Category Archives: literature

A Strumpet Thumbs-Up review for new local novel ‘Digital Venous’

 

GOHL
A dystopian sci-fi novel about a rebel group of tough mothers, pitted against a city of genetically-enhanced elites? Yes, indeed! Add in an intriguingly unique child caught between these opposing worlds, and some secretive and questionable leaders, and you’ve got the central cast of Richard Gohl’s gripping first novel, Digital Venous. Set in a dark futuristic vision of the writer’s home town of Adelaide, Digital Venous will make you re-think the fate of our quiet little city, should a climate catastrophe ever befall us. Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty!
A series of fierce solar flares have destroyed the Earth’s atmosphere and split the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ into a tensely polarised living arrangement. There is a technologically sophisticated and pleasure-focused way of life for those who could afford the treatment to achieve it (called Nanopeans), which leaves the rest of the people burdened with a subterranean and subsistence-based lifestyle (called Subs), viewed as inferior and sub-human by the Nanopeans. The main interaction between the two ways of life is in the Subs performing manual labour for Nanopeans, and the secret theft of children from the Sub domain to take up into the sterile world of genetic enhancement above.
There are plenty of compelling characters in this story, however personal favourites for me are the rebel group from the subterranean world – mainly women who’ve lost children to the Nanopean child-stealing racket. They are tough, clever and funny and have a believable chemistry as a group. They seek revenge against the system and return of their stolen children. When they discover a dark secret that the Nanopean leaders have in store, it’s up to them to exploit it in order to triumph. The character of a little boy named Ryan who literally embodies both worlds is the catalyst for this, and he’s a welcome mini-hero in a book where the adult male lead is pleasingly outshone by our feisty gang of women.
The science behind the world that Gohl has envisioned both enables and serves the story, rather than the other way around, making the story feel natural to that realm. The whacky subcultural responses of Nanopean people to their genetically-altered appearances are particularly fun to read and add a depth of detail to the futuristic civilisation that the reader is dwelling in.
One of Gohl’s strengths is in great plotting that draws you in and keeps you turning the (digital) page. The story would make a cracking tv series (paging Joss Whedon!), as the episodic plot rhythm is ready-made for that medium. And of course, a visual rendering of the striking world Gohl has created would make for great viewing.
The future may be bleak, but the strength and realism of the women depicted in Digital Venous is an entertaining and refreshing backbone to this story. The novel circles around many thought-provoking themes such as alternative family structures, elitist entitlement and social discrimination, yet always keeps the story as the main priority and ticking along nicely.
My advice: get your digital copy and enjoy the ride!

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Cold War Femme: Lesbianism, National Identity, and Hollywood Cinema

A review of:
Cold War Femme: Lesbianism, National Identity, and Hollywood Cinema.

by Robert J. Corber, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2011,

ISBN 978-0-8223-4947-1

TL;DR summary: highly recommended for anyone interested in American cinema history, the paranoia of Cold War culture, the treatment of female film characters and discovering a whole new coded subtext within some classic Hollywood films! Read it, it’s great! Or just read this review and then use your second-hand knowledge to leap into vitriolic internet debates…

With his 9780822349280third book Cold War Femme, Robert Corber expands upon his previous scholarship on the intersection of homophobia, Hollywood and American Cold War identity by exploring the film industry discourse on the femme lesbian. Corber aims to understand the femme both as a queer figure distinct from the butch lesbian, and as an allegedly anti-American outgrowth of women’s demands for equality. Through close readings of films in Part One, and a star studies approach in Part Two, Corber persuasively argues that the coded representations of femme lesbian characters reflected their construction as a direct challenge to heterosexuality, thereby destabilising the traditional family structure which insulated the American identity against Communism. Through the trajectory of Hollywood’s lesbian discourse, the book explores not only sexual presentation and gender performance in film, but also how concepts such as frigidity, homosociality, motherhood, domesticity and career ambition were deployed to pathologise lesbianism and bolster the Cold War sexual agenda.

Corber’s 23 page introduction includes a 19 page tour of the dominant trends in psychoanalytical and sociological opinion of female sexuality in the twentieth century. As scholarship developed awareness of the femme lesbian, her feminised gender performance made her an object of censure and paranoia due to the camouflaged threat she supposedly posed to the perpetuation of America’s normative family life. A provocative and absorbing read, this tour also provides essential theoretical underpinning to Corber’s subsequent film analysis, and lends authority to his interpretation of Hollywood’s susceptibility to, and manipulation of, the Cold War culture of sexual paranoia.

Part Two effectively complements Part One’s film readings with detailed explorations of how homophobia affected the production and promotion of female stars, and how their personas influenced the presentation of gender and sexual norms within films.  Corber also highlights the contradictions within the discourse, such as the contrast between Bette Davis, whose sexual illegibility was subsequently pathologised as lesbian, and the wholesome Doris Day, whose tomboyish masculinity resisted construction as lesbian because her characters ultimately assimilated into heterosexual lives.

