Backcast – Ann McMan

Backcast - Ann McManIt is so much harder to review a great book than it is to review a good book. With a good book you can slam dunk that it’s a good story with good characters, say you liked it and you are done. When you read remarkable books, you have to think about it so much more – how to express why a book it significant without sounding sycophantic or fantastic.

So Ann McMan’s Backcast is a great book. It is not just an excellent read, but an important book in a line of notable publications we are seeing from our really good lesbian authors. Lesbian writers who are moving the lesfic genre on; who make us think, challenge us, entertain us. Authors who want to write – can write – amazing books, who happen to be lesbians and don’t sell out their personal story line to make their books mainstream – despite having the obvious ability to be lauded mainstream writers.

Before people start shouting, I am not criticising everybody else, or downing other authors. I love all sorts of lesfic from romance and erotica to fantasy and crime, and we need it all. But I also want us to have literary lesfic, modern lesfic that will stand up with Woolf and May-Brown, Miller and Forrest. Lesfic that shows off our great writers, that promotes good writing, that showcases the breadth and depth of our genre which has moved way beyond the ‘penny dreadfuls’ of the early days.

Backcast is one of those books. On the surface it is a fairly straightforward tale of 13 women who come together for two weeks at a writers workshop, from which the organising artist will create an exhibition. This simple plotline gives Ann McMan the platform to create 13 strong, individual, extremely powerful and eccentric characters. Out of such a seemingly modest beginning we have drama, romance, history – except it really is herstory this time – and a deeply personal glance into what makes these women who they are.

Ann McManAs always, McMan’s books are elegantly and cohesively put together. Her words flow and the balance between the elements is so perfect you forget you are reading. Her characterisation and dialogue are immaculate presentations of real people, they must be real for her descriptions to be so tangible and the characters to be so authentic. And to add flavour we have 13 shorts in the voices of our 13 women, again realistic, authentic, the expressions of genuine women’s lives.

It made me laugh, a lot – McMan’s books have a deep-seated humour running through their veins. It made me cry – I defy any of our friends and family of choice to read ‘Heal Thyself’ after recent events and not weep. But most of all it made me feel like I was there, sitting on the lawn chairs, drinking the cocktails, hating the aspic, enjoying these women.

There is a flavour of the women’s scene from yesteryear for me personally. Maybe it has survived in the conferences and festivals in the US, but I haven’t been in that atmosphere of exciting, creative, challenging women since the 90’s. I think it no accident that most of these women are not spring chickens, and many have literally been around the block.

You see it has me enthralled. I have to read it again. I don’t have a choice. One reading simply isn’t enough to garner even a part of the richness and depth of these women and their interactions – let alone know all I need to know about competitive bass fishing.

I rarely give books 5 stars anymore because if I give out too many 5’s what’s left? Needless to say this is a 6. Read it.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

    • Paperback: 288
    • First published 2015
    • Publisher: Bywater Books (November 16, 2015)
    • ASIN: B0175P4C38
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