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NATALIA ZABANEH
Backlash


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Sphere, London, 1971
(price: 30p; 160 pages)
first published by WH Allen, 1970


The blurb on the back:

'It is growing dark, night is approaching and I am alone.'
Margaret Dean is attractive, middle-aged and a lesbian. A schoolteacher, she has suppressed her emotions into an empty, dry routine, guarding her feelings against the normal world around her.
Then Kate bursts into Margaret's arid life. Vibrantly alive she breaks down the older woman's reservations and they begin an affair.
But for Margaret it is too late, too passionate an acceptance of her lesbian feelings. And finally she is left alone again.


Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? You see that cover - featuring what would have been called, in the parlance of the times, a couple of dolly-birds - and then you read the descriptions of the protagonists; first the 45-year-old narrator:

Even my kindest friends have never called me attractive, though I think I look better now than when I was a girl.... A stolid middle-aged schoolteacher set in her rut without a spark of humour or originality. (p.6)

then the 22-year-old object of her love:

Kate is not beautiful or conventionally pretty. She has a strong determined face, characterized by lines running from the bridge of her nose to the corners of her mouth. Her intelligence is in her eyes. The rest of her face she leaves to mature. Her blonde, brown-streaked hair is scraped back severely from her curved forehead and tied in a fat roll that lie on her right shoulder. (p.9)

So where do those models on the cover come from? Not from the book, that's for certain. Because this is in no way the cheapo exploitation novel that Sphere would like to pretend; it's actually a very sober, intelligent and perceptive piece of work. Ms Zabaneh points out that 'Love between women is not like marriage, and that's why so few men can write about lesbians without making one of them talk and act exactly like a rugger-player,' and sets out to provide some kind of counter-balance.

The story is nothing to write home about - check the sleeve-notes for details - but the characterization is subtle and convincing, and the narrator is a deeply endearing, self-deprecating woman that you can't help but warm to. There's also a hint of the kind of pathos you find in Orwell's novels (the early ones, you understand, not 1984, which for some reason is the only one that's ever called Orwellian), with the concomitant dignity in forebearance.

I know nothing about Ms Zabaneh, nor can I find any reference to her anywhere. The setting of the private girls' school and the North London location (Hampstead and Highgate) are both authentic enough to suggest that there may well be something autobiographical going on, but I really couldn't say for sure. A pseudonym? Maybe. In any event, this one needs reclaiming and preferably reprinting.


ARTISTIC MERIT: 3/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
4/5


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