It wasn’t just the way the narrator, Private Investigator Ian Kennedy, described the female characters he encountered, though there was that, too; my main issue was with a scene (spoilers for the rest this paragraph) where the woman he was hired to find goes through a series of Tam Lin-like transformations. Like in the original ballad, he has to hold on to her through these to bring her back to the human world. One of the things she turns into is a naked young man who makes sexual advances on Kennedy, and despite some faint “I’m not homophobic, but” disclaimers, this was described mainly in terms of the revulsion it made him feel. I wouldn’t mind this if the emphasis had been on the unwanted nature of the advances, but it felt very much that the gender of the person making them and not the issue of consent was the key factor. I’ve already returned the book to the library, which means that unfortunately I can’t share the relevant passages, but the scene’s tinges of bodily revulsion of the eww-he-has-male-bits sort and associated homophobic undertones were strong and very much off-putting.
I’ve always wanted to read Tuttle’s The Silver Bough, but this has somewhat dissuaded me. The Mysteries isn’t terrible, mainly because the writing is competent and the atmosphere is spot on, but to be honest it just made me miss Tam Lin.
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean: …which is why I went on to reread it, and oh, it was immensely satisfying and the perfect October book. It’s a wonderful feeling to still love a book every bit as much as you remember. In addition to my great enjoyment of the atmosphere, what struck me the most this time around was how central to the narrative Janet’s intellectual interests are. I love Tam Lin’s nerdiness; I love the fact that this is a book that makes me miss being a student acutely. It’s a campus novel that focuses not only on its characters’ social lives, but on the everyday business of getting to know your own mind and making sense of the world, which a good education is very much about.
Janet’s love of Shakespeare and Keats, her discovery of Greek, her slow warm-up to Pope — they all put me in mind of slow, satisfying days spent at my university’s library developing what felt like a meaningful relationship with my assigned reading. I don’t know that I can describe this without sounding pretentious — these moments didn’t come along all the time, but it was wonderful when they did. I felt like I was making friends with what were previously only names on the curriculum, and as I did so all these Important Old Books became truly mine. Tam Lin captures that feeling perfectly: claiming things as your own, realising your horizons are expanding, feeling your understanding of the world shifting in small but crucial ways, and stopping for a moment to savour and take pleasure in this fact. Rather than bogging down the narrative, the academic details bring Tam Lin’s thematic core to life in ways the supernatural plot alone couldn’t.
In short: this is a wonder of a novel, and I expect I’ll be returning to it again and again.
Etiquette & Espionage and Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger: I picked up Carriger’s Finishing School series entirely due to her comments at LonCon about wanting to write “vastly networked protagonists” whose stories were nothing like the traditional lonely hero’s journey. Being a big believer in collaboration, I loved Carriger’s rejection of the one man’s quest to save the world, and that predisposed me to like these books from the very start.
I did like them, but in the end I felt much like I did about Soulless: I found them fun but ultimately forgettable. This probably sounds harsher than I intend it to — I did love the main character, Sophronia; I greatly enjoyed watching her make friends; I was often delighted by Carriger’s humour and by the novels’ subversive streak; and I found them compelling enough that I read them in a few days. But with so much stuff out there demanding my attention, I’m undecided as to whether I want to invest more time in this series. I suppose that’s an answer in itself.