3 09 2014

Apparently M.B. Gilbride first wrote The Rose of Harlow (now The Rose of the Welfare State) as a play. Then one day found it and read it and decided to rewrite it.

The rewrite has produced, instead of a play, a very original dramatic novella.

The reader identifies completely with Gerda (I always love losing myself in a character) as she is carried helplessly from a Teacher Training College (she is expelled) to a Realignment Office (she is glamourised) to a Ministry (she is fired after offending the Prime Minister) to the Inner City (and hanging about, unemployed) to the Forest (and living out) to Glastonbury (and a group of feminist New-Agers) to Prison, to a Research Lab (where we see her as a mermaid – yes!) to a Doggy Club (like a nasty Bunny Club) to a cheap brothel (Upstairs at the Doggy Club), from where she – she … read it and see.

But I must mention some of the characters! Her friend Penny (the political activist), Professor Mandril (the baboon on a white charger, her first and only verray parfait gentil knyght), Father Figure (who regrets the passing of the Inquisition), Billy (the ageing SF writer for whom she models), Homo mensuralis and Homo sensibilis (both of whom wish to change her), Woolly-hat, Bowler, Skinhead (who takes her to the Harlow Rose Show, and absconds with the prize-money when she wins), Estelle de Miel, Dicky (the bird-watcher who spots her in the Forest), the Bag-lady, the Faw-Paw-String-Man, the Curate (the world is a curate’s egg), and many others.

It is a weird masterpiece. Gilbride’s slant-eyed view of the eighties and his unique way of seeing all things through the eye of the mermaid – literary impressionism – what more can you ask? You need a brain to read The Rose of the Welfare State – don’t get it if you’re just looking for another shot of soft porn – but if you’ve got a brain and a sense of humour, then give it a go. As I say, weird, but totally unforgettable.

A SEASONING OF LUST by Jane Kohut-Bartels

13 02 2013

Seasoning of Lust coverA little book of erotica that came my way, left behind by a visitor actually, and though I try to return books lent to me I don’t feel I need to return this little gem to him. In fact he may have left it on my bedside table intentionally: there are things in here that every woman should ponder, and, if the cap fits (so to speak) take to heart;  and things that any man with imagination will thrill to.

It is a book of “very short stories” and “very short poems”, miniature masterpieces, many of them set in the world of the professionally beautiful and submissive geisha, a work of art in herself, there only to give pleasure.

Not a world we know, most of us, here in the West, though I have had some experience (some experiences) of it – that world, the East – on my travels and during my stays in India and Burma (yes, I know, Myanmar) and Thailand. But I have never been to China or Japan, and now perhaps never will. Being one for Tibet and for freedom I have no wish to visit imperialist China, and the Japanese men I have known have put me right off working there.

However, if anyone could make me change my mind, it would be Jane. I love nearly everything in this book.

Among my favourites are the 200-odd-word story Bad Karma.

“Who is coming?” she said as Midori painted her eyebrows high on her forehead.

“So sorry, but it’s Tanaka-san today.”

Bao’s eyes widened. “Aiiieee! He likes things pushed in odd places!”

“Just do as he wants. We’ll have rice balls later.”

Tanaka-san’s karma was to be short-shafted and have peculiar desires. Bao mourned her own karma.

And Ali Baba And His Four Thieves, where we get something different: belly-dancing. Jane is a belly-dancer (another thing we share) and the belly-dancer here is a silly western girl who is asking for it, and gets it. I found that of all the girls in the book, I couldn’t help identifying most fully with her! (Very embarrassing, but I’m being honest.)

Then there is the Shibari series of thirteen exquisite miniatures. “Shibari”? Synonymous with “Kinbaku-bi”, which apparently means ‘the beauty of tight binding’. (Was this why he left it by my bed?)

And the Haiku. Listen to this:

The glance at a wrist
White, the pulse of a river
Tiny beat of life

And the Tankas:

The morning wren sings,
I stand in the moonlit dawn
kimono wrapped tight.
Last night I made my peace
now free from all attachments.

The collection finishes with three slightly longer stories, two, both unforgettable, set in France, and the third – my favourite, because so original, so surprising – set in Venice. It is called La Vendetta and tells of the spoilt Signora Maria de Guiseppa Agnesi Faini; her husband, Signor Faini; her lover, Alfredo, “an officer, a dashing lieutenant, now on maneuvers somewhere across the Alps”; and her “friend” – Signor Alessandro Balsamo was her friend. Actually he was her cisebo, tolerated by her husband because Signor Balsamo was a castrato. He had been cut when only a young boy (“Viva il coltello![Long live the knife!] the audience yelled when he appeared on the stage) and sang until his voice disappeared.

But now the castrato is growing old and can be treated with contempt. … Or can he?

To be dipped into, then, rather than read straight through. You’ll love it too, I’m sure.

CARNIVAL by M.B.Gilbride

3 11 2011

Carnival coverAt first glance this novel set in Cartagena, a port in the south-east of Spain (an alternative Spain, not quite the one you and I know and love) seems to be just another “sissy story”.

It is not, believe me.

