And yet, we know it when we see it. We often associate this quality with movie stars and Park Avenue socialites, but it can be found in unexpected people—and places—as well. Many of my favorite mysteries combine a bit of glitz with their murders, showing us how bright lights can cast the darkest shadows.
Greer Macallister has a talent for bringing complex, singular women alive on the page. Her glamorous on-stage persona hides a dark, at times terrifying past. And indeed she does. But this book is as wickedly funny as it is smart. In the first mostly unglamorous one, we find our chameleon-like protagonist Alice getting caught up in gruesome early twentieth century, Harlem mobster business.
After being shot, she flees by train to Portland, Oregon where she lands at the Paragon Hotel modeled after the real Golden West Hotel. The Paragon caters to an African-American clientele, offering an elegant sanctuary from a violently segregated city. Alice befriends a Josephine Baker-type performer, and many scenes are downright Gatsbyesque in their luxuries. The glitter only emphasizes the tenuous, dangerous circumstances of the Paragon guests, though. My favorite movie as a teenager was the adaptation of L.
While the movie effectively emphasizes the distance between seedy and ritzy Los Angeles, the book weaves multiple, complex stories into a tangled web of intrigue.
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When the old genre versus literary debate fires up, this is one of the novels that makes me dismiss the whole conversation. The prose is as rhythmic as jazz and the plots as complicated as, well, jazz.
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Sensible, perhaps a little bored teacher Lora King forms a tumultuous bond with her new sister-in-law, a woman whose murky past draws everyone into danger. This book shows the power of classic noir, how a crime-focused plot can also be an illuminating character study. What happens to someone pulled into the currents? Do they swim, or do they sink? When an awards show publicist is killed in an apparent robbery gone awry, Dayna finds herself involved in a surprisingly tricky case, racing to find a murderer and looking good the whole time. Putting her theatrical skills to use, Nan assists Ralph in preparing a speech at an upcoming socialist rally.
At the event Nan jumps onstage to help Ralph when he falters, and is noticed once more by Kitty, who asks her to come back so they can continue their affair in secret. Realising how much shame Kitty continues to feel, how much of herself was compromised during their affair, and that her truest happiness is where she is now, Nan turns Kitty away and joins Florence.
The greatest literary strengths in Tipping the Velvet , according to reviewers and literary scholars, are the vibrant portrayal of the districts and streets of London, and Waters' ability to create sympathetic and realistic characters. Her use of synaesthesia in lush descriptions particularly interested Harriet Malinowitz in The Women's Review of Books. For example, Malinowitz cites the scene when Nan first meets Kitty, removing her glove to shake Kitty's hand. Very much an oyster girl, Nan's hands are covered with "those rank sea-scents, of liquor and oyster-flesh, crab-meat and whelks, which had flavoured my fingers and those of my family for so many years we had ceased, entirely, to notice them.
Although Waters was born in Pembrokeshire , Wales, she considers herself a London writer because of her intense affection for the city, due in part to her immigration to it. Specifically, Waters is moved by walking through London and seeing remnants of many historical eras: "It's I find that very exciting. In the Lesbian Review of Books Donna Allegra writes, "[S]he summons the era's attitudes and ambiance projecting them onto the screen of the reader's mind with Dolby wrap-around sound such that you feel you're vacationing on all points between Chelsea and the East End.
Miranda Seymour in The New York Times remarks on the "breathless passion" of the narrator's voice as being absolutely convincing, citing as an example Nancy's statement to her sister at the start of the book about why she continues to visit Kitty Butler:. It's like I never saw anything at all before. It's like I am filling up, like a wine-glass when it's filled with wine. I watch the acts before her and they are like nothing—they're like dust.
Then she walks on the stage and—she is so pretty; and her suit is so nice; and her voice is so sweet She makes me want to smile and weep, at once I never saw a girl like her before. I never knew that there were girls like her. Nan the narrator describes the irony of her "curious gaslit career" as a rent-boy only to end up—in Diana's words—as her "tart".
Nan's path through the plot indicates that Tipping the Velvet is part Bildungsroman , and her journeys through the streets of London invoke elements of a picaresque novel. Scholar Emily Jeremiah characterises the story as a Bildungsroman : a coming-of-age adventure but one that far surpasses a simple coming-out story.
