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My Death

by Lisa Tuttle

(PS Publishing, £10, 93 pages, signed, numbered, limited edition paperback, also available as signed, numbered, limited edition hardback, published September 2004; ISBN: 1902880900.)

Review by Chris Butler

cover scanThe narrator of Lisa Tuttle's novella My Death is living an isolated life in Scotland. She is a writer but has not written anything since the death of her husband, Allan, from a heart attack a year and a half previously. Despite her modest lifestyle, money is running low so she agrees to meet with her agent in Edinburgh.

She decides to visit the National Gallery and there sees a painting, Circe, 1928, by W.E. Logan. The model for the painting was a young art student named Helen Ralston. Logan and Ralston developed a scandalous relationship, and she subsequently went on to become a successful writer. Tuttle's protagonist sees echoes of her own life in Ralston's and, with her editor's eager approval, she decides to write Ralston's biography.

The project proceeds faster than she could have thought possible. First she discovers a shocking painting by the young Ralston. Then she meets the woman herself, now ninety-six years old.

If all of the above sounds decidedly unlike a genre story, that's because, for the most part, it is. We're at least two-thirds of the way through this novella before there is any hint of anything fantastical (actually there are probably earlier hints but it's unlikely you could spot them on first reading). It is only within the final ten pages that the story undergoes a genre transformation.

I say this not to discourage you from reading it--because this is a meticulously constructed novella, quite wonderful in many ways. First and foremost it is a powerful character study of someone bereaved, who has to pick up the pieces and try to start over. I enjoy Lisa Tuttle's writing enormously but she does seem to occupy the territory at the outermost fringes of genre.

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