Lesbian Novel: Songs From the Other Side of the Wall

October 28th, 2009

Today falls under the “now for something completely different” category. But first, let me tell you a story.

When I first started writing Yuri fanfiction, I was pretty much one of a handful of women writing in the genre and, as far as I can remember (which isn’t very far,) I was *the* out lesbian doing so. So, I got a lot of emails from people – women who were happy to see stories by a woman, not some nerdy teen boy, etc and also from guys who wanted my feedback. Many of these guys wrote to me to tell me how other people said “they wrote women well.” I almost invariably disagreed, because any writer who sees his or her characters as “men” or “women” is probably too caught up in gender roles to write anyone well.

So, when recently I received a message on Facebook from Dan Holloway asking me to read and possibly review his lesbian novel, Songs From the Other Side of the Wall, I cringed. Years of reading sad attempts at “realistic” lesbians written by men made me reluctant to read this. I told Dan that I would read the book with one upfront condition – if I hated it, I would not review it, because no one would gain from me skewering it. If I did not hate it, I *might* review it, but no promises. Dan was totally cool with that. And he never once said he “wrote women well,” so I had some hope.

Songs From the Other Side of the Wall is a *very* good book.

6 pages into it, I was really, really enjoying it. The main character was likable, real and yes, I would have her over for lunch.

The story follows Szandrine, (don’t roll your eyes – there’s a reason for her name,) a young Hungarian musician, after the loss of a dear online friend and his sister, with whom Szandrine had fallen in love at first sight.

Dan’s writing is convincing – Szandrine is mature for her 17 years, but still 17. Her poetry, songs and writing ring absolutely dead-on true for her personality and age.

The story travels in intent, and often location, all over Europe, which I quite liked. But above all what holds this book together is Szandrine; her loves, her likes and dislikes, her quirks and even her stupid skinny jeans. lol

It’s a rather complicated story, and not perfect – there about three handwaves too many to be perfect. There was one instance – one in the entire book – where the author’s voice overshadows the character’s – easily ignorable. And honestly, I didn’t love the ending. I didn’t like where it had been going, and I wasn’t thrilled with where it ended up, but I never once thought about stopping reading. Overall, a great read. Thank you Dan, for being brave and sending me this book. And for writing women well. :-)

Ratings:

Story – 8 Good story, but too many handwaves
Characters – 9 Very real people
Lesbian – 10
Loser Anything – .5, because chances are without pictures, they couldn’t follow it.

Overall – 8

Now, here’s the best part – you can read this book too. For free. Dan is offering his book as a free PDF download on his website. If you like it, I ask one thing from you – when it becomes available in print – buy it. The hard copy I received is a softcover trade book of decent quality. Definitely worth a buy.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Songs as much as I did.

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4 Responses

  1. Mara says:

    Yay something to read for a bit. If I may offer my humble opinion downloading is an agreement to buy it when it does come out, so I am guaranteed. I’ll try to order it though my independent bookshop too, then I can make a stereotype reference at the point of perchance.

  2. Anonymous says:

    “The story follows Szandrine, (don’t roll your eyes – there’s a reason for her name,) a young Hungarian musician”

    Why would I roll my eyes at her name? There’s all sorts of not-stupid names in the world! :)

    Meanwhile, speaking of names to roll one’s eyes at, see http://www.theonion.com/content/node/37014

  3. THanks for this review!! I’m going to check it out!

  4. Dan Holloway says:

    Erica, I can only say thank you for your kind words.
    The book is now available in all eformats for free, and the paperback can be ordered online for £7.98 (I believe it’s around $12) Full details are on its page on the Year Zero Writers website:
    http://yearzerowriters.wordpress.com/our-books/songs-from-the-other-side-of-the-wall/

    where you’ll also find piccies from the book launch a few nights ago.

    The ending – I don’t want to say too much so as to avoid spoilers. I very much see where you’re coming from. I think I still veer towards thinking I prefer it as is, but I am rewriting with a different ending you might like better as an exercise, because I may be proven wrong. If it helps, and doesn’t give too much away, much of the feel and structure of the book is influenced by Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, and the timbre of the ending almost certainly comes from there. There are a couple of appendices in the paperback in the form of papers I’ve given at conferences, talking about the ending. I suppose they could be taken as a justification, but they could also be taken as a sign that I have subconscious doubts.

    I am delighted you like Szandi. I’m on my second novel since this one now, but promoting it i good – it’s funto spend time withher again :)

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