Who Was That Woman, Anyway? Snapshots of a Lesbian Life
By Aorewa McLeod
Victoria University Press, $35
Reviewed by Alison McCulloch
It’s trite to say that books take you places. But true nonetheless. With books, you can disappear into other times, cultures, imaginary worlds. “Foreign” fiction is better than any guide-book at introducing you to a place and its people, and sometimes even better than going there if you want to see beneath the surface.
But if you live here and read enough of the stuff (say novels from the two Anglophone powerhouses – the United States and the UK-plus-Ireland) then a different feeling starts to kick in. Like what you’re getting to know is really life inside the American novel, not life inside America. At about the same point, for me anyway, “local” fiction itself starts to feel a bit foreign. Not in the way “foreign” fiction is foreign, but in the way local fiction feels rare, like something you don’t see very often. Which, when it’s good local fiction, also makes it feel precious and exciting and new.
I felt this way reading Aorewa McLeod’s new book Who Was That Woman, Anyway? Snapshots of a Lesbian Life (VUP, $35). It’s a novel, yes, but as McLeod explains in the book’s front matter, it’s inspired by real life events. “Some details happened in real life, some did not,” she writes. “The characters are fictionalised and given fictional names.” The book’s 10 chapters, ordered by date, span roughly 40 years in the life of Ngaio, McLeod’s protagonist who, like the author, is an English lecturer at a university in Auckland.
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