One of this summer’s most talked about publications, The Lemon Grove, has been called many things. Most of them revolve around the theme of ‘sexy’ ‘sultry’ ‘naughty’. Some of them are more to the tune of ‘WHERE IS THE MORALITY?!’
If you haven’t read or heard about this provocative publication this summer, allow me to explain a little. The Lemon Grove is the story of Jenn, a middle-aged lady holidaying in Mallorca with her middle-aged husband Greg. So far, so white-picket fence. Then her step-daughter and her boyfriend join them at their villa and it all gets a little complicated. Nathan is something out of a Greek myth (sadly the Spanish never did those quite as well) and Jenn finds herself torn – between propriety and sexual desire, lust and familial love. I believe the people proclaiming ‘think of the children!’ are in fact missing the point of why this is an important book and much more than a holiday read.
My desire to write about this subject was partly inspired by the writer herself. Helen Walsh, the author of this salacious joy is a fiercely intelligent woman and a talented orator, meaning watching her speak about the novel at events such as ‘Literary Bad Girls’ last month is an absolute dream. To quote the lady herself, the novel is ‘two fingers up’ to the radio show who once told her she was about to pass the point of an ‘attractive age’ (36 is the dreaded number is anyone is interested in masochism). It is a reaction to all those novelists she loves, masters such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez who fill their writing with older men bedding much younger women while no one blinks an eye.
I should probably make it clear that I think at no point is it a good idea to sleep with your daughter’s other half, mother’s other half, other half’s mother… Helen Walsh doesn’t either. What I believe is that it is important the novel is within the public sphere, being conversed about. Women’s sexuality is an over protected and under discussed topic. Our literary canon is full of passivity in reference to feminine sexuality. A book like The Lemon Grove alludes to its complexity, its ability to react and to shock. Something so misunderstood for so long deserves all the airtime possible. Jenn isn’t an extraordinary evil character or someone entirely misled. We don’t have to like what she does, or even like her – she is the every woman of literature, someone who does something because she wants to. I think the most important thing is to understand she could want to.