. So it’s about time someone redressed the balance. In Flesh of the Peach, Helen McClory gives us plenty of opportunity to find fault with women. From an alcoholic and abusive aunt, to a distant and indifferent mother, never mind the vain, narcissistic fuck-up that is the main character, we are presented with unapologetically awful people, who just happen to be women. Hurrah.

Sarah is living in New York, having just been dumped by her married lover, Kennedy. If that wasn’t enough emotional trauma for one week, she’s also just found out her mother has died. She’s faced with a choice – to return to the family home in Cornwall to attend the funeral and sort out her mother’s affairs, or to flee across the wilds of the US to the isolated cabin her mother used to escape to in New Mexico. She chooses the latter. She meanders for miles on a Greyhound bus, the knowledge of her newly gained riches from her mother and the pit of unacknowledged grief sitting underneath her. This sense of limbo, where she is waiting for money (the ways she imagines spending it are a highlight of the book) and deciding what to do next, makes the novel fluid and drifting. Once she’s arrived, her journey to some sort of acceptance is far from straightforward, with the locals subjected to her increasingly erratic behaviour as her inner turmoil grows.

An interesting feature of this book is the depiction of Sarah’s sexual relationships. It appears that she genuinely cared for the woman who dumped her when her husband found out about their affair, and there is much emotional softness in relation to her memories of this relationship.

More here.

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