Review – The Dark Wife

Cover of The Dark Wife by Sarah DiemerThe Dark Wife, Sarah Diemer
Originally reviewed 19th June, 2011

I don’t exactly remember how I came upon The Dark Wife the first time. I don’t think it was in the usual way — I seem to remember that someone posted a to do list, and they were going to buy this book if they completed it. Something like that. Anyway, I was enchanted by the whole idea: a lesbian retelling of the Rape of Persephone, consensual and with a genderflipped Hades. A reclamation of a horrible story, in both a feminist sense and an LGBT sense. Apparently, it’s based on older versions of the myth, where Persephone chooses to go down into the Underworld.

Sarah Diemer’s blog has several interesting links about it: These Are Not Your Stories impressed me when I found it, in particular. It reminded me of a conversation in reviews here on GR, about how horrible it was for Malinda Lo to ‘steal’ Cinderella and write an LGBT version. I argued then as now: that it’s a powerful thing for LGBT people to take these stories and write ourselves into them, make a place for ourselves. Straight people can look to these stories as a dream of theirs: while fairytales remain exclusively heterosexual, gay people are shut out of ‘happily ever after’ dreams. It’s no use to tell us to go and make up our own, because going to make up our own shuts us out of the tradition that we may well have adored and loved as children, the old familiar stories that we never get tired of.

Sarah Diemer recognises the power of the old familiar stories. She even offers The Dark Wife free, as a PDF, here, for anyone who needs it — which is exactly why I bought her book, personally, because I can afford to and I want her to write more. At fourteen, fifteen, I needed it, and it wasn’t there yet.

I enjoyed the story itself a lot. I read it in about an hour, just a bit more than that, and in one go (aside from when I had to stop a moment to look up concert times — ugh, how dare people interrupt my reading?). I’m a little unsure whether I think it deserves three or four stars: I love the idea, and it was a good read, but I didn’t sink as deeply into it as I’d have liked to. It was, well, fairytale like, which meant I already believed it would turn out okay in the end, and which kept me from really feeling the tension.

I thought it was clever, though, the use of the pomegranate, the parts about the Elysian Fields… And I thought Cerberus was cute.

I was a less wowed by the ‘After’ section, which didn’t quite seem to fit.

Definitely not worth a five star “it was amazing”, but it’s enjoyable, fun to read, and necessary.

Rating: 4/5

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