book reviews by Althea

The Great Divorce – Valerie Martin ***

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Picked this up after enjoying Martin’s ‘Mary Reilly.’
‘The Great Divorce’ is a very well-crafted book. However, it’s not really what I would describe as enjoyable experience. A worthwhile one, certainly, but it creates a difficult atmosphere.
The stories of three women are told here: Ellen, a veterinarian at the zoo, enjoys a typical middle-class lifestyle – but her life seems happier from the outside. Her marriage is crumbling – her philandering husband has finally decided to leave her for a younger woman, and her daughter is emotionally traumatized by this and acting out. Meanwhile, all the animals at the zoo are dying of mysterious ailments.
Camille is an assistant at the same zoo, but to her Ellen’s lifestyle seems glamorously unattainable. Camille is desperately lonely, and desperate to be loved, but only knows how to express that by sleeping with men that most women wouldn’t even consider. She lives with her abusive, controlling mother, and sees no way out.
Meanwhile, back in the pre-Civil War South, Elisabeth, a young aristocrat, thinks she has her future husband wrapped around her finger – until after the marriage, when she finds herself trapped with a man capable of unspeakable cruelties.

The third story, to me, was by far the most interesting, but it was only tied to the first two by the concept that Ellen’s husband is researching the historical crime that involved Elisabeth. (And, of course, by the themes of the stories). It felt a little awkwardly meshed.
All three women are, somehow, involved with big cats. I’d say there’s a commentary here on the frequent erotic association of women with cats (such as in ‘Cat People’)… but this is a very cynical, non-erotic, and depressing take on the association.


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