Not just a siren’s call.
First Published: 15th May 2016
Date Reviewed: 3rd May 2016
Following a sad breakup, Kirsten moves into an apartment building situated beside the Thames, which used to be a wing of a Victorian hospital. Drawn by the location, she starts to unpack but is relieved to find she’s not the sole resident of the renovated block. Then there’s Evelyn, rescuer of fallen women in the late 1800s, who has been sent by her father to a hospital for the Water Cure. She’s haunted by the loss in her life of her former lover, a woman she rescued, and hopeful that her stay can help her.
Bodies Of Water is a paranormal, gothic, novella that looks at the way water has had an effect on lives through the decades. It’s a dual plotline work that doesn’t go the way of many others, making it more unique (there are no revelations of connections between the characters).
Leslie has compiled a few concepts and it works very well. The book studies the treatment of women in the Victorian times, contrasting it slightly with the present day. The author works from the diagnosis of hysteria, that Victorian concept of a particularly feminine illness often associated with what we’d now consider the repressed sexuality of women. Leslie never says what caused Evelyn’s hysteria directly – in a way it’s up to the reader to decide – but this works in the book’s favour, allowing for more thought as much as it ushers you to concentrate on the bigger picture. Because whilst Evelyn seems fine, her stay at the hospital speaks of the wider issue.
It’s the basis behind Evelyn’s calling that Leslie wants you to focus on; Evelyn works for the Rescue Society, going out into the streets to aid prostitutes, hoping to save them from the abuse many suffer, from sexually transmitted infections. She likes the idea of bringing the women to a better, higher life, though through the chapters we see her realising that this cannot always happen – in the case of Evelyn’s lover, Milly, for example, Evelyn can’t get away from the fact she’s got Milly a set of rooms but no society to mix in, and that their relationship may be about love on her own side, but Milly may see it as just more of the same.
It’s Milly’s death that gives the study its backbone; Milly is one of many women who have taken their lives, fallen into the Thames, so that whilst Kirsten, who comes to see the paranormal in her leaky ceiling and in the drenched woman on the river bank, is more a bystander, learning about what happened at the scene abstractly, Evelyn’s direct relationship with the river allows a more poignant mode of thought. And as the Victorian character comes to understand the finer details of the hospital and suffers a setback, so her thoughts take quite a shape:
As for lust, it seemed to be the curse of every man. The Rescue Society would have no fallen women to rescue if men could only control what was between their legs. Evelyn had read in her father’s medical journals that hysterectomies and clitoridectomies were often performed to cure women of the very condition Dr Porter had diagnosed Evelyn with. They were so ready with the scalpel, these medical men, to cut and slice, yet no one had thought that castration was the logical solution to venereal disease.
A running point through the book is this plight of women to be heard and to gain freedom; Virginia Woolf’s thought of a room of one’s own is given space, her demise compared to that of the many fallen women ending their lives in the river. There are echoes of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, too. Kirsten’s introduction to the relative reality of what’s going on is in the form of drawings of bodies being pulled out, doctor’s knives at the ready. Because how else were women to be understood?
Leslie’s study is a good one, just a little short. There is some confusion in the story that would not be there if the plot had been teased out more, given more time between revelations. Everything happens a bit too quickly and questions are left unanswered. In terms of the text there are patches of proofreading errors that are noticeable and add to the confusion on occasion.
But all in all Bodies Of Water is a solid article. It’s well-researched and it puts a different spin on a well-used format. It’s got enough of the history that intrigues many people without treading the same path. Recommended.
I received this book for review from the publisher.
May 16, 2016, 4:30 pm
This sounds really intriguing – you’ve also reminded me I need to read The Awakening by Kate Chopin!
May 25, 2016, 11:05 am
Jessica: Oh, do! It’s fantastic.