Lesbian romance goes mainstream in this charming tale by Donoghue (Touchy Subjects, 2006, etc.) of a cosmopolitan Irish flight attendant and her down-home Canadian girlfriend struggling to find common ground for their newfound love.
You might call it “meeting cute” when Jude Turner, mildly butch curator of a rural Ontario museum, locks eyes in flight with well-groomed, expensively perfumed and bejeweled beauty Síle O’Shaughnessy, except that they’re staring at each other because the fellow passenger slumped on Jude’s shoulder is clearly dead. Despite the grim introduction and other unpromising circumstances—Síle has a steady girlfriend; Jude’s en route to London to collect her ailing mother—the two women definitely feel a spark, and soon they’re e-mailing each other several times a day. Their epistolary flirtation is nervous and sexy and funny in the best romantic-comedy tradition; Donoghue’s unspoken point is that a gay love affair is just like any other. Boring old Kathleen (the steady girlfriend) isn’t the obstacle, nor is the fact that pushing-40 Síle is 14 years older than Jude. Instead, as the author vividly sketches their separate lives, we see that the real problem is each woman’s passionate attachment to her home turf: bustling, booming Dublin, where Síle touches down to gossip and reminisce with friends as urbane and fidgety as she; and the tiny town of Ireland, Ontario, where Jude was born, knows everyone and still occasionally sleeps with her not-yet-ex-husband. This is fairly standard stuff, not nearly as challenging or thematically deep as Donoghue’s historical novels Slammerkin (2001) and Life Mask (2004). But it rises above the commonplace with its razor-sharp prose, full-bodied portraits of all the secondary characters and shrewd observations about everything from social change in Ireland to the politics of museum funding. The two protagonists are believable, lovable women whose hesitations are understandable and whose happy ending seems more than deserved.
Not one of this talented author’s most ambitious works, but warmhearted, readable and entertaining.