This book, “Medusa” by Elizabeth Watasin, bears the subtitle of “The Return of The Penny Dread” and is written in the style of those 19th century novels. Those of you that enjoy the work of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Arthur Conan Doyle, WW Jacobs and others may find this novel quite appealing. In the end notes the work is described as “Gothic Steam Punk”. I admit that I had to look that up to find out what it meant and it means a type of sci-fi or fantasy story that describes steam powered or old fashioned technology rather than more futuristic inventions.
The story is set in 1880s London, but a London that is home not just to the sort of people we might recognise, but also to strange beings who might, or might not, be the living embodiment of Greek mythology. This is the gothic fantasy part of the story. There are also strange characters who are described as members of HRH Secret Commission though this term, sadly, is not explained and may be a carry-over from another story.
The focus of the story is Elvie Chaisty who is blind and lives in a home for the blind. She loves sculpture and models her own sculptures from clay, having a particular interest in the styles of the ancient Greeks. If a blind person sculpting seems unlikely then I would suggest you look up Felice Tagliaferri , a blind Italian sculptor, whose work Cristo Rivelato (Revealed Christ) is quite astonishing in its accomplishment.
When she goes out Elvie is chaperoned by Ellie Hench, who is also blind. However, Ellie is able to perceive her world through a sort of fluid awareness (I didn’t really understand this) and can function almost as well as a sighted person. She carries a big stick which she isn’t afraid to use and because of this is valued as a body guard. At this point it helps to be able to suspend your disbelief.
While studying the sculptures in Room 84 of the British Museum Elvie encounters a strange woman and becomes fascinated by her. The woman turns out to be a talented sculptress and sets out to befriend Elvie. At the same time strange statues of real women start to appear around London. With the title of the book giving away the game somewhat you start to see where this is going quite early on.
I won’t give away any more of the plot than that, other than to say things are not quite what they seem and you shouldn’t think you know how the story is going to end.
There is a sub plot within this story involving an evil Countess and I was rather disappointed that the author didn’t make a little bit more of that. There is a rescue scene which would have been interesting to have witnessed from a reader’s point of view, but which was glossed over so rapidly that I wondered why it was mentioned at all. It was like offering me a slice of cake and then only giving me the crumbs from the plate.
The style of writing of this book is fairly easy to read, though it should be borne in mind that the author is trying to recreate times past and uses appropriate forms of language. I would have liked more explanation of the origins of some of the characters as I struggled to make sense of them, especially a sort of female giant by the name of Artifice. While I could go and read the author’s other books to try to find out about them it didn’t help me while reading this one. That and the skimpy sub plot are the main reasons that I have only given the novel 4 stars.
Only one of the major characters in the story are male so the story is told from a particularly female perspective. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is the stuff of Mills and Boon or Barbara Cartland. These characters are no shrinking violets. If they faint it’s because they are ill and in real life I wouldn’t want to upset a character like Ellie Hench.
All in all this is an enjoyable read for those who enjoy mysterious goings on. It won’t frighten you enough to give you nightmares, as nowadays we are used to far greater horrors than this author describes. Just watching the evening news can be far more terrifying, but the author handles the story well and I found myself wanting to turn the page to see what would happen next. Pity about that sub plot though!
For us to eradicate prejudice it is first necessary to ‘normalise’ the object of that prejudice. If something is seen as normal we don’t fear it, we don’t worry about it and, most importantly, we don't even notice it.
I’ll give you an example. How many people have ever heard of anyone having a prejudice against small babies? That seems stupid, I know. After all, babies are part of the cycle of life. Their presence in the world is unquestioned. It is normal. Yet people have prejudices against other groups who are also present in our society and always have been. Their presence is as normal as that of a baby, but they are seen as being abnormal. So long as these groups are spoken of as being different they will be seen as different and therefore there will be some who develop prejudices against them.
Part of the reason for the prejudice is the way those minorities have been treated in the past. If they have been seen as 'abnormal' in some way, as not being a proper part of society, then society has a learned prejudice against them which is hard to overcome. But we won't overcome it by continuing to treat these groups as though they are not the same as us.
This week a sportsman came out as being gay. I’m not going to name him because to do so would set him apart and would actually undermine my own argument. However, the BBC, in its wisdom, did name him. In fact they did more than that, they made him a feature of one of their daytime TV shows.
Why is the way the story was covered so revealing of prejudice?
The answer is that every time the media makes someone appear different it keeps the idea of difference alive. They would never refer to someone as being heterosexual in that way. Why not? Because it is normal. So, if the homosexuality of a sportsman is news worthy it must, therefore, be abnormal otherwise there could be no story to tell. So I conclude that the BBC harbours prejudice and shows it by treating homosexuality as being abnormal and therefore newsworthy.
If this sportsman’s sexuality affected his performance as an athlete then that might be legitimate grounds for media comment, but only on the sports pages or in the broadcasts that focus on sport. They aren’t legitimate grounds for comment anywhere else. However, sexuality has nothing to do with sporting prowess and the only impact it might have on this athlete’s performance is if it impacts on the way fans see him.
So many of our comedians, who supposedly abhor prejudice, use this as part of their acts. Just watch a few of the comments made about Serena Williams for example, on some of our TV comedy shows. They perpetuate prejudice and allow sports fans to continue to use racist and homophobic language. After all, its been seen on TV, hasn’t it? So it must be OK. By the way I have no idea if Serena Williams is a lesbian or if she is heterosexual. She has never spoken about the subject and it is nothing to do with her tennis playing ability anyway, but that doesn't stop the comedians from making their jokes.
Preventing homophobic jibes being made towards athletes in sports arenas won’t be helped by their sexuality being speculated over or trumpeted on national TV.
Of course this doesn’t just apply to sports stars. How many times have we read in the newspapers or heard on the TV the comment that so-and-so is an openly gay MP, or an openly gay pop star or an openly gay something else. IT DOESN’T MATTER. Their sexuality has nothing at all to do with whatever talent, or lack of talent, they display in their chosen field. But it does make them appear different, it sets them apart from ‘normal’ people.
To put an end to prejudice you must make sure that people are always treated as being the same. To continue to highlight differences between people fosters prejudice as it allows people to latch on to those differences and feed off them.
Every time you hear someone talk about their ‘gay friend’ they are revealing a prejudice, because the very fact that it is relevant that the friend is gay means they are not seen as ‘normal’. In this day and age it would be unthinkable to say ‘I have a black friend’, so why is it still seen as acceptable to say ‘I have a gay friend’ (which I have heard recently)? They are either a friend or they are not; their sexuality is irrelevant.
We end prejudice by treating everyone as equals. We don’t end it by treating people as being different and when the media takes the lead in this way they are perpetuating prejudice, not helping to put an end to it. Shame on the BBC and shame on every newspaper and TV station that followed their lead by reporting that story.