By Elizabeth Baines.
199 pages
London: Pandora Books, 1988.
ISBN # 0-86358-225-7

Comments of Bob Corbett
March 2002

I was deeply moved and troubled by this novel which is a rather surprising thing to say of it since it deals with topics of such incredible pain and difficulty. However, I found Elizabeth Baines’ insights to be so deep and revealing, bringing much that is usually left hidden to the surface. Most of the key characters are in deep suffering and pain and Baines made them live for me; I was often choking back teams as I could physically feel their pain creeping in my throat and raising hackles on my arts and a feeling of dis-ease in my stomach.

Bronwen O’Donald marries Boris, a self-styled Marxist revolutionary actor and expects a life of liberation and excitement. Instead she is soon a rather traditional house wife and of a poor provider at that. Finally she breaks out in secret paintings of horrible subjects of body parts with Bosch-like objects coming out of them. Disturbed by Boris’ ridicule of the paintings she reluctantly offers them and when a gallery decides to show them she adopts the pseudonym of Guinevere Knight. The paintings become a hit and she is the new cause-celeb of London. Eventually she paints herself out and settles into becoming an illustrator for science books.

Bronwen falls in love with aging Dave, nearly her father’s age and their steamy relationship is soon known to Boris who, while celebrating in theory liberated marriages and private ownership of one’s own body, is simply devastated by Bronwen’s infidelity. She both feels sad and sorry for Boris, but continues her affair, even bringing it forcefully to his attention day by day. Eventually Boris leaves.

She ends the affair with Dave when he begins to show signs of mental instability and Bronwen enters a period of loneliness in which she flirts with the women’s movement, considers, but rejects lesbian experience, and learns to live alone.

Finally she decides to return to Boris only to discover he has a new partner and has no desire to return to her at all.

In the climatic scene she gets caught up in Dave’s now advanced depression and lots a dark and seamy stuff that goes on in his house. She literally escapes that scene and knowing that he will pursue her, she sets off to live under yet another pseudonym in a sleazy rooming house on the outskirts of London.

The affairs are complex just to keep track of and the pains of whose really hurting whom and the complexity of what is love and what, if anything, might lovers owe to each other – these and many related themes are dealt with in depth with passion and powerful insight. This is certainly not a “nice” novel, but for anyone willing to look love, lust, marriage and the place of women in society squarely in the eye with no sugar coating at all, this is a powerful and intelligent work.

Elizabeth Baines was born in South Wales. Her first novel was The Birth Machine published by The Women's Press in 1985.

Bob Corbett

Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett