We are very grateful to the Little, Brown Book Group for sending us a review copy of this book.
Mud Stories of Sex and Love Little, Brown Book Group Virago Press ISBN: 1844086259 Publication Date: 03 Jun 2010 Format: Paperback
The critics of Jane Eyre who deemed the novel 'coarse' would be at a loss for words to describe Mud, by Michèle Roberts, a collection of short stories, some inspired by literary characters, some made up 'from scratch'. Most of the stories feel like sandpaper on skin: they are not a cosy read and yet they are deeply mesmerising, largely due to Michèle Roberts's stunning control of language and sensually poetic prose. Verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns all become plastic and malleable in her apt hands and all jump from the page, gathering the reader within them, creating an unbelievable atmosphere. In the story called Flâneuse the reader is out there walking the muddy streets of London with Polly, listening, feeling, seeing, smelling with her, time-travelling (or is it dreaming?) with her. In Remembering George Sand, a story that takes places for the most part in a (sick) room, the reader - like it or not - is right there first smelling of 'attar of roses and of tobacco' and then vividly picturing, with all five senses alert, 'the foul, swilling pots from the commode'.
Mud, even more than the title alone may imply, is the running theme of this collection, mud in all its forms and aspects, mud as perceived by each character. Mud as if the reader was touching it, feeling its grainy dampness too.
But the reason why BrontëBlog is actually reviewing this book is that the story Sleepers is peopled by characters from Jane Eyre. We don't want to give too much away: some characters are fleeing from Thornfield, other characters are honouring the subtitle of this collection, 'stories of sex and love'. Like the entire collection, it's a story that requires an open mind (purists beware!), but one that also provides a different, largely imaginative, point of view. We won't say in which 'game' she is, but one of the characters in the story is Sophie, Adèle's nurse. Thanks to Michèle Roberts we have been made to realise that however much Jane Eyre might have seemed invisible to other people at Thornfield Hall, Sophie is even more wrapped in the shadows(1). And, let's face it, just because us readers like Jane Eyre, that doesn't mean the rest of the characters do, too.
But as we know, Michèle Roberts is a Brontëite, so there are a few more Brontë treats scattered throughout the collection, such a highly perceptive remarks like, 'Not adultery she's seeking so much as conversation; as Charlotte Brontë sought it with Monsieur Heger'.
A recommended read for anyone who likes beautiful prose but, in the case of Brontëites, it is particularly recommended for those who like to still be surprised by the goings-on at Thornfield Hall. Goings-on, however, that Charlotte Brontë may not have even begun to imagine...
Notes (1) Although some other writers have also given her voice. Particularly relevant is the Italian novel La bambinaia francese by Bianca Pitzorno (2004).