Wallflower

Anthony Quinn

  • Varying Degrees of Hopelessness by Lucy Ellmann
    Hamish Hamilton, 184 pp, £13.99, July 1991, ISBN 0 241 13153 7
  • Slide by James Buchan
    Heinemann, 135 pp, £12.99, June 1991, ISBN 0 434 07499 3
  • Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn
    Secker, 210 pp, £13.99, August 1991, ISBN 0 436 20009 0

The heroine of Lucy Ellmann’s new novel is one of an increasingly rare breed in modern fiction – a virgin. Isabel is a thirty-something art history student, prim, gauche, improbably starry-eyed, impossibly self-obsessed, a junior version of the Anita Brookner wallflower (i.e. not yet prepared to consign herself to the sad margins of singlehood). But whereas the high-minded Brookner woman is given to maundering over Balzac or Flaubert, Isabel derives her vicarious thrills from the soft-centred romantic novels of one Babs Cartwheel (373 of them, and counting). According to Ms Cartwheel, ‘when the right man appears, he will appreciate finding your virginity intact,’ which in Isabel’s case sounds like making a virtue out of a necessity. Her addiction to this junk affects not just her social demeanour but her narrative mode, a matter of breathless one-sentence paragraphs and stupefying sentiment – ‘my destiny was to love, but to love always tragically.’

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