Grumpy old woman in the high tower

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Wooh, woooh, here comes the ghost of Mary Fisher. Mary, you may re­mem­ber from Fay Wel­don’s 1983 clas­sic The Life and Loves of a She Devil, used to be a mar­riage-wreck­ing petite blonde ro­man­tic nov­el­ist. Now she’s a sprightly ghost, haunt­ing the High Tower love nest from which she plunged to her death.

The tower, in this be­lated se­quel, Death of a She Devil, has be­come home and head­quar­ters to the venge­ful She Devil her­self, Ruth Patch­ett, the once lumpen house­wife whose mar­riage Mary made the mis­take of wreck­ing.

In her present in­car­na­tion Ruth is a pil­lar of so­ci­ety, the pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the In­sti­tute for Gen­der Par­ity, al­beit some­thing of a recluse af­ter her su­per­an­nu­ated plas­tic surgery went awry. Bobbo, the feck­less hus­band whose in­fi­delity pro­pelled Ruth into her re­venge apoc­a­lypse, is in­car­cer­ated on the top floor. He is the sole male per­mit­ted within the tower walls, his only vis­i­tors a nu­bile de­men­tia nurse, whom he gropes when­ever his med­i­ca­tion al­lows, and Mary’s in­creas­ingly un­sym­pa­thetic spirit.

Into this fes­ter­ing es­tab­lish­ment erupts Valerie Va­le­ria, Ruth’s PA. Valerie is young. Reared in the wake of the fem­i­nist rev­o­lu­tion, she takes her rights and free­doms for granted. She is steeped in the arts of PR and so­cial me­dia, and plots to launch her­self from Ruth’s mori­bund in­sti­tute on to the world stage, as sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the UN per­haps. Men do not fea­ture in Valerie’s life, in bed or at work … un­til she meets Ruth’s grand­son, Tyler, a lazy Adonis who has, un­til now, es­caped Ruth’s no­tice. Tyler isn’t much good in bed, but Valerie feels sure that if only he tran­si­tioned to Tayla, sex with­out all that prim­i­tive thrust­ing would be just fine.

Tyler oc­ca­sion­ally won­ders where all the men have gone. Who wants boy ba­bies in mid­dle-class Eng­land? Girls are so much more fun to dress up, they do well at school, go to col­lege, get jobs. Tyler missed be­ing aborted only be­cause his mother thought he was a girl, so why not go along with Valerie’s plan? Ev­ery­one goes along with her plans even­tu­ally.

While Valerie ex­em­pli­fies a ter­ri­fy­ing post­fem­i­nist archetype, the older gen­er­a­tion fem­i­nists are strug­gling to en­joy their hard-earned supremacy. Ruth re­flects that all she wanted in the first place was to make things fair be­tween pretty women and ugly women, but when that didn’t work she turned to more mun­dane mat­ters, such as equal pay and op­por­tu­nity.

The in­sti­tute was her crown­ing achieve­ment, but now all those old ladies with their ob­scure po­lit­i­cal the­o­ries “might as well be the­olo­gians for all the dif­fer­ence they make”. The young have no sense of hu­mour, and why must mil­len­ni­als in­sist on bring­ing their sex­ual pro­cliv­i­ties into ev­ery­thing?

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