"I am 85. What I think I say. It is my privilege": the strident tones of "Miss Felicity"--grandmother, sophisticate, survivor--strikes the chord for Fay Weldon's new novel, Rhode Island Blues. Political and often provocative, in her fiction, Weldon has tracked the course of women's lives through her writing (from Down Among the Women to Big Women).
In Rhode Island Blues, she turns to the themes of sex and ageing, family and history, love and confinement. The complex, sometimes unwilling, relation between grand-mother and grand-daughter, Sophia--a film-editor, living in Soho --is central to a story that, focusing on Sophia's quest to find her grandmother's first daughter (adopted at birth), gradually uncovers the tragic losses of Felicity's life. At the same time you question whether these losses are still tragic to Felicity (who's carving out a new life, and lover, for herself at the Golden Bowl retirement home. And you may wonder what is going on in Sophia's attempt to find herself a family through the romance of her grandmother's life: "I wanted a family: she could put up with it," is Sophia's unabashed take on what she is doing.
Shuttling between her women, Weldon takes every opportunity to give her account of the shortcomings of the world she is creating (most notably, the "children of the therapy age"). But the "wit" for which Weldon is so well-known seems to miss its mark in Rhode Island Blues. The ties which bind generations of women together--as mothers, daughters, friends--have supported some of the most vivid and exploratory contemporary novels (Marge Piercy's recent Three Women, for example). There's a lack of compassion in Rhode Island Blues that jars with the subtlety, and painfulness, of its subject--replacing fiction's potential for surprise with the predictability of political tract. --Vicky Lebeau