In the following, editor Kendra Guidolin weighs in on a chapter I’m VERY unsure about. That chapter is called ‘Dying Wish’ and it’s Chapter Seventy-Five on the “CHAPTERS” section of the website. A main component of this first version of TGOHS is to open up the doors to the novel-writing process, to give you the unfiltered, uncensored ‘brain-to-page’ experience before the material meets its inevitable checks and balances. I’ve been pushing my own lines the whole time I’ve been writing the novel, but after ‘Dying Wish’ which is both macabre and salacious, there may well be, for me at least, no more lines to push. If you read the chapter before you read Kendra’s take on it, I highly suggest you don’t read it near mealtimes, that you consume it with a stiff drink, a side of skepticism, and a grain of salt. The chapter is very much hanging in the balance, and may not make it to the final copy. But, before I make a decision on it, it’ll have the opportunity to be read in this first, public draft of the novel. Here is what Kendra has to say.
As I was reading this chapter within the context of those that came before and after it, this chapter only stood in my mind as being particularly horrifying for poor George–though in a way that was equally as humorous as it was horrific. Revisiting this chapter and considering it specifically in particular, I’m not sure it has me sold. Again, while George’s narration is beautifully done–even in moments that are also meant to be grotesque, the exposition is brilliant, and does absolutely manage that balance between crude and light, clever, and even lyrical. My main concern, however, is both its realism and its fairness to Bertie. Bertie was at one point one of my favourite characters, as she has the charm of a very caring, wonderful mother-figure–which also maybe makes this horrific for George and thus, us the reader in his POV! Although we know Bertie slightly betrays Justine’s trust, and does seem to have quite selfish motives in more instances than the reader would’ve liked, I think my uncertainty of this chapter also is in how George describes her grotesqueness: mostly in her being troll-like and hideous based on both her age and weight. I think this chapter could be revised to be more fair towards Bertie, as well, it could be done in a way that seems less traumatizing than it currently is for our poor George (as comical as it is to have him suffer in such a way). Especially, at the moment, with George being coerced into granting Bertie her last dying wish, her motives take away from the devastation and trauma that would most likely arise in her dying whilst still in bed with him.
As well as worrying about George’s fairness to Bertie in his description of her, I also wondered about the realistic aspects of this chapter, because right now it feels like a grotesque nightmare/ fantasy, rather than part of the real story. Namely, I felt it was very strange Bertie would be sexually attracted to George with their history and hierarchical rank within the Heath; as well, I wondered why Bertie would say she was still a virgin at her age, and even if this wasn’t true, it just made her character beyond realistic and more of an unattractive caricature, making this whole scenario feel more of a nightmare than a consensually agreed upon interaction (even if there was hesitation from George, there is still something deeply wrong he feels while going through with it that makes the reader uneasy, for obvious reasons, of course)!
It is a really rich dive into the more comical, dark side of the novel, and is a great exercise in testing the waters in seeing how far the boundaries can be pushed. In fact, tonally, it’s in a really great space, as necromancy honestly does not feel far off thematically speaking, and may possibly be another gateway for Justine to even imagine as she mourns the loss of Gregory. As well, it’s got some great dark humour, which also goes really well with the dark motifs that overlap in sex and death. As much as I’m unsure about the ways in which this chapter manifests these ideas, I think it’s honestly not a bad direction–maybe it’s just a bit extreme, as it currently stands out and doesn’t sound too much like the rest of the novel. Especially since the novel has such an its incredible drive for self-acceptance in one’s body, the normalisation of female pleasure, and the exposure of those who suppressed and actively punished those within sex work and pornography in London, I think this piece could be made to fit with some revisions. Of course, the direction you take this piece is entirely up to you, so please do let me know if you want to test another version; I’d be more than happy to take a look!