Page 45 Review by Jonathan
It seemed rather appropriate to me that this work is dedicated to Iain M. Banks who, as the dedication itself rightly states, was a 'creator of socialist utopias'.
Bryan did very kindly offer to introduce me to Iain when I told him that Banks was one of my favourite ever authors. I gratefully declined because sometimes, I think, it's better to know one's heroes through their legacies, be that literary, cultural or social.
Which is in some ways what makes this such a fascinating work, because the titular Red Virgin, Louise Michel, is an unfamiliar figure, to most of us in the UK at least (excluding Jimmy Somerville presumably, who was obviously aware of the 19th century French political scene), but one whose legacy to the causes of equality and feminism, and indeed anarchism, is just as powerful and just as important from a global perspective, as the rather more familiar to British readers Pankhursts whose contributions Mary and Bryan obliquely touched upon in their SALLY HEATHCOTE SUFFRAGETTE with co-collaborator Kate Charlesworth.
This, then, could rightly be seen as a companion piece to that work, where they employed the device of looking at the suffrage movement through the eyes of a fictitious working class northerner, and Bryan has indeed employed the same art style to great effect once more. This time, we are engaged in a discussion between the American writer and feminist reformer (and speculative fiction aficionado!) Charlotte Perkins Gilman and our primary narrator Monique. Upon her arrival in Paris in January 1905 Miss Gilman is shocked to find that Louise Michel has passed away, and thus over dinner, the two, later joined by Monique's mother, herself a former revolutionary comrade in the Montmarte region of the Commune of Paris, begin a posthumous dissection of Louise Michel's life and works.
I found it personally engaging, as I'm sure many will, to be so entertainingly educated about such an important figure that I knew practically nothing about. Works like this are extremely important in ensuring future generations don't forget the vital contributions of those who have come before, at such great personal cost. In helping to pave at least a few further steps on the tortuous route towards that socialist utopia we will finally, hopefully, reach one day. Thus Bryan and Mary rightly deserve their due plaudits for undertaking such a herculean task of research and exemplary execution of another sterling piece of biography.