Monday, 25 July 2011


I started reviewing for Amazon long before I started blogging and even when I did start I didn't immediately reprint Amazon reviews here. (I should note that I still don't reprint all of them, just those I consider of relevance to the blog.) Anyway, a short while ago I was looking through my reviews with a view to deleting my most heavily negged in order to improve my ranking -a common practise among regular Amazon reviewers- when I thought that quite a few of these older reviews would fit quite well here. Now I'm not going to start to reprint all of them from scratch -some of the items aren't of interest and my reviews reflect this i.e. they are as dull as the subject matter.

As a starter, try this one from December 2007.

5* A pulp masterpiece. 
I started reading this book and only reluctantly put it down -to go to work, etc- picked it up again, racing towards the ending and when I got there I logged on to the Internet and ordered the rest of Bannon's available novels. Apart from the quality of the writing (evocative, to an extent naive, almost transparent), the story (a young lesbian fleeing to the big city from both heartbreak and an abusive father and falling in love with a straight woman), the characters (flawed, involving, tragic), there was something more, much more.

This is a book which works effectively and simultaneously on more than one level. Written in the late 50's it was aimed at (largely) closeted lesbians. So, why does it strike such a chord in a straight middle-aged man? That's me in case you were wondering.

For a start it's an interesting counterpoint to the tv series The L Word (of which, surprise surprise, I'm a big fan) in the sense that it's almost an historical document which reflects certain changes in Western society. It depicts a time of repression when gays of both sexes hid in the shadows whereas today,(ideally and at least in liberal circles) to admit to being a lesbian (or gay) has little more impact than stating that one is left-handed -yeah, so? And perhaps that might be a more idealistic statement than an accurate one. No matter, it is a fascinating, albeit depressing, portrayal of an earlier repressive period.

But what particularly spoke to me about it was to be able to interpret it as a metaphor for the Outsider figure. Now almost certainly this is not what Bannon was intending; she was writing (she hoped) to reach lesbians hidden in the shadows of 1950's American society. What it did was to remind of myself about the same age as Laura in the novel but over a decade later. Reading Colin Wilson's treatise 'The Outsider' in my late teens helped me understand alienation and realise why I didn't quite fit in (indeed only recently a friend called me 'the cat who walks by himself'). It was only discovering science fiction fandom at a convention in 1970 (long before Star Wars made SF reasonably hip) when I felt like I'd come home, meeting people who shared similar idiosyncratic attitudes to myself. Reading this novel reminded me of those days.

By the end of the novel, Laura hasn't quite reached that stage (of finding a subculture she can embrace) but she is getting there. What I feel is that Bannon has created an extended metaphor where people who, for whatever reasons, are alienated from conventional society (though I suspect this is less these days than when she was writing), can identify with. Whatever her intentions she reaches beyond her target audience to speak to anyone who ever felt themselves different from the norm and this is the mark of a powerful writer. 

I'm rather fond of this review as I think it's a good one. Amazingly it was passed on to Ann Bannon by someone who knows me. This was Earl Kemp a long-time SF fan who was active in the porn novel publishing field back in the 60's. I'd reprinted it in my online and infrequent SF fanzine Siddhartha (see the link to efanzines in the sidebar where Earl regularly publishes his own zine which includes some fascinating material about his porn years and encounters with government agencies.) Earl sometimes sees Ms Bannon at pulp paperback conventions. Small world.

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