Lesbian fiction was once synonymous with cheesy romance novels and