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!