Friday, 5 November 2010

Diana Comet & Other Improbable Stories by Sandra McDonald

Diana Comet is a strange collection. I started reading a couple of the shorter stories out of sequence, and immediately put them down as unsatisfying. Then I re-read a review at EDGE and so resolved to sit down and read it properly. I read from cover to cover, and I wasn't at all disappointed.

The best stories in this collection are those describing the actions of Ms Diana Comet herself. A transgender spy posing as a woman of means (or a woman of means posing as a spy?), she drops her skirts at night and runs around as a slender young man, collecting evidence or saving the vulnerable. She's shown as far from perfect (often rather pompous and occasionally rude), but she's endearing in every way. Her strength and pride make her a wonderful character, and a wonderful example of a transgender category in modern fiction.

McDonald manages something whimsical but classical, literary yet fantastic, underscored with real human interactions and real emotional resonance. Those shorter stories I'd read out of context hadn't worked for me because of their subtlety--a subtlety that requires reading the stories around them to get the pay-off. Each story builds up more of McDonald's worlds, more of her characters, adding to a deep and involving story about human nature and, most of all, the strength of the individual, the outsider, the other, and the love to be had between people of all kinds.

I want to read more about Ms Comet, her orphanage, and the world of Massasoit and New Dalli. I want to read more of Sandra McDonald and her shimmering, elegant prose. I also want to read more from her publisher, the striking Lethe Press, who I've also discovered have published Tanith Lee.

Yes, I recommend this book. Take a ride on a comet and see where Diana takes you.

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