Books by Sara Maitland

NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 13, 2012

"Flaws aside, the author provides a pensive, often-invigorating blend of cultural anthropology and walking tour."
An imaginative study examining both the vital role forests play in fairy stories and their vanishing significance from modern life. Read full book review >
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 1, 1996

The metaphysics of feminism and the baroque influence of the late Angela Carter are weighty presences in this generally accomplished collection of 30 stories by British author Maitland (Ancestral Truths, 1994), etc. A suave, amused narrative voice—sometimes first-person, sometimes omniscient, unafraid to address the reader directly—is a virtual constant in these witty, skillfully woven tales, whose variety and vitality are compromised chiefly by a recurring (and off-putting) impression of smugness. Several contemporary pieces, which tend to focus on women's erotic, marital, or maternal dilemmas, include ``The Loveliness of the Long-Distance Runner,'' ``The Eighth Planet,'' and the amusingly grisly ``Apple Picking.'' The many stories inspired by history or legend are stronger, with several based on Greek myths, others on European folk tales: ``Cassandra'' explains how its title character received the ``gift'' of prophecy from her lover Apollo; the title piece presents the witch from ``Hansel and Gretel'' as a conscientious midwife and abortionist; and ``The Wicked Stepmother's Lament'' memorably justifies that character's mistreatment of Cinderella (``I just wanted her . . . to see that life is not all sweetness and light . . . that fairy godmothers are unreliable . . . and that even the most silvery of princes soon goes out hunting and fighting and drinking and whoring''). If Maitland's weaker tales display a jarring archness, her better ones may be said to succeed precisely because they embrace a variety of viewpoints and allow her readers room for choice among them. ``An Edwardian Tableau,'' for example, which features superbly contrived period language, reveals the confusion of conflicting emotions in the suffragist movement. Even better is ``The Burning Times,'' a complex and powerful portrayal of awakening lesbianism set in Europe during the Middle Ages and capped by a truly magnificent and disturbing final sentence. Strong and challenging work from a highly skilled writer who, apart from a tendency toward argumentative stridency, may be counted among the best of her generation. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

A novelist, feminist, and amateur theologian provides both food for thought and a more user-friendly deity for disaffected Christians. Based on a series of lectures, this book is a loving paean to a loving and generous God. As an adult, Maitland (Ancestral Truths, 1994, etc.) became a devout feminist before she rediscovered her childhood Christianity, and her feminism informs her religion in many ways. For one thing, Maitland consistently refers to God as ``she''as in ``Of course she is Father. She is Father Almighty.'' Maitland doesn't believe God to be gendered, she explains; God is non-corporeal. She uses the feminine pronoun more to even the score than to suggest otherwise. But Maitland does see God as possessing characteristics that are traditionally associated with women rather than men. She chooses here to emphasize God's role as creator, but not the creator who needed to invent humanity in order to be worshiped or to prove her power. Maitland's creation story is an act of love and giving. Her God embraces science, which ultimately serves to glorify her. Theology shouldn't be fearful of intellectual inquiry, Maitland argues. Our response to scientific discoveries should be: ``Wow! You mean, God is even cleverer than we thought?'' Our worship of God should be joyful, and Maitland suggests ``drawing up a list of things for which it would be insane to give thanks, but which are obviously extraordinary,'' offering an abbreviated list of her own, the first entry on it being ``Once upon a time someone invented mayonnaise.'' Finally, says Maitland, her theology should have transformative potential, politically and socially: ``She is Father so that the little ones of the earththe oppressed, the poor, the widows and the orphansmay be set free from patriarchy and sing their triumph.'' Uplifting, if somewhat unorthodox. Read full book review >
ANCESTRAL TRUTHS by Sara Maitland
Released: Feb. 11, 1994

Mysteries sacred and profane—daughter Clare may have murdered her husband—are provocatively plumbed as the high-minded Kerslakes gather for their holiday in Scotland. Here, Maitland's usual feminist concerns (Virgin Territory, 1986, etc.) are secondary to questions of religious faith and how to live life to the fullest—suitable questions for a novel that, despite its progressive sympathies, is reminiscent of another era. It's an era when upper-class families gather on ancestral ground to confide, confess, and resolve family crises with minimal ill- feeling and melodrama. Clare Kerslake, an adopted member of this civilized world—her beautiful mother had been James Kerslake's sister—is haunted by the childhood memory of seeing her parents laughing together before they died in an explosion. Now 30-ish, she is recovering from an accident in which, while climbing a dangerous mountain in Zimbabwe, she lost her memory and her right hand. She may also have killed husband David there—at least that's what she told her African rescuers. While the family try to help Clare remember—all she recalls is wanting David dead—they also address the problems of son Ben, an Anglican priest recently defrocked because he's gay, and daughter Felicity, who cannot accept her child's deafness. Expeditions are arranged to prod Clare's memory, but it is only when youngest sister Ceci, a nun, asserts that God is all that is beautiful and dangerous that Clare begins to understand herself and a little of what happened. She'd renounced a lesbian lover out of fear; she'd been afraid of David, of climbing. Now she can go back to Zimbabwe, confront the mountain, and always ``dance near the edge of destruction, willing to fall because it was beautiful.'' Intelligent if earnest writing as Maitland fearlessly tackles the great mysteries: an often old-fashioned novel that is also an affecting story of love in its infinite variety. Read full book review >