Acquired via BookCrossing 18 Dec 2009 – picked up at Urban Coffee Company’s OBCZ

An interesting Virago, quite charming but with an intriguing message as well.  This was apparently written as a riposte to Radclyffe Hall’s "The Well of Loneliness".  Hall posits the idea of a "third sex" of women who are "inverts", ie they have a masculine appearance and nature, while being genetically women.  They famously wear "masculine underwear" (Renault mentions this in her Afterword and I’ve heard it discussed before) and try to make their way in the world as men.

Renault introduces us first to gentle and unformed Elsie, who lives with tyrannical parents, tyrannical because they use her in their battles against each other, so nothing she can do is right for the one, if it’s right for the other.  She is aware that her older sister, Leo(nora) ran away from home eight years ago. Encouraged by a smarmy locum doctor, she eventually snaps and runs away herself, seeking out her sister on the narrowboat she shares with the pretty medical illustrator, Helen.  Leo shares her life and her bed with Helen, but as gentlemen callers, from the smarmy doctor to the half-wild author Joe, circle the boatful of girls, we wonder if Leo could have been turned from her rather masculine early life and dress, if only she’d met the right man…

The doctor, Peter, is a hilarious creation, with his psychological reports on his patients to the long-suffering Norah, but Renault doesn’t seem to like her other characters much and the ending, she admits too, is a bit silly.  Also, I’m sure she has written books about and accepting male homosexuality, while seeming to cast doubt on the female variety in this novel.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable read with some wincy and some very funny moments.

Offering to the LibraryThing Viragoites.