Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Book review: Relatively Norma

The LGBT reading challenge continues and this month I’ve read Relatively Norma by Anna Livia. Described as a “widely read lesbian feminist writer and linguistic theorist”, she was active in London during the 1980s and she was apparently “one of the most widely read of that generation”.

Relatively Norma, published by Onlywomen Press in 1982, was her first novel and “a wry exploration of coming out”.

As the blurb on the back cover reveals, Minnie, a lesbian feminist from London, travels to Australia to see her mother and come out to her. That’s it. 220 pages and nothing really happens. Even the coming out only sort of happens.

I really wish I could write something positive about this book but I didn’t enjoy it one bit. The narrative is almost non-existent. There are many characters, mostly female – Minnie, her mother Beryl, her sister Ingrid, her foster-sister Laura and a couple of Australian feminists. All have their issues, presented in a messy and tangled way which seems to have no logic whatsoever. In fact, dialogues are often a mixture of different dialogues and, while one paragraph refers to one character, the following might concern someone else altogether, without notice. And even if we are given all this insight in what they are all thinking and worrying about, it’s not like I felt that I really knew any of the characters by the end of the book. No plot, no character building.

I was expecting a witty novel and was sorely disappointed. Sure, there was the odd sentence that made me smile but, all in all, I struggled to get to the end of the book and was relieved when I did.

However, I’m not saying that this novel couldn’t be enjoyed. Whenever we read, we put our expectations and our experiences into every word. I like to believe that, under different circumstances – if I knew more about feminism, perhaps – I might have appreciated this book. For example, I’d never have thought that the fact that all men in the book are called John was “an early indicator of her [Anna Livia’s] move towards radical feminism”.

I am not going to read Relatively Norma again but please don’t let me put you off. You never know!

* All quotes are from Anna Livia's Obituary published in The Guardian.

1 comment:

CharmedLassie said...

Hmm, trying not to let your opinion sway me but the description doesn't do much to emphasise the merit! It might just be me but we've sort of passed the stage where coming out stories which pretty much start and end there are acceptable. We expect lesbian characters and, yes, part of their story can be the coming out but I'm not sure we like it to define the characters and books any more.

That's my long-winded way of saying thanks for an honest review I think.