Monday, 30 March 2015


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DINA in A fine Balance [Rohinty Mistry]. One of the greatest creations in fiction, Dana is the young, beautiful wife of a musician. All she wants is to marry, have children and live in harmony with the world without the stricture of her suffocating, misogynistic family who believe a woman’s place is in the home, breeding and skivvying. But it isn’t to be. Put upon, patient, resilient beyond our imaginings, Dina threads her way through forty years of hell and comes out the other side like the angel we all hope to meet someday.  

PAMELA in Drop City [T C Boyle]. Hard to explain Pamela without giving away an essential plot element but she meets her soul-mate, Sess Harker after an auction for a new wife, and she is just perfect. Never read a plot-line like that before or since and God, is it brilliant or what? Fabulous character.

DANA HALTER in Talk Talk [T C Boyle]. Talk Talk is a novel about identity theft, set in the USA. Dana is a deaf English teacher who is robbed of her identity, credit cards and so on by a career thief and sets out to find him and punish him. She is a wonderful, dogged character who is already handicapped but never lets that handicap get in the way and never ever feels sorry for herself or wishes that she could meet him on equal terms.

MERCADO in 50 Grand [Adrian McKinty]. I am a big McKinty fan but he doesn’t as a rule write women well. Here however in this long black tale he creates a young Cuban police detective hunting a killer in Colorado and you are with her every step of the way. She is exactly as you would imagine her to be; razor-sharp but out of her depth in modern America.

GEORGIANA JUTLAND in Dirt Music [Tim Winton]. I liked this novel, it was runner-up in the Booker the year [2002] it was published but the ending kind of lets it down. You should always know your last line, Tim before putting pen to paper. Georgie is a convincing character, an older woman with attitude who, possibly, takes things too far. Can’t say I liked her much and I felt a lot of the time that she was based upon a real person disguised for the sake of the book. But interesting.

LISBETH SALANDAR in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [Stieg Larsson]. An anorexic who can fix computer problems, I guess Lisbeth fulfils all the criteria for the tough-but-fragile abused survivor heroine of the Girl trilogy. But I don’t like it, or her. I read somewhere that she was based upon an actual person, Larsson’s niece, an anorexic who was able to hack computers but it is prurient; sexual degradation smuggled into the story-line under the guise of strong disapproval.

However, I am in a minority on this.

DAENERYS TARGARYEN in A Song of Ice and Fire [George RR Martin]. Very popular heroine, Daenerys but not for me. I don’t watch Game of Thrones, another gratuitous television show smuggling in sex and violence under the guise of what? Under the guise of reality, ‘this is how it was/must have been’. Ivanhoe with all the blood and guts and cruelty left in. Yeah, yeah, great production values and script and maybe when I was a lot younger I would have read it and enjoyed it but I no longer regard this kind of thing as escapism. It feels like dumbing down, to be honest. Derivative dumbing down and as someone else observed recently, it has diminishing returns; it feels toward the end like an elaborate exercise in plate-spinning because the plot has nowhere to go. Except the next instalment.

EILIS LACEY in Brooklyn [Colm Toibin]. I like Colm Toibin, the earlier books anyway; the one set in Uruguay is excellent. Can’t remember what it was called, off the top of my head. Some people cant stand his literary style and some people just don’t like Irish fiction but he writes very well, I think. Having said which, I found Brooklyn contrived and the sense of research hung over it rather than experience. Sorry. But she’s definitely a Great Fictional Woman written by a man , albeit rather a passive one, and so has found her way into this list.

LUCY [Luc Goddard]. Yes I am cheating but it fulfils the requirements of the brief; a fabulous heroine, written by a man. Carrie Matheson is a fabulous heroine written by a committee, otherwise she would have made the lists. Tess [of the d’Ubervilles] by Thomas Hardy could have made it but [a] she dies and, [b] the book is like wading through treacle. Lara dies.  Anna Karenina again was written by a man but again, she dies. Not allowed. I will never kill off Kikarin.

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