Mrs S

Mrs S

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Author: K Patrick

Publisher: 4th Estate

Hardback

Staff Pick! Cat says…

Mrs S, set in the 1990s, about a lesbian affair in an all girls’ boarding school between the narrator, who has taken up the job as matron in the school and the eponymous Mrs S, the headteacher’s wife.

It is definitely sexy, the will-they-won’t-they aspect of the plot is paced very well before opening up into a fully blown secret affair. Hung over all of it, however  is the sad and frustrating atmosphere of a homophobic society, Section 28 was a law that forbade the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools and was in effect from 1988-2003. The knowledge that the novel is set in this time period gives the affair its doomed romantic quality. We don't ever believe that Mrs S is likely to leave her husband and the protection that their relationship gives her as part of the status quo and we can grieve with the narrator about this, but Mrs S too must suffer this lose, her queerness being secret and shameful, not having the chance to fully realise all the types of people she could love, erotically and otherwise.

One of the things I found most interesting about this novel was the distinctions between different types of queerness. How does homophobia affect the narrator, a young butch woman, who people read as gay in different ways to Mrs S, an older, femme and (possibly) bi woman? How does their queerness manifest itself distinctly from how it would in our own time? Would the narrator now think of themselves as a woman at all? There is an important moment between the two characters when Mrs S talks to her lover about why she binds her breasts, whether this means she wants to be a man. Mrs S wants an explanation,‘But she doesn’t understand. And yet understanding is everything to her, she cannot see the ego in it, her need to grasp it all, rather than accept what she does not know.’ 

I felt moved by this difference between the queer characters (lesbians in a broad sense), them talking during and after sex, the attempt to understand each other and the sometimes failure of this, that they were set up to fail and that they didn’t have the liberty to keep on trying.