Of all the feedback I've had about The Jewel - and people have said and written some very nice things about it, which is a great relief, because when you send your baby out into the world, you never know what the response will be - I think the judgment that I found most gratifying was from a bookseller. Almost casually, she remarked 'You write female desire very well.'
I hope so but it was nice to have it confirmed by another woman. It got me thinking though. I'd be the first to say that women can write successfully about men, just as men can write successfully about women. But not always. Like all kinds of writing, it demands the ability to step outside yourself, crawl inside somebody else's mind, make yourself comfortable (or uncomfortable, depending on the character) and write from their point of view. Which is hard to do. So just as we have women writing impossibly romantic male characters, we have men writing women who gaze at themselves in a succession of mirrors, thinking thoughts that no woman I have ever known would think. Or - and this is a topic for another post - people write only about themselves, seemingly unable to see beyond the fascination of their own lives.
I found the 'female desire' remark so pleasing because that is one of the things I set out to do when I wrote The Jewel: to tell the story of why and how an otherwise sensible young woman might fall for and continue to love (but clearly not always like) an unsuitable man against all the careful counselling of family and friends. What is it all about: this web of connections and attractions, the pain of rejection, the physical and mental fascination verging on madness?
Unfortunately, any woman writing about female desire, even as part of something much larger, will be misunderstood by the literary establishment. No matter how well crafted the book, no matter how 'true' the depictions of said desire, a love story will seldom be taken seriously. Except of course by readers.
Fortunately, they're the ones who matter.