I’m a boy, but my mother won’t admit it: an entertaining yet philosophically inclined stroll along some decidedly little-visited lanes and mews in Georgian England.
It makes sense, at least of a sort, that British musician Stace—whose nom de guitare is John Wesley Harding—should pick up a tip from Pete Townshend, and perhaps Mick Jagger, about gender-bending and its associated dysfunctions and malfunctions and then let the story roll. That story is, superficially, simple: a youngish English lord named, with all due symbolism, Geoffrey Loveall, is out on an errand that takes him through the back streets of London. Though he “had no curiosity about his surroundings,” Loveall “knew to keep half an eye on the passing world to soothe the tottering of his carriage,” and with that half-eye open finds an abandoned baby. His mother, the arch Lady Loveall, is a little suspicious of the discovery: “Have you read this baby into being? Found it in the library? Did you bring it to life in your dollhouse? I cannot believe for a moment that you have created it in a natural way.” Ah, natural ways just won’t do in aristocratic circles, and with the help of a mysterious governess, the foundling boy is on his way to being raised as a girl to meet a perceived gap in the makeup of the Loveall household. Adventures and misadventures ensue, and Stace pulls off a neat trick by shifting narrators in midstream, keeping the reader guessing and on his (or, dare we say, her) toes as Lady Rose Loveall does his thing. Stace’s abundant cleverness sometimes slips into preciousness, but the narrative is full of surprises, mixing up an utterly modern—and even postmodern—story of sexual awakening and self-discovery with a quirky but believable portrait of life, at least of a kind, in early modern England, all very well done.
Blend Tristram Shandy with, say, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and you have something of the spirit of this spirited tale: a most promising debut.