The validity of Corber’s analysis relies strongly on the introduction’s literature review, which is persuasive, however his avoidance of chronological arrangement of information can produce unnecessary confusion. This would arguably have been a more lucid structure for his analysis, given that the material correlates directly to sequenced events such as trends in thought, career trajectories and backlashes against earlier discourses. Nonetheless, Corber’s obvious passion for the combined study of film, gender and sexuality is well-suited to reveal the fascinating intersections in the field and he offers richly detailed evidence without sermonising. Not only solidly argued, the book is also nearly as much fun to read as the referenced films are to watch.  Cold War Femme offers valuable insights for any reader interested in filmic representations of female sexuality. With this book, Corber redresses his admitted previous neglect of lesbian history as non-distinct from gay men’s history, and he triumphs in his goal of bringing analysis of Hollywood’s femme lesbian into the broader picture of American women’s history.


A love letter to Robin Klein (children’s author) – purveyor of girl role models and bard of the banal ‘burbs.

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Since childhood, I’ve always admired the proud, funny and independent girls of Robin Klein’s books. Some of her characters, such as the feisty Penny Pollard, were outrageous to me, thumbing their noses at the stifling expectations of “girlhood”, not so much to be rebellious, but in order to just be themselves. Others were quiet, the Un-Noticeables, who were kind and quirky, toyed with loneliness, and were alternately crushed and buoyed by the waves of both good and bad friendships. We know all those girls. We’ve been those girls. At times, we probably still are.

For me, no one quite evoked the childhood of ‘80s Australian suburbia as well as Robin did. Reading her books often felt like home, like being surrounded by people I knew except that by the end of the story, some clarity would be reached and I would be reassured in a way that rarely happens in life. The sounds, the sights, the accents… the blare of the telly, the chops ‘n’ sausages in the fridges, the camaraderie and enmity of siblings, and the casual authority that could be held over you by the tuckshop lady, your Mum’s boyfriend or an old woman on a crowded bus. Robin’s books explored this carousel of people, those who slot in to our young life, for brief or extended times, and who form the strange fabric of childhood worlds that sometimes destabilised us and yet provided security.

We needed to know that that world can make sense, and her books showed us that someone like ourselves could achieve this. The stories were usually told by someone a little bit like me. Or at least, someone else who was also a bit odd, and on the wrong end of the girls’ popularity tussles at school. Or someone I would secretly like to have been, or hoped I would become, or at least meet one day! As kooky and driven as Erica Yurken, as wild and unstoppable as Penny Pollard, or as self-possessed and content as all of her beautiful Un-Noticeables became. Robin’s books taught me that whatever you love – do it. Just be your true self and be compassionate towards others who are trying to do the same thing.

Creative. Proud. Thoughtful. Hilarious. Active. Compassionate. Clever. Adventurous. Unique. Independent.

Good words for girls to be. Maybe they’ll grow up to be Strumpets! Thank you Robin.


“What a beautiful life I’ve had”.

collette

These were reported to be Sidonie Gabrielle Colette’s last words.

Colette (French novelist and playwright 1873-1954) was a glorious strumpet. She was raised in a little village before being swept off her feet and taken to Paris by Henri Gauthier-Villiers, a man about town known as “Willy”, a famous writer of potboilers. Her husband discovered she could write so he got her to write her stories and published them under his own name. He became very wealthy from the ‘Claudine’ series of novels Colette penned. Willy was in the habit of keeping Colette locked in her room to produce new works. This went on for 13 years before Colette packed her bags and left.

Without Willy’s publishing connections Colette struggled to make a living, becoming a drama critic, political writer, fashion critic and cooking columnist. This was not enough to pay the bills so she also became a music hall dancer, which gave her a rich new source for her stories. One night she appeared on stage and brazenly exposed her breast (see pic. above) with shameless strumpet pride. She was announcing to the world that femininity was no longer something that could be confined, she had let an alternative version of femininity free. It created an international scandal. She liked to cross-dress in men’s clothing when it suited her too, which caused a stir. She cared not a fig for what people thought.

She married a news editor and had a daughter, but kept on writing her stories, which were thinly disguised autobiographies such as ‘Renee’, a story about a divorcee turned actress. One of her first stories after the end of her first marriage was ‘Dialogue des Betes’ a conversation between a cat and a dog. Her books centred on the themes of nature, passion, sexuality, sensuality and human relations. After that came more books, the ‘Caroline’ series, Gigi, Cheri, L’Ingenue Libertine’, The Ripening and ‘La Vagabonde’. La Vagabonde was declared by critics to be one of the dozen best French novels of the times. She divorced her second husband in 1924, had a scandalous affair with her step-son and kept writing. She also flaunted her numerous lesbian affairs which did nothing to quell views that she was most definitely a strumpet. In 1927 Paul Claudel called her “the greatest living writer in France”. She lived next door to Jean Cocteau and they shared ideas about poetry, art and life. Colette married the 16 years younger Maurice Goudeket in 1935, a Jewish man she supported and hid during the German occupation of France. In 1935 Colette became an Officer of The Grand Legion of Honour. Colette was a strumpet of the highest order.

“I love my past. I love my present. I’m not ashamed of what I’ve had, and I’m not sad because I have it no longer”~ Colette.