Jeanette by Joe Simpson Walker. Book review

Jeanette by Joe Simpson Walker. Chomu Press (July 2011) ‘13.00

Reviewed by John Howard

I didn’t know what to expect with Joe Simpson Walker’s new novel Jeanette. Walker is described as a writer ‘interested in bizarre psychology ‘ obsessions, compulsions, phobias, taboos, etc ‘ and in the conventions of genre fiction.’ I haven’t read any of his other novels, but Jeanette certainly does seem to tick all these particular boxes.

Jeanette Hesketh is a troubled teenager living in respectable suburbia with her father and beloved dog. Her mother has run away with a television repairman (a vanished species and a nice period touch). Jeanette’s closest friend is Mark, the attractive young man from next door; Miss Thaine, one of her teachers, is also a confidante (or thinks she is).

Of course, nothing is what it seems. Just about everyone has a secret, if not more than one. Respectable suburbia is anything but. Jeanette and Mark’s relationship is nothing less than sado-masochistic. Jeanette’s desire and willingness to let the dangerously charismatic Mark humiliate and dominate her and his desire and ability to do so forms the basis for events that, inevitably, spin out of control.

Jeanette is set in the early 1960s, its themes grounded in ‘a time when fetishism, bondage, masochism, transvestism and homosexuality are still condemned as perversions.’ But there isn’t much of a sense of the past; and there are many who would echo those condemnations half a century later (which is now). Jeanette shines a fitful light onto its chosen themes, and succeeds in doing so in a non-sensational way. The compulsions of the characters are narrated in a pedestrian style that is the opposite of the subject matter. Nothing is gratuitous; everything holds together for a reason. But reading Jeanette was more of an exercise in duty than any sort of pleasure. Maybe that was the point?

Jeanette by Joe Simpson Walker. Chomu Press (July 2011) ‘13.00

Reviewed by John Howard

I didn’t know what to expect with Joe Simpson Walker’s new novel Jeanette. Walker is described as a writer ‘interested in bizarre psychology ‘ obsessions, compulsions, phobias, taboos, etc ‘ and in the conventions of genre fiction.’ I haven’t read any of his other novels, but Jeanette certainly does seem to tick all these particular boxes.

Jeanette Hesketh is a troubled teenager living in respectable suburbia with her father and beloved dog. Her mother has run away with a television repairman (a vanished species and a nice period touch). Jeanette’s closest friend is Mark, the attractive young man from next door; Miss Thaine, one of her teachers, is also a confidante (or thinks she is).

Of course, nothing is what it seems. Just about everyone has a secret, if not more than one. Respectable suburbia is anything but. Jeanette and Mark’s relationship is nothing less than sado-masochistic. Jeanette’s desire and willingness to let the dangerously charismatic Mark humiliate and dominate her and his desire and ability to do so forms the basis for events that, inevitably, spin out of control.

Jeanette is set in the early 1960s, its themes grounded in ‘a time when fetishism, bondage, masochism, transvestism and homosexuality are still condemned as perversions.’ But there isn’t much of a sense of the past; and there are many who would echo those condemnations half a century later (which is now). Jeanette shines a fitful light onto its chosen themes, and succeeds in doing so in a non-sensational way. The compulsions of the characters are narrated in a pedestrian style that is the opposite of the subject matter. Nothing is gratuitous; everything holds together for a reason. But reading Jeanette was more of an exercise in duty than any sort of pleasure. Maybe that was the point?