Guest Lesbrarian Rie is reviewing a book I hadn’t heard of before: A Charm of Powerful Trouble by Joanne Horniman. I love hearing about new les/etc books! Here’s her review:
I’m a chick with simple tastes–at least when it comes to my books. I love beautiful imagery, strong characters, family secrets, small adventures, literary references, and a satisfying conclusion that leaves you sorry to leave the story behind, but blissed out at having known them for even several hundred pages. Joanne Horniman’s A Charm of Powerful Trouble is a book that has slipped quietly from the notice of bibliophiles, and I am sorry for it, as it is an exquisite novel in short stories about the relationships between family and lovers. Laura Zambelli could be describing the book itself when she talks of her home in the rainforest:
A forest is so intricate it takes intimacy to know how to look at the maze of plants entwined like serpents: twisted, coiled, sinuous, insinuating. A rainforest is artful and curled and wild. It is the wildness I love most of all. It takes time to know it and love it, to see properly what it is.
Loosely based on the poem Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, A Charm of Powerful Trouble echoes the poem’s sensuality, feminist leanings, and expression of the power of love between sisters. Sister Lizzie is bright and beautiful, with a long golden braid and curvy body, flaunting a gold ring in her navel and insouciant way of playing the guitar. Sister Laura is small and dark, but quietly celebrates the beauty of her growing womanhood and her ramshackle home outside Mullumbimby, Australia. Throughout the novel, relationships unfold and echo each other in a circular, dreamy narrative of love and loss. Their artist mother and filmmaker father find their relationship crumbling when Stella, the mother’s beautiful best friend, most in with her mysterious daughter Paris. But once upon a time in the mother Emma’s history, Stella was the quiet, witchy little girl of the bohemian yet glamorous neighbor who wore miniskirts and tended chickens. Lizzie and Laura are each other’s safe haven in their tumultuous if loving family, like Emma’s wilder older sister Beth was once her inspiration. Storylines twist through each piece like the snakes that inhabit their rainforest home as the women love tempestuously, lose everything, but come around to themselves when they realize that it is their own inner strength and self-love and passion for living that completes them. Joanne Horniman’s writing is evocative and breathless, with images of women eating flowers, sisters who find a universe in a drop of water, bowerbirds with nests made from tarot cards and a goblinish market where mice sell fairy wings and foxes listen to poetry.
Here is an excerpt from “Kiss the Sky,” narrated by Laura:
The summer when I was seventeen I was so full of undifferentiated sensuality that the world was a great glowing golden fruit around me. I didn’t long for love and nor did I need it, yet I saw love everywhere without even looking for it…Everywhere I looked, I saw people delighting in each other. But I needed no one. I was myself, complete. At night the summer air breathed onto my face with such promises of bliss that I slept in a deep swoon. I was caressed by the morning sunlight and seduced by the long afternoon shadows, and I lapped it all up in such a daze of sensation that I couldn’t tell where the world ended and I began. I was so much in love with simply being alive that I could have kissed the sky.
One last note: this book wins my Happy Sapphist award. Without denying the pain that can accompany coming into a queer identity, it is a relief to read a book that explores the beauty of a lesbian relationship without strife or negativity. Laura does struggle with feelings she doesn’t have the words to put a name to, but after years of searching finds love with a woman as deep and loving as herself. ( And she’s a librarian to boot ♥!) I cannot express how important it was to read a novel like this, one that assured me that there would be happiness, too.
In the bookshop at Mullumbimby I crouched on the floor, dipping into book. I had a belief that one day I come across something–in a book, anywhere–that would finally allow the world to make sense, and I was forever alive and alert for it.
I found mine–in A Charm of Powerful Trouble. Happy reading!