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David Ireland: City of Women

Another set of portraits of the marginal population of Sydney though, this time, it is limited almost exclusively to women. You may have seen the movie The Women (the original version). That movie, starring Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer, had an entirely female cast and is probably the most sexist movie ever made. The entire cast seemed to think that their sole raison d’être was men – how to get them, how to keep them and, failing that, to talk about them. But Ireland avoids this trap – more or less. Men are mentioned, talked about and even set upon sexually but they are, frankly, relatively incidental. The women, however, are not Joan Crawford or Norma Shearer. Most of them have jobs, many of them in areas more traditionally thought of as male jobs (Billie, the “heroine”, for example, is an engineer though there are odd jobs to match the odd diseases, such as nuclear psychologist). They have strange diseases, such as vaginal stirring and clitoral combustion. And they are generally tough, not just in the conventional way but in a male way, in that they drink heavily at the pub and get into fights.

Billie, together with her pet leopard Bobbie (the second of that name), watches these women fight, play and decay for, yes, they are all decaying and not just from clitoral combustion. Ireland has once again taken an area of Sydney and made it into a sort of a future – not necessarily a dystopian future, as the idea of an enclave where men are not only excluded but virtually irrelevant has a lot to recommend it – but nevertheless it is a strange future which seems a lot like the present but is different enough to be disconcerting. I liked Bobbie the leopard best, particularly when she is reading a book with Billie.

Publishing history

First published 1981 by Allen Lane