Sunday, 28 July 2013

Not Vanilla Sex - perhaps Tutti Frutti?

Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters

I remember there was a lot of hype around the TV mini series - mainly because the heroine of the book is a lesbian and there are several love scenes.  O how funny and 'buttoned up' the Brit TV audience is!! True - there are corsets and cross dressing involved - well done to Auntie Beeb for tackling subject matter that is not strictly mainstream.

Anyhow the book did not disappoint!  The central character, Nancy grows up and blossoms before your eyes and leads a very varied life - playing many 'roles' and riding a rollercoaster between successes and hard times.

She begins as a humble girl living by the sea,working at her parents' oyster restaurant, she loves sing and go to the music halls for entertainment and this is how her big adventure begins - she becomes fascinated and befriended by a girl performer (Kitty) who impersonates a man in her musical number.  Nancy leaves home to travel to London as her dresser when Kitty gets her big break.  Soon Nancy has forgotten her family and takes to the stage herself in a double act, but when her heart gets broken she runs away from the theatre life, and she starts over again, re-inventing herself.

Nancy  is broke and living in a rough area, but she finds a way to earn money - although it is risky and unsavoury at times - and before long she finds a predatory admirer and her life takes a turn in a totally new direction and Nancy is surrounded by the ultimate luxury.... but for how long?

The description of the various layers of victorian life is fascinating and vivid, and through Nancy's eyes we see glimpses of the music hall, theatrical life, high society, prostitution & renting and the women's rights movement.   We come to learn what it was like to be a lesbian, both publicly and privately, during these sexually repressed times.  The book is often saucy, sometimes comical, frequently romantic and always warm.  Nancy is definitely a 'Moll Flanders' for our time!

My next book was purchased totally on a whim - thank you Amazon for your up-dates on bargains in the Kindle format.  I read the Prologue section about a privileged rich american boy driving fast in his Porsche and arguing with his wife about alimony and custody of their son .... this seemed a nice change of scene and pace, so I purchased it feeling intrigued about what happens next.

Strings Attached by Nick Nolan
The book has page-turning action right from the prologue!  The central character, Jeremy, has had a troubled start to his life - he is 17 and comes home to find his mother (an alcoholic) almost dead from another drink-fuelled 'bender'.  She is admitted to hospital and a re-hab programme and he is sent to stay with his dead father's sister (who he has never met). 

It is instantly rags to riches for Jeremy, but he finds that there is baggage attached as his Aunt is devoted to the memory of his father, who he is too young to remember, and she wants to shape him in his father's image: Clean cut swimming hero with great grades and a bright future.  Much as Jeremy wants to comply, he wants to be his own person too and this involves him understanding his own sexuality - for Jeremy has never been attracted to girls, and he has noticed that men are drawn to him. He finds some good friends - Carlos who is gay and very 'out'  about it, Reed and also Arthur, his Aunt's butler, who becomes quite a 'father figure': teaching Jeremy to drive and providing advice as he adjusts to the challenges of his new life.

The novel has a vivid teenage feel, as it dabbles in the exploration of teenage friendships evolving into relationships, worries about appearance, peer pressure and even some frank sexual experimentation.  The pace is fast, you want to keep reading as Jeremy looks under every stone to explain his past; as he learns the truth about his parents and their relationship, he is in increasing danger from jealous and powerful people around him and it is not always clear who he can trust.

I had not intended to choose a book which so completely showed the other end of the sexual scale to Tipping the Velvet - but if that had been my plan I certainly ticked the box with Strings Attached! I was reminded of Jackie Collins' books as I read this - Jeremy & his adventures could easily have fallen from the pages of one of her 'bonk-busters'!  Great beach reading!

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