Magazine article The Spectator

'The Mare', by Mary Gaitskill - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Mare', by Mary Gaitskill - Review

Article excerpt

How's this for a heartwarming set-up­­? Forty-something recovering alcoholic and aspiring artist Ginger copes with the disappointment of being unable to have children of her own by signing up to an organisation that sends underprivileged inner-city kids to the homes of middle-class couples in the countryside. When she is introduced to 11-year-old Dominican girl Velvet, the two bond over horses, with Ginger offering the girl a freedom denied to her by her domineering mother.

It sounds perfect for book clubs, soon to be a life-affirming movie, and of little literary interest. But The Mare has much more merit than the synopsis suggests. It's the first novel in ten years from Mary Gaitskill, a novelist and short-story writer renowned for her icy chill: the three collections of stories and two novels she has previously published mainly explore the dark side of life (sadism, disease, the seven deadly sins) and she's still best known for the story that inspired the S&M art house hit Secretary .

It's clear that the woman from the country and the girl from the city are going to experience some spiritual growth. But given Gaitskill's previous form, some skewering of liberal pieties seems likely too. Is she going to use this scenario to expose how clueless Ginger is, to suggest that life in the inner city might be far more rewarding than Ginger's country existence? Or is this novel a late career change of pace, a grab for mainstream acceptance after a career unfairly spent on the margins?

Even after reading the book closely twice, I'm not entirely sure. …

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