Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Lacquer Lady

I started reading this for Virago Reading Week hosted by the wonderful Carolyn and Rachel a couple of weeks ago but have only just finished it now.  It is my first F Tennyson Jesse and what a great introduction.

Tennyson Jesse is described as a criminologist, journalist and author.  There is an interesting biography of her life here  and she sounds like a character straight from a novel in her own right.

This was published in 1929 and is beautifully written.  My copy is now flagged with lots of sticky notes and underlining of particular passages. 

It is set in Burma in the late 19th century and gives an account of the reign of King Thibaw and his wife Supayalat.  I don't normally go in for historical tales of royal courts but found this an intriguing account of colonialism, of male and female relationships and the pursuit of liberty - personal and national.

I found this photo of King Thibaw and Queen Supayalat and Princess Supayaji here.

The author tells the story of court life - warts and all. There is a chilling account of massacres during King Thibaw's reign which rivals modern accounts of reigns of terror.

Ultimately what impressed me most about Tennyson Jesse's writing was its contemporary tone...there are of course many politically incorrect phrases reflective of the times but perhaps a quote will give you an idea of what I'm trying to convey....

"Lyric ecstasies ...why are we all brought up to expect them, why is the whole convention of the book world a convention accepted by the world of living beings, based on the idea that sooner or later life is transmuted by something wonderful that is supposed to make everything different?  Life is never quite round like's all sorts of funny shapes, not enough here, too much there...."

See what I mean?

It's not any easy read - the characters are challenging - but I couldn't put it down and I've been reading about the history of Burma ever since.

If you'd like to check out more photos of Burmese costume et al, check out this blog.


little hat said...

Thanks for the swimming link Alex. She realy is quite obsessed isn't she? In a lovely way. Great photos.
Hope you're enjoying life. steve

actonbell said...

Sounds so interesting--good review:) And thank you for visiting!

Have you heard of The Piano Tuner by John Mason? It takes place in Burma. And I loved it:)