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Irvine, Lorna.

Oakville (Ont.), ECW Press, c1986. 193pp, paper, ISBN 0-920763-03-0 (cloth) $24.00, 0-920802-99-0 (paper) $14.00. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Ruth Cosstick

Volume 15 Number 3
1987 May

In a collection of eight essays, Lorna Irvine has investigated in depth the work of six contemporary women novelists. As a result of her extensive studies, she indicates there is much that lies beneath the surface of these fictions. Her thesis is that because the mythology and biblical allusions prevalent in literature are so familiar, they are read and understood superficially. Sub/Version is an attempt to ". . .reveal linguistic, structural and thematic subversions signalled by various methods." Searching for clues, Irvine has reinterpreted these myths from a woman's perspective.

The myth of Pandora, which forms the basis of Sylvia Eraser's Pandora,* has "powerful politicized gender implications" that are revealed in what has been described as a "submerged plot," which charts and unravels the disjunction between it and the surface plot.

A more familiar name than Sylvia Fraser's is that of Alice Munro, whom Books in Canada refers to as the author every other author is reading. Munro has the ability to make everyday occurrences meaningful in relation to past and present, disguising the underlying power plays of sexuality. Her stories in Lives of Girls and Women (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1971) and The Moons of Jupiter** are studied for the submerged political message.

Politics play a large part in the interpretation of women's fiction. In a chapter entitled "Colonial Metaphors," Irvine uses Marian Engel's novels to illustrate the need for decolonization as a mark of maturity, The Canadian expatriate writing from Europe. Mavis Gallant, recalls the ambivalences of French-Canadian and English-Canadian society. She views the decolonization process as a "prolonged struggle for separation, or at least independence, that characterizes relationships between mothers and daughters. "Gallant admits there is much that is hidden in her narratives as she describes family tensions.

International tensions are juxtaposed against gender tension in all of the work of Margaret Atwood. The woman as victim is drawn in Bodily Harm,*** and, of course, even more explicitly in her later novel. The Handmaid's Tale,**** which unfortunately is not treated in Sub/ Version.

Much is made of the preoccupation with female physiognomy in the work of Audrey Thomas, a witty, but lesser-known writer than Atwood, who is becoming more noteworthy in Canada and elsewhere as her short stories arc anthologized.

Collections of women's writing are appearing from many publishers and the criticism is welcome. The author of Sub/ Version suggests that this is not an easy book. Perhaps it is because it has a tendency to be overwritten. The extensive chapter notes, bibliography, and index will ease the struggle for the inquiring student, although they are not entirely reliable. The frequent references to Jane Rule, for one, do not appear in the bibliography. Many sources have been used for the study, including current feminist writers such as Mary Daly and Carol Gilligan, but the book suffers from the fact that it is already out of date. Later work of several of the authors is not treated and Margaret Laurence is conspicuous by her absence.

On the whole, however, Sub/Version explores an area on which the women's movement has focused a growing interest and could be very useful in a high school library. Recommended.

Ruth Cosstick,University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ont.

*Reviewed vol. 11 1972 p.48.
**Reviewed vol. XI/2 March 1983 p.59.
***Reviewed vol. XI/I January 1983 p.12.
****Reviewed vol. XIV/1 January 1986 p.12.

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