skygiants: Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena holding a red rose (i'm the witch)
[personal profile] skygiants
[personal profile] jothra went to a library sale last week and asked if I had any requests: "Weird 70s Gothics? Trixie, Belden?"

"WEIRD 70S GOTHICS PLEASE," I said, and Jo duly carried out her commission so well that I don't know if anybody's ever going to top it:



Portrait in Jig-Saw is apparently so obscure it doesn't even have a Goodreads page, which, having read it, I can honestly now say is kind of a shame.

Our Heroine's name is Alixander David Somerlaid MacDonald (I KNOW), otherwise known as Alisdair; she is a Strictly Sheltered Heiress who has been raised in a Freezing Castle in Complete Isolation and Solitude with only occasional visits from her father until she comes of age on her 21st birthday.

...for the record, the year is 1973.

Anyway, on her 21st birthday, Alisdair meets with her solicitor for the first time and is informed that she is worth boatloads of money and that her mother, whom she has long believed dead, is in fact NOT ONLY alive, but: a NOBEL LITERATURE PRIZE-WINNING THAI PRINCESS! Who has been living in total seclusion with Alisdair's uncle in Australia, churning out critically acclaimed postmodern novels and being mysterious and world-famous FOR YEARS!

Alisdair, fairly understandably, is like "um, maybe Mom could have custody? She seems like the cool parent?"

Alisdair's father promptly throws a hissy fit and semi-accidentally breaks several bones in Alisdair's hand with a hot poker.

FORTUNATELY, the friendly doctor and his nice sister next door agrees that this is horrifying and Alisdair should not under any circumstances stay there or meet her father again!!

...unfortunately, the family then threatens to ruin the nice doctor next door and have Alisdair committed if she doesn't come to London with her cousin Ceit and submit to being regularly sedated like a good girl!!!

Alisdair spends the next several chapters trapped in the London townhouse, seriously studying how to pick locks, trying to put together a solid mental image of her mother based on various people's conflicting testimonies about her personality and all those award-winning postmodern novels, and planning her getaway to Australia, where she imagines her mother blissfully living among the koalas.

About two-thirds of the way through, a wild love interest very briefly appears -- he's a journalist in the process of being sued by Alisdair's mother for writing an unauthorized pop biography, who wants to help Alisdair get to Australia for the purpose of generating material for a certain-to-be-bestselling sequel -- but after about two scenes he completely vanishes in the whirlwind of the ONCOMING FINALE, which features Alisdair's evil and would-be-incestuous uncle, not-actually-all-that-identical cousin swaps, a corpse hidden in a Gothic tomb built by Alisdair's dead grandmother (who was ALSO committed by the family, but mostly just for the crime of being too too scandalously sexy) and the inevitable Gothic House On Fire.

The wild love interest does turn back up for a heroic rescue on approximately the last page, along with Alisdair's father -- the book seems to want to effect a last-minute redemption for him, but given he literally BROKE HIS DAUGHTER'S HAND WITH A POKER and then KEPT HER LOCKED UP AND SEDATED FOR MONTHS, for NO ACTUAL REASON, I'm super super not feeling it.

On the other hand, while Gothics often feature mysteries that revolve around dead and/or disappeared moms, Alisdair's dead and/or disappeared literary genius Thai princess mother is by far the most compelling I have encountered. "She called Hemingway an effeminate old donkey once and after that he never wrote her another line." Well, any enemy of Hemingway's is a friend of mine!

(Also, it's surprisingly not ... as racist as I thought it might be? Like, it's not that I think Fay Grissom knows one damn thing about Thailand, but the tropes she's playing with as regards Alisdair's mom all come out of the Free-Spirited Bloomsbury Genius toolkit rather than the Exotic Oriental Princess box, WHICH IS SOMETHING.)

In case you're curious about the jig-saw, by the way, it's mostly a metaphor. I WAS DISAPPOINTED TOO. The very briefly appearing love interest does have a human-interest story about coming to write his pop biography on her on finding a box of her letters in the middle of a giant jig-saw collection that he inherited from a weird uncle, but neither the letters nor the jig-saw turn out to be in any way relevant.
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