It is very clear from the beginning what this short novel is going to be about. Not difficult when two of the characters are Ms Jekyll and Mrs Hyde. Yet despite working from such a well-known source, Emma Tennant has produced a work that is very much her own and which retains tension throughout.
The Jekyll and Hyde theme is used to explore a community of women and the forms of feminism they represent. This is done with such a light touch that the story is allowed to make its point without once become a lecture. There isn’t time. The pace is pushed throughout via the notion of someone collating witness testimony after an event. In this way we get different perspectives on the story.
Ultimately, we know what has happened, but the why is what becomes intriguing. That and the community (which must surely have sprung from the same influences that inspired Moorcock’s Sporting Club Square stories), living in a part of London I knew before it became gentrified in the ‘80s.
As ever, with a Tennant novel, the construction and skill of the author is as much a joy as the content. The way in which she conveys atmosphere and draws character with such apparent effortlessness, the way in which there is never any sense of a supreme proponent showing off just how clever they are, the way in which old and new ideas are melded and used to cast a new light in old dark corners… Excellent.