Dead Cats and Fungi

Robert Taubman

  • Puffball by Fay Weldon
    Hodder, 255 pp, £5.95, February 1980, ISBN 0 340 24565 4
  • The Mirror of the Giant by Penelope Shuttle
    Marion Boyars, 165 pp, £5.95, January 1980, ISBN 0 7145 2679 7
  • Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge
    Duckworth, 176 pp, £4.95, November 1979, ISBN 0 7156 1458 4
  • Wild Oats by Jacob Epstein
    Alison Press/Secker, 267 pp, £5.95, February 1980, ISBN 0 436 14826 9
  • In the Secret State by Robert McCrum
    Hamish Hamilton, 250 pp, £5.95, February 1980, ISBN 0 241 10322 3

Whatever the women in these Weldon and Shuttle novels achieve, it is not through effort or desperation so much as by passive submission. Women’s minds and bodies are the scene of all the action, but apparently no more than the scene; and though uninhibited freedom in this area is a sign of emancipation in modern women’s writing, I don’t know that the effect and the message in these two books will get a welcome in radical circles. Glastonbury Tor stands on the horizon in one of them, the giant man of Cerne Abbas in the other. The main characters learn to define themselves as women through manifestations of the instinctive, irrational world. They have little specific sense of identity or relationship; subdued by the primitive – ‘trussed up in ghostly inflorescence’, in one of Penelope Shuttle’s phrases – they evade even a representative role as children of their time. Dead cats and fungi are found in both novels; sometimes it seems that the characters could as well be zombies. The reader has to elicit a meaning, not from them, but from what happens to them.

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