Mr Rainfleury, in contrast, was in seven separate raptures about his creations. He could not be stopped from fondling their hair, and waltzing them along the top of the mantelpiece... He paid not the slightest attention to our complaints. I flinched at the steel that lined his emollient manners.
The book concerns the seven Swiney sisters from an Irish village, Harristown. Though they don't have enough to eat and live in extreme poverty, they share one extraordinary feature; all of them have hair which grows so abundantly that, when released, it reaches the ground. Manticory, the red-haired narrator, is one day almost raped by a stranger who has a fetish about long hair. The oldest of the sisters, Darcy - dark-haired, and a very nasty piece of work - sees a way to turn this fetish to the sisters' advantage; she devises a show, in which the sisters sing and dance, and at the end, turn their backs to the audience and let down their hair.
This is the age of the Pre-Raphaelites, whose models always rejoiced in a positive cloud of hair, and as Michelle explains in her notes, there was a sort of brotherhood of hair-worshippers. So the show goes down a storm, eventually attracting the attention of two entrepreneurs, Rainfleury and Tristan, who offer to manage the girls. What follows is a recognisable arc in these days of reality shows and celebrity worship; the girls make masses of money but see little of it themselves (except for Darcy) and have no idea how to manage it. So their rise is precipitous, but so is their fall.
|The Seven Sutherland Sisters|
It's a big novel in every way, with a large cast of eccentric and highly individual characters, who rejoice in a larger-than-life grasp of language and have in particular a tremendous talent for insults - the exchanges between Darcy and her arch-enemy, the Eilleen O'Reilly, are razor-sharp and full of energy. There's more than a touch of Victorian melodrama, but it's spiced with humour and wit and with a very modern take on the cult of the celebrity and the exploitation of the vulnerable. Almost unbelievably, it's based on a similar set of sisters, the Sutherlands, who were American and had a similar - though not quite as extreme - career path.
I guess you might put it in vaguely the same area as some of Joanne Harris's books, but really, I can't think of anything else like it. A rich and witty read.
(My thanks to the publishers, Bloomsbury, for sending me a copy of this book.)
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