Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bad Chemistry

by Nora Kelly (Toronto: HarperCollins, 1993)

I like mystery novels, but the older I get the more demanding I am about the quality of them. I want lots of background research to be in evidence, good writing, interesting characters, and a political slant that doesn't offend my feminism.

I'm happy to report that even though this novel by Nora Kelly is an old one, it's worth digging out and reading. Since the author is from Vancouver, you can still find it in the Vancouver Public Library, but I also have seen copies available through Amazon, along with more works by Kelly in the same genre.

The background research in this novel has a lot about a university chemistry department in Cambridge, England, its facilities, work, organization, technology, and human interactions. The descriptions are clear and concise and really evoke the lab in one's mind. The story also involves a feminist reproductive rights group and offers a naturalistic portrayal of the characters and their way of working.

The lead character is a feminist historian from Canada who is carrying on a long-distance relationship with a Scotland Yard detective -- perhaps slightly far-fetched, but not impossible. I really liked the conversations the various feminists had about men, police, and each other. They had political, social and temperamental differences but their way of dealing with each other was insightful and decent. I also liked the way the people from the different groups and places had tangential relationships that reasonably brought them together over the problem of the crime.

The character of the murdered woman was very plausibly drawn and the tension between her way of operating in the masculine environment of the lab and in the the feminine environment of the Pregnancy Information Service (yes, PIS*) seemed very realistic.

The plot came together remarkably well. There were many different pieces from the fairly large cast of characters that led to the solution, and the way the result emerged gave a satisfaction similar to that of a scientifically solved problem. It didn't leave me feeling as if the author had dragged in red herrings or had made specious claims of proof just to end the story. The murderer got well and properly nailed.

I plan to look for other books by Nora Kelly - I gather there are 4 with the Gillian Adams character, the feminist historian. The other three are In the Shadow of King's, My Sister's Keeper, and Old Wounds. One online source said Kelly was working on a fifth book.

*Kelly has a penchant for raunchy acronyms for feminist groups - there's another one in My Sister's Keeper.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Second Coming of Joan of Arc and Selected Plays

by Carolyn Gage (forthcoming, 2009)

I saw Carolyn Gage perform her one-woman show The Second Coming of Joan of Arc at the US National Women's Studies Association conference a few years ago. It was really gripping, and had a wonderful feminist and historical analysis of Joan's achievements, how and why she got screwed over by the troops and the King, and how the butch dyke aspect of this warrior's character was papered over by religious appropriation.

A few years after I saw the show, Gage allowed me to include the audio from one of her performances of this work in the radio series WINGS: Women's International News Gathering Service. I edited it into three half-hours, along with an author interview. This was one of the most successful program series ever to appear on WINGS. You can hear it streaming online through the University of South Florida Women's Studies Department website (find the right page by going to and clicking on Archives). The archives site is searchable - you can find the three programs using the search term Gage.

Carolyn Gage is a very prolific writer with numerous books published not only of plays but also of essays. Some of her books are the kind of thing you want to keep by your bed and read a few pages every morning to keep your fire alive.

Now, "The Second Coming of Joan of Arc" is included in a new anthology about to be released. You can find all the information about ordering this and her other books on her website: