McKearn, distinguished founder of the Third World Trust, is
dying of cancer. Her lover, Ruth Asher, has nursed her devotedly
for weeks. But Bridie's illness has changed her from a woman
of enormous intelligence, courage and understanding to a furious
tyrant. She yells obscenities at Ruth, claims she never really
loved her and throws her lovingly-prepared vegetable soup against
the wall. Not surprisingly, Ruth collapses under the strain
and sends Bridie to a hospice.
Closing the Book is an exploration of death,
bereavement and loss that is never depressing. Sometimes it
is heart-rending; sometimes uplifting; sometimes even funny.
The unfolding of the last stages of Bridie's and Ruth's five-year
relationship, of Ruth's terrible grief after Bridie's death
and her gradual, partial recovery, are enthralling because every
twist and nuance is believable.
Several aspects of the book's theme are reflected in the enlarging
mirrors of sub-plots. The conflict between the longing to keep
the loved one alive and the need to let him or her go is searingly
dramatised in one scene in the hospice in which a young husband
refuses to accept that his deeply loved wife will die.
Pattie's "slender, fair-skinned arms lay out over the counterpane,
in a trough of stillness," as her husband charges round the
bed, haranguing her, claiming the hospice is making her ill,
trying to make her eat chocolates and demanding a notice-board
for her cards. Eventually he scoops her up so her head dangles,
"a mane of pale hair falling, oddly graceful as the tragic climax
of a ballet". When a nurse rushes forwards and tells him he'll
break one of her ribs, he lowers her "with all conceivable tenderness
... " and in the expression of his red-rimmed eyes "the hell
within him seemed to scorch its way to the surface". It is characteristic
of Stevie Davies' writing that she shocks the reader with the
selfish brutality of the husband's treatment of his wife and
then rends the heart with the understanding of his pain.
She shows the courage of the acceptance of death, and the compassion
learned through suffering, in an unsentimental portrait of an
elderly widow, Bridie and Ruth's next-door neighbour.
The book explores the theme of the choice between acceptance
and defiance as a reaction to the pain and injustice of life
as well as of death. The theme is dramatised most clearly in
the contrasting personalities of Ruth's two daughters by her
ex-husband Gavin: the angry, adolescent Lizzie, monstrously
selfish in her insensitivity to all suffering but that inflicted
by herself and the compliant twelve-year-old Sarah.
The two girls live with their father and his girlfriend Val;
Sarah tries to make the best of the situation while Lizzie does
all she can to worsen it. She routinely stands in front of the
television when the rest of the family are trying to watch it,
tramps mud on the carpet from her terrifying Doc Martens and
treats the well-meaning Val with contempt.
But Davies shows us Lizzie's unbearable distress at the suffering
of mistreated animals and the atrocities she sees on the television
news and her dreadful sense of loss, of her mother but also
of something deeper, a loss inherant in the human condition.
One theme interweaves with another. The book shows the drawbacks
of sacrificing personal life through devotion to a cause as
well as the selfishness of living just for personal satisfaction.
Bridie, beloved daughter of an idealistic father, is a tireless
campaigner for greater global justice but has, only through
Ruth's influence, opened up to sensual and aesthetic delights
... Val is a good sort but to some extent deserves Lizzie's
scorn in the shallowness of her perceptions and in caring for
nothing but her own happiness.
This is Stevie Davies's fourth novel, following Boy Blue,
which won the Fawcett Society Book Prize, Primavera,
and the extraordinarily powerful, highly acclaimed Arms
and the Girl. She is one of our most interesting, as
well as one of our most shamefully neglected writers. Her new
novel deserves to swell her reputation.
|| ... Late-30s Ruth has
long since abandoned husband Gavin and children Lizzie and Sarah
for the older, eminent third-world charity worker Bridie. Now
Bridie has terminal cancer. It/she isn't a pretty sight. We
first encounter Ruth at the end of her tether, packing Bridie
off to a hospice. Pain and fear have turned Bridie into a foul-mouthed
monster. The bulk of the book is a harrowing, highly emotional
account of Ruth's reactions to her death.
