Sunday, 27 March 2011

Book Review: "Women Talking Dirty" by Isla Dewar

I finished reading "Women Talking Dirty" by Isla Dewar recently, and quite enjoyed it. It is the story of the lives and friendship of two women in Scotland, Ellen and Cora. Ellen is shy, a bit of a misfit, neglected as a child, unconfident, and has a on again off again marriage to a low life of a man. She falls into a career as a cartoonist and does not even realize that she is good at it. Cora is outspoken and wild, a single mom who put herself through school and enjoys being outrageous, though she does have secrets that she is hiding. These two opposite women become unlikely best friends.

I love the opening scene where they meet. Ellen and Cora are at a party when Cora looks at Ellen and realizes that they could be great friends. Cora goes up to the obviously very insecure Ellen and says: "You look like you could do with some serious corrupting" (p. 3). She then goes on to get Ellen drunk on vodka. It is a great way to begin this book and their friendship and certainly sets the tone. It also sets up another theme of the book, drinking lots of vodka.

Dewar expertly delves into the lives of these two women and makes connections. We see their growth and development, fears and anxieties. There is great dialogue and the story moves along well. I especially love the "women talking dirty" part, the way women are without men or children around, not editing, being themselves. There is a great quote that describes this:
In summer swallows dipped, swooped and cried. Children, kicking a football in the street, called to each other. And in small gatherings on the balcony women stood, arms folded, gossiping and laughing. That was Cora's favourite sound. That moment on summer evenings when women standing arms folded, discussing men, children, parents, stopped being wives, mothers, daughters and relaxed. That indiscreet cackle of women talking dirty. (p. 159)
This book is like that with the friendship of Ellen and Cora, they let down their guard (for the most part) and lay it out for each other. 

Dewar also gives us a glimpse into Scottish culture, complete with fun and colourful characters. I liked some of the minor characters as much as the main ones. One of my favourite was Emily Boyle, Ellen's elderly upstairs neighbour who claims to have played piano with Rachmaninov. She, also, is out to corrupt Ellen :
Every Saturday afternoon Emily Boyle would link arms with Ellen and they would set off on a mushroom quest. They rarely returned with mushrooms, they rarely returned sober. They weren't drunk, of course, just drunkish, deliciously touching the edges of silliness. (p. 185)
Though generally, the writing was great, I did have trouble following the point of view at times. It changes from Ellen to Cora frequently and I did get confused. The characters also frequently drift into the past, and, at times, this was also confusing. 

My emotions got wound up in this book a bit and I found myself in a bad mood, which I think had to do with some of the bad relationships described in the book. Perhaps this is a tribute to the calibre of Dewars's writing. Overall, I would highly recommend this book, especially to women who like books about friendship and good dialogue.

book:  Isla Dewar, "Women Talking Dirty," Headline Book Publishing, 1996.

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