Grumpy old woman in the high tower
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?