canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Fool's Bells
by Lynnette D'anna
Insomniac Press, 1999

Reviewed by Aidan Baker

The world of Fool's Bells is a harsh, malevolently magical, dirtily realistic world wherein men and women are at constant war with each other, themselves, and the world which would consume them. It is a callous, brutal world and the flashes of beauty, grace, and love, are few. It is a world where men use women and abandon them. Indicative of male/female relationships in Fool's Bells is the following phrase, describing a man and woman in post-coital embrace; "Caleb rocks her till he is asleep" (p39). Even tenderness is selfishly motivated.

Set in and around Stonybrook BC, Fool's Bells tells the separate yet interconnected stories of three women faced with and attempting to deal with physical and mental abuse. Sra resides in a strange fantasy world (which feels something akin to Peter Jackson's film Heavenly Creatures) to escape the pressures of reality after her best friend Syb committed suicide to get away from her sexually abusive father. Naomi is a beaten and submissive housewife, mother of twins who may or may not be the product of incest; after her mother's death, her father "made her his wife" (p51) until he could marry her off to someone else. And there is Baby, the daughter of a prostitute whose mother used to feed her 'rainbow cocktails' as a child and then let men sexually abuse her in her drug-induced stupor.

Third in a trilogy - the first two books being sing me no more and RagTimeBone - Fool's Bells is written in a fragmented, violent style, the three women's stories laid out in short sections of harsh yet poetic prose. I found it reminiscent of Toni Morrison's Beloved, both thematically (minus the slavery) and stylistically; a similar mood of all-pervasive culpability and unease, with an underlying current of violence. I don't mean to suggest that Fool's Bells is unoriginal, since D'anna does have a unique voice. However, these themes of degradation have been done before and the constant parade of misery begins to wear after awhile.

One becomes insensitive after excessive exposure to such horrors, or less credulous. One of the scenes between Naomi and her father, for example, in which the father 'seduces' the pregnant Naomi feels extreme, over the top, and, because of this, realistic. The scene is quite graphic in the portrayal of the sex, presumably with the intention of increasing the impact, yet other scenes which are subtler, less substantial, have more intensity and believability. Certainly Fool's Bells is intended to be a difficult and challenging book, in terms of subject matter at very least, but it would have been a more interesting and gripping read had the tone been more varied.








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