‘Cabs leave at midnight’: Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Blogging hiatuses (hiatii?) are not good for anyone. Including myself. I apparently go quite insane if I don’t scribble down my thoughts about things literary and sundry. I did try my hand at fiction again, with some success: found the ending of one story and the beginning of another. ‘Found’, by the way, is a great way to describe how fiction happens. Here’s a quote from Geek Sublime by Vikram Chandra that captures this process very well:

stories are not only constructed but formed, found. They emerge through an alchemical process that requires significant concentration, samadhi. The writer experiences these stories as events happening within himself.

But that’s fiction. Blogging is a different thing. One reason this hiatus happened is that I simply had nothing in particular to say about things I was reading at the time. I read more Vlad Taltos books, and some non-fiction titles (Geek Sublime being one). I started rereading Fables for no other reason than to have something continuous I can come back to without much time commitment (and plus, Fables is great). I have two or three short story collections going. It’s hard to write about short stories, for how do you write just enough to not give anything important away, yet give the story a proper review?

18764828I have finally finished something that I want to write about, and that is The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. I pointed out a few months ago that I really don’t like fairy tale retellings. If nobody told me The Girls was a retelling, I would have happily picked it up right away instead of letting it collect dust in my book pile. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it was a retelling, because I either never knew the original Twelve Dancing Princesses story, or I forgot it completely. To me, The Girls really seemed more of a historical novel that takes place during the prohibition era. Twelve girls are kept from the outside world by their wealthy father, and so, without his knowledge, they run away every night to dance at speakeasies. They dance all night, they survive police raids, and most of all, they try to survive in the world that is entirely hostile to them. You could say that this novel is really all about women’s rights. The girls have no freedom, no way of making their living, and they rebel the only way they can. Most men in the book are either not particularly nice (the father being the least nice), or simply privileged, entitled, and not given to much reflection about how they treat women, especially young pretty ones (‘A Hamilton girl should never take a man at his word’).

The girls were wild for dancing, and nothing else. No hearts beat underneath those thin, bright dresses. They laughed like glass.

It seems like it would be hard to juggle twelve heroines, but somehow they all emerge with their distinct personalities. The older ones are a bit more fleshed out, but even supporting characters are quite vivid, and become more important as the story goes on. Jo is the lead (‘she was their general‘), and at first glance she seems harsh, cold, almost sociopathic (did the jailed become the jailer for her sisters?). She is by no means a delicate flower. None of them are, really, but Jo is the toughest, and that paradoxically also makes her the most vulnerable. She is prepared to sacrifice herself, and her burden is the heaviest.

Sometimes, once you start being brave, it’s easier just to go on that way.

Valentine’s writing style is poignant, which goes well with both the setting and the plot. Like a good fairy tale, the story always carries a feeling of premonition, with heroines hovering on the edge of the abyss (will they be discovered? will they be arrested?). Perhaps the pacing became a little bit stuttered in the last part, with too many small pieces to handle, but it never really fell apart, at least for me.



  1. Still mulling over whether to read this or not. I’ve read a few stories from Genevieve Valentine and I really like her style.

    1. Maybe read it when you feel like reading a historical novel. I picked it up because I was in the mood for something like that, and it didn’t have to be strictly fantasy/sci-fi.

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