Devoted Ladies by Molly Keane

I first learned of this wicked little novella whilst reading an interview with Sarah Waters. The English author was asked about her favorite novels and after providing a list she also mentioned enjoying a couple of books in which the lesbian couple is absolutely horrible to one another. To be sure, the female pairing in “Devoted Ladies” behaves quite dreadfully to each other, especially Jessica. Jane and Jessica have been living together in London for six months. Jane is a wealthy, not too bright, American divorcee and Jessica is her English, possessive, drama queen girlfriend. When these young ladies are not getting sauced in the 1930’s Art Deco London scene, they’re traveling through Europe with their valet, Albert (also gay).

While attending a party at the home of Irish playwright, Sylvester, Jane meets George Playfair, a handsome, nice, dull Irish gentleman and Sylvester’s best friend. George is smitten with Jane and Jane sees George as an escape from the cruel and tyrannical Jessica. After much whining and crying, Jane finally convinces Jessica that they vacation in Ireland. They end up staying with Sylvester (much to his dismay) who happens to be staying at the family country home in Kilque with his spinster cousins Hester and the dreadful Piggy (Viola).

I should point out that besides Jane, Jessica and Albert, the other characters I suspect are gay are Sylvester and his cousin Piggy.  In fact, Piggy’s pathetic school-girl devotion to the thoughtless and selfish Joan is a study in masochism.

I’ll be honest that I did not like any of the characters. The book is filled with some of the cruelest, toxic, manipulative little monsters imaginable. And yet, the dialogue is sharp, witty and deliciously vicious. With a sarcasm that nearly drips from each page, “Devoted Ladies” is an Anglo-Irish black comedy of manners. If you enjoy Noel Coward or Evelyn Waugh or humor laced with sharp irony and farcical characters then I suggest you give this one a try






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