We welcome Sunny to the C-Spot Reviews team!
This was an interesting book to read at this point in history. It is set in 1960 in Berkshire, England, and chronicles the lives of two women, one a seasoned prison guard and the other a young nurse who takes a job in the sanatorium at the same prison. They find themselves falling in love despite the fact that it is strictly against prison rules, as well as societal norms.
When the two women first meet, Officer Jean MacFarlane is a guard at Deepdown Prison and is very popular among the inmates and prison staff because of her compassionate and fair way of treating everyone. What she doesn’t think anyone else knows is that she is brokenhearted over the death of Mary, her would-be lover. Mary had been a death-row inmate – another taboo relationship, even though it was never physically acted upon.
Nurse Leah Webster takes the position at Deepdown because it’s a better paying job than the one she had at the local hospital. She’s trying to make extra money to help her soon-to-be husband with the down payment on a flat. She still lives with her parents and is engaged, somewhat reluctantly, to Bill, a man who very much meets her parents’ approval.
Leah is oddly drawn to Jean, something that is a source of confusion and dismay for Leah, especially when she learns that Jean is likely ‘perverted’ or an ‘invert’. Leah has a difficult time reconciling the Jean she knows to be a wonderful person, with the idea that Jean could be the vile creature that she expects homosexuals to be.
But, the more Leah gets to know Jean, the more she realizes that she is falling in love with her, and she has absolutely no control over it. The coming out process for Leah is extremely difficult and her parents react on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Her father, while not happy about it, is more accepting and loving, while her mother is just evil and hate-filled.
Many things that happen in the book deal directly with homophobia and we meet some pretty despicable people. On the flip side of that, Jean and Leah find allies in some surprising people and places. The supporting characters are an interesting lot and they each have a unique role that fits into the overall story. There are also a few twists and turns to keep you guessing as the story progresses to its satisfying conclusion.
One thing that bothered me in the book, besides a few typos and grammatical errors, was the author’s continual use of the words ‘pervert’, ‘invert’, and the idea (from some of the characters) that being a lesbian was nothing less of a vile, horrible life that one should do anything to avoid. Maybe that’s really what it was like in 1960, but I found it rather jarring to read. Then again, maybe that was the point.
Reading this story gave me some perspective on how far the gay and lesbian community has come, but also how far we still have to go. Given the current political climate and the pending US Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, I found it interesting that the question that plagued Leah in 1960 still remains today. If two people love each other, why shouldn’t they be together?