Over at torque control Niall is looking at the best SF by women over the past decade. I sent my votes, but also thought I’d look at a few older neglected books and stories.
Queen of the States was Josephine Saxton’s third full novel. It’s a charmingly deceptive novel about Magdalen Hayward, a thirty-something middle-class housewife on the cusp of leaving her husband or returning.
When her car breaks down on the moors Magdalen is drawn by a white light. From there on we see her in various white rooms, captured by aliens, as a psychiatric patient.
Through the notably similar questioning of the aliens (told in wry comic exchanges) and Magdalen’s sessions with Dr Murgatroyd and the ominous nurse Gerhard (told with barely concealed frustration) Saxton builds a world of domestic prison.
The light plot, Clive’s farcical attempted infidelity, and the deliberate stock settings give Queen Of The States the air of a seventies sit-com. Suburban middle-class Magdalen might be Wendy Craig’s Rea from Butterflies.
Saxton weaves two elements into this to lift the novel from the crowd. One, familiar to readers of her other works, is the rich, evocative foods that Magdalen imagines so the aliens can recreate them. The other is the explicit commentary on male-female relationships that is the core of the novel. By means of Magdalen’s memories and her flippant seeming ripostes to her various interrogators Saxton is able to both show and tell.
Magdalen’s realities are ambiguous but her feelings are real, and Saxton finds commonality in the spaceship and the hospital, and by implication in the suburban homelife of Magdalen and Clive.
Published in 1986 as part of The Women’s Press SF line, Queen of the States is long out of print, but it’s well worth finding a copy of this delightful comic yet profound, warm and charming novel.
Posted from WordPress for Android