“Clad not exactly as a boy but, rather confusingly, as the boy I would have been, had I been more of a girl.”
Another book snagged off of the Show Your Pride display at our local library this month: and can you go wrong with checking out a Sarah Waters novel? Even when they are not great, they are still worth a read for the twists and turns (the mileage of which may vary), but most importantly the striving to connect to the relationships around us, or even just to understand how they fit within our lives: there is always a sense of longing, desire, and humanity.
In Tipping the Velvet, the story follows a young woman named Nancy in 1890s England, who finds herself drawn into the wonders of a performer named Kitty, who performs songs as a male impersonator. But it is not the act and life of performing itself which is drawing Nancy away from her family to become a part of Kitty’s life, but a stirring in her heart. From here we see how Nancy and Kitty’s relationship develops and changes over the years performing in London, as well as how Nancy herself changes and moves through the world, taking on new roles and relationships with people, all the while seeming to be simply playing whatever part is needed for her at any given moment. The story explores modes of survival and gender expression, as well as getting into the late 19th century sapphic scene of England (or perhaps, a couple specific areas therein, as I’m sure the diversity was more than we even know).
As with any story in stages, certain sections of this novel were more engaging than others, which made the pace stall in some parts while they flew by in others. Or moreso, the tone of certain sections (particularly the middle one) seemed so different than the other two, that it threw me a little. There was also a little bit of colloquial language used at times in such a nonchalant way that I had to take pause to really figure out what was being said, though this wasn’t a huge issue overall, just a blip here and there.
Overall, however, this is a story about moving through the world feeling like you don’t quite fit anywhere. What was also very striking to myself personally was the feeling of disconnection from one stage of Nancy’s life to the next: how, not per say easily, but clean-cuttingly she moves on and does not look back to those she let behind. She may think of them, their impact on her life, and wonder after them, but truly reconnect? Not so much. I have been thinking recently that I have done this too and it makes me a bit sad. But anyways, that’s a whole other can of worms! So all in all, Tipping the Velvet was well worth the read, if perhaps a little uneven in my interest from part to part.