“The river laughed. I swear it did. It laughed and it changed as I watched. As it changed, it stayed the same. The river was all about time, it was about how little time actually mattered. I looked at my watch. Fuck. I was an hour and a half late. Ha ha! The river laughed at me again.”
Girl Meets Boy is part of the Myths series published by Canongate where authors re-tell exisitng myths and stories. Other authors in this series include Margaret Atwood, Karen Armstrong, AS Byatt, David Grossman, Milton Hatoum, Natsuo Kirino, Alexander McCall Smith, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Victor Pelevin, Su Tong, Dubravka Ugresic, Salley Vickers and Jeanette Winterson. It looks like an interesting project.
Girl Meets Boy is Smith’s retelling of Ovid’s story of Iphis and Ianthe, which deals with the idea gender fluidity or transformation within the context of heteronormativity. What Smith does, however, is to tell the story, or rather a story playing with similar ideas, in the context of two sisters, Anthea and Imogen (“Midge”), based in one of my favourite places – Inverness.
Anthea is a free-spirited idealist who dislikes her job in the local PR firm her sister got her. Imogen is a straight-laced pragmatist who is pursuing her ambitions in the same firm, which currently tries to market over-priced bottled water. The story really kicks off when a protester by the artistic alias of Iphis07 vandalises the PR firm’s property:
“It was a beautiful day.
The boy up the ladder at the gate was in a kilt and sporran. The kilt was a bright red tartan; the boy was black-waistcoated and had frilly cuffs, I could see the frills at his wrists as I came closer. I could see the glint of the knife in his sock. I could see the glint of the little diamond spangles on the waistcoat and the glint that came off the chain that held the sporran on. He had long dark hair winged with ringlets, like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, but cleaner. He was spray-painting, in beautiful red calligraphy, right under the Pure insignia, these words:
DON’T BE STUPID. WATER IS A HUMAN RIGHT. SELLING IT IN ANY WAY IS MORALLY WRO…”
I know, I know, it all sounds a bit insipid so far, but it isn’t just a story of one sister conforming to what (she thinks) is expected of her and one defying “the man” – Girl Meets Boy, like all stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, is a story of transformation.
So, when Anthea falls in love with Robin, it encourages Anthea to figure out what she wants from life but it also opens up Midge to examine her own ideas about … well, everything, really, and it is in the telling of how both sisters go through this change that Smith really shines. I particularly love the humor …..
“Like double oh seven. Daniel Craig in Casino Royal, rising out of the water like that goddess on a shell, I said. Lo and behold.
Ursula Andress did it first, she said. I mean, after Venus herself, that is. In fact, Daniel Craig and Ursula Andress look remarkably alike, when you compare them.“
and the curiosity….
“Then I wondered why on earth would anyone ever stand in the world as if standing in the cornucopic middle of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon but inside a tiny white-painted rectangle about the size of a single space in a car park, refusing to come out of it, and all round her or him the whole world, beautiful, various, waiting?”
and the warmth…
“I get up. I call the police station. The man on the desk is unbelievably informal.
Oh aye, he says. Now, is it one of the message girls or boys or whatever, or one of the seven dwarves that you’re after? Which one would you like? We’ve got Dopey, Sneezy, Grumpy, Bashful, Sleepy, Eye-fist, and another one whose name I’d have to look up for you.
I’d like to talk to my sister, Anthea Gunn, please, I say. And that’s enough flippancy about their tag from you.
About their what, now? he says.
Years from now, I say, you and the Inverness Constabulary will be nothing but a list of dry dusty names locked in an old computer memory stick. But the message girls, the message boys. They’ll be legend.
Uh huh, he says. Well, if you’d like to hang up your phone now, Ms Gunn, I’ll have your wee sister call you back in a jiffy.
(I consider making a formal complaint, while I wait for the phone to go. I am the only person permitted to make fun of my sister.)”
All of which I associate with Inverness anyway and which is somewhat represented by the concerns of locals over Flora MacDonald braving the weather in front of the court house with a bare neck:
(Yeah, yeah, I know it was a stunt for Caley Thistle winning the league, but check out some of the comments on here.)
4* (out of 5*)