All right, we have the feminisation of a submissive male at the hands of assorted women – and men – many, though not all, of them taking overt sadistic pleasure in what the poor thing bears (and bares); so I suppose if we must categorise, then it does belong basically to the TG/sissy genre. At the same time though, it is one of the most cross-genre/multi-genre books I have ever read – perhaps because Martin is one of the most complex characters I have ever come across in a work of fiction (or in real life!).

In fact, he is a mass of contradictions.

  • He is good, but definitely not virtuous. Good-natured, I suppose I mean. Wanting to help, wanting to please.
  • He is tame, but at the same time wild in a way few of us ever are.
  • He is timid – yes, a sissy – but with far more courage than anyone else in the book; a “man” who would lay down his life not just for a friend – he has no friends – but for a complete stranger he happens to bump into, literally, while they are both hiding from different pursuers during the Carnival Parade.
  • He is a much-abused household skivvy who is also a very professional yoga and aqua-yoga instructor.
  • He is as humble as a whipped dog, but with something of the super-hero deep down inside him, and he knows it.

And unlike the poor wimp Pablo (the one he bumps into when they are both hiding in terror during the Carnival procession) Martin has a dream.

This novel was apparently first published under the title Sea Change, which was appropriate (though I prefer Carnival) because Martin’s own dream is to be a mermaid.

I am not going to tell you whether his dream comes true, but I will tell you that this is a world in which mermaids exist. All right, some are girls wearing plastic tails. (I want to try that some time!) But others are girls who have been operated on, turned into mermaids. (This is a theme Gilbride seems to have a bit of a fixation with – it comes up even more dramatically in his story The Rose of the Welfare State.) And then there are real mermaids – yes, real mermaids. (The result of genetic engineering? Or imports from an alien aquatic world? The story does turn into something distinctly SF at certain points – which Gilbride would interpret as Speculative Fantasy. Well, I did tell you it is cross-genre.)

Another thing: I have referred to Martin here in this review always as “he”, but only because it is difficult to contrive the switch from “he” to “she” in the course of a brief review. Anyone reading the book, however, will definitely be thinking of the protagonist as feminine, as the heroine of the story, long before the author in fact makes the switch from “he” to “she” and “him” to “her”.

One for adults then, but if you are an Adult, don’t miss it!

EXPOSURE by Lisabet Sarai

27 08 2011

A murder story featuring a stripper? (She is called an exotic dancer in the blurb, but that was obviously written by some politically correct young thing at the publisher’s office – perhaps the same one responsible for EXPOURE on the title page – Really! All right, editing standards have been declining catastrophically, and I am not talking about self-publishers – see for example my last post, Out of the Dawn Light – but the title? On the title page? Guinness Book of Records entry for don’t-give-a-hoot editing I would say.)

Now where was I? Ah, yes. A murder story featuring a stripper.

I’ve read a lot of them. I like them. I identify with her.

Of course, she or one of her friends is always the victim – as in Easy Kill, a book I reviewed a few weeks ago. Like the homeless living on the streets in Mark Billingham’s Lifeless, they are prime targets, supremely vulnerable – almost, in the case of prostitutes, asking for it: or at least that is how the public seem to see it.

But Stella, in Lisabet Sarai’s Exposure, is refreshingly different. Not only is she emphatically not a whore (her emphasis – though I think the lady doth protest a little too much here; after all, in the opening chapter she is making love to a stranger in a hotel room and being paid handsomely for her services) but, and this is the main point, she is not the victim. All right, she does wonder briefly whether the bullet was meant for her – reasonably enough in the circumstances – but her immediate reaction is to want to know more. She turns investigator.

I love that.

I loved this book.

If you enjoy a good murder story, if you also read erotica from time to time, and if you find yourself hooked by this opening line – I strip for the fun of it. Don’t let anyone tell you different – then this is the book for you. (I believe it is actually classified as erotic noir.)

While I’m at it, may I recommend Lisabet Sarai’s website, one of the best author’s sites I have come across. Among other treats she offers are a whole sheaf of free short stories for download. I read a few, and particularly enjoyed Butterfly; and I am going back again.

SEARCHING FOR JIM by Carmenica Diaz

19 11 2010

Carmenica Diaz is known for her hard stories of feminine domination, books peopled by broken men and whip-wielding women, but she also writes “straight” TG novels which hardly even classify as Erotica. I had read one of these, Elizabeth Grey, and enjoyed it, had found myself for the first time actually identifying with “a man” who becomes “a woman”.

But it is not until after the change, the cross-over, that I really click in and begin to empathise with (as opposed to sympathising with) this victim of everyone else’s prejudices. So when I came across this book, Searching for Jim, which opens with a woman in a hospital bed in Manchester emerging from a coma only to be told, to her horror, that she used to be a man, I grabbed it.

I mean imagine waking up one morning, finding yourself in a hospital, and being told that!

She has no memories of being a man. Are they telling her the truth, these doctors? Or is this some fiendish psychological experiment, or … or … Or what? She cannot believe it, and yet as soon as she is well enough she sets out in search of Jim, the man they say she used to be. Her search takes her to Australia and – no, I mustn’t spoil it. But it is all utterly sweet and nice, a love story, a dream come true. Erotica at its softest and, yes, sweetest.

The image shows the back cover because I prefer it – this is the person I identify with.