... In conventional terms, there is no family here. Ruth and
Bridie consider themselves "married", but never can be. Their
relationship has cost Ruth the custody of Lizzie and Sarah,
and Gavin has shacked up with his secretary. What there is,
is love aplenty, tormented by loss.
The novel resounds with the tortured, outraged outbursts of
those who refuse to accept the cruelties of the world. Bridie
rails at her fate. Ruth is consumed by "migraines of grief".
Lizzie hurls invective at her parents and bombs on behalf of
the animal rights movement. For light relief there's the Gulf
war on TV: "Refugees processed out of the box's containment
and trekked relentlessly across the sitting room night after
Nor does Stevie Davies flinch from the realities of Bridie's
imminent death. This is painful reading, but it is also richly
written and scrupulously honest. And in the characters' stubbornness
when faced with so much adversity lies a profoundly optimistic
vision of the human's spirit's capacity to endure.
|| New Statesman
|| Few authors would have
the skill of courage to tackle the subjects of terminal illness,
bereavement, the untidiness of grieving and the pressures that
all these things exert on human relationships. It is harder
still to imagine who other than Stevie Davies
could have made such subjects into an exquisite literary experience,
a read of extraordinarily uplifting power.
Bridie is 52 and has spent her life devoted to fighting for
justice in the developing world. When she is diagnosed as suffering
terminal cancer, she stops behaving in such an exemplary manner.
Her refusal to go quietly into the night leaves her younger
lover, Ruth, in an emotional agony that parallels Bridie's physical
pain as the disease eats its way remorselessly up her spine.
Not only does Davies show how Bridie's illness affects herself
and her partner but the effect that it has on others around
them, principally Elaine Bridie's former partner and
co-founder of the Third World Trust and Lizzie Ruth's
16-year-old daughter who is on the verge of taking her first
steps into the world as an individual.
The story is played out against a background of international
cruelty and localised aggression. From the thuggish yobs who
deride and abuse peace protesters maintaining an anti-Gulf War
vigil and the plight of the Kurds being reduced to good TV...
to the barbarism that Lizzie sees in society's treatment of
animals and finally the two men who rape her, Davies paints
a world that is rotten to its male-dominated core. Her own anger
at the north's exploitation of the south and of the British
government's obstinate and selfish refusal even to meet UN guidelines
on minimum aid commitments come clearly through. But while vital
to the story, they do not obscure Davies's central theme of
death as a part of life. And as surely as she describes the
crocuses struggling to life after the dark despair of winter,
so the women come to terms with Bridie's eventual death, growing
because she has lived and eventually able to take up her legacy
of love and anger. Indeed the writing is dotted with subtle
religious and natural imagery that suggest life's suffering,
mystery and essential power. Davies has avoided the temptation
of presenting Bridie and Ruth as pictures of saintliness. Instead
she has created two utterly believable women who compel the
reader to empathy, sympathy and love.
Closing the Book may well tackle "difficult"
subjects, but in doing so it is an inspirational read of rare
power, hope and beauty.
|| Morning Star
|| This compelling lesbian
love story is the heartrending tale of Bridie and Ruth, who
for five years have led an idyllically passionate life, but
which nearly ends in rancour and bitterness during Bridie's
fight with death from cancer.
But this is no ordinary novel. Although the players are full
of courage, depth, spirit and love, Davies pulls no punches
with her characterisations. Guilt, blind rage and cruel hurting
are all explored here. These women are so real I really wish
I had known them!
There are some wonderful sub-plots. Ruth's daughters from a
passionless marriage are woven into the tale, and although the
book has a sad ending, the rebelliousness of Ruth's feisty daughter
will lift the spirits of any flagging guerilla girl!
There are also some wry, intelligent and often witty looks at
how society views lesbian relationships. An interesting backdrop
to the novel is Bridie's work as a player on the international
political stage, as well as being the co-founder of a string
of successful Third World shops she would win the heart
of any active feminist. Indeed, Davies herself has pledged to
give part of her royalties to Third World aid in protest at
our poor contributions. Another triumph from one of our foremost
feminist writers read it!
|| The Feminist Library
|This entire presentation Copyright