Nan finds true love with Florence, who is a bit dowdy, somewhat stout, certainly not wealthy, and driven to improve the world; the least likely of all the characters.
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Nan's experiences eventually reveal serious faults of the society she moves through, the primary element of a picaresque novel. Michael Upchurch in The Seattle Times writes that Nan's inability or unwillingness to adhere to any profession or setting, remaining malleable until the end of the novel indicates she is her own worst enemy. Ciocia writes that with half the novel taking place in theatrical settings, Nan may be playing a role as character in her own life or a play on a stage set in a theatre or the streets of London. She starts as a spectator watching Kitty onstage, and later with Kitty, watching how men move and behave to improve their act.
She becomes a performer, with Kitty, as a renter and again for the predatory Diana and her friends. Finally she takes the role of director as she assists and impels Ralph to perform his speech.
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At this point, she is able to reconcile her identity and the story ends. Sexuality and sexual identity is the most prevalent theme in the novel. The title is an obscure Victorian pornographic slang reference to cunnilingus. The sexism of the period puts a stranglehold on women, forcing readers to compare women in the Victorian era with present-day sexual attitudes. Nan never has difficulty accepting her love for Kitty Butler and other women; Kitty's union with Walter, however, "reeks of lesbophobia", according to Allegra. The only instance where she is overcome and flees the stage is when a drunken patron shouts a euphemism for a lesbian at her.
Kitty does not display any pleasure in their union, but rather complacence tinged with shame. Scholar Paulina Palmer asserts that Waters, in Tipping the Velvet and her two following novels also set in the Victorian era— Affinity and Fingersmith —is establishing a literary tradition that has not existed: "Women engaging in same-sex relationships in the Victorian era were on the whole invisible and we have little knowledge of their literary interests. Another surge of activity published as lesbian pulp fiction occurred in the s and early s, during which several notable lesbian authors such as Ann Bannon and Valerie Taylor helped to establish lesbian literary identity.
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These fictions helped to inform readers about the lives and cultural landmarks of lesbians when very little information existed. It would be bizarre not to write about it. Among Waters' Victorian-set novels, depictions of sexual encounters are also, according to Palmer, the most vivid in Tipping the Velvet. Frank depictions of lesbian sexuality specifically penned by women have been quieted by censorship that equated lesbian sex with aberrant mental behaviour, or employed it as an erotic element controlled by, and for the benefit of, men. Lesbian literary scholar Bonnie Zimmerman writes, "Lesbians have been reticent and uncomfortable about sexual writing in part because we wish to reject the patriarchal stereotype of the lesbian as a voracious sexual vampire who spends all her time in bed.
It is safer to be a lesbian if sex is kept in the closet or under the covers. Nan not only experiences a series of misadventures and lesbian relationships, but also shifts from female to male at the same time, giving the reader an opportunity to view London society from multiple perspectives.
Gender masquerade and reaction to it permeates the novel. According to Harriet Malinowitz, Waters uses the symbolism of clothing such as skirts, pants, stays, braces, bonnets, ties, and chemises "with the sort of metaphorical significance that Melville gives to whales". The single exception to this was Moll Flanders, a prostitute. Nancy Astley behaves as both, giving her the ability to offer her perceptions of London society as both a man and a woman.
Music halls, where both Nan and Kitty are employed—and put on display—as male impersonators, allow about half the novel's action and commentary on gender to take place, according to scholar Cheryl Wilson. When Nan puts on trousers for the first time to perform as Kitty's partner and realises the impact of their double act together, she states, "whatever successes I might achieve as a girl, they would be nothing compared to the triumphs I should enjoy clad, however girlishly, as a boy".
Only certain types of depictions of men, however, were acceptable in reality. Nan and Kitty pretend to be London "swells": gentlemen on the town who sing about their sweethearts. Wilson provides evidence that such depictions were supported by class divisions, as poorer music hall patrons enjoyed the fun poked at the upper class, and the upper class generally found it harmless enough to laugh at themselves. Mashers such as the famed Vesta Tilley capitalised on the fact that both men and women were able to laugh at common perceptions of femininity and masculinity.
Writing in about a period more than years before, Waters employs a continuity between the past and present, particularly as it relates to an outsider's view of sexuality and gender.
Diana bestows Nan with the finest gift she had ever received, an expensive watch that requires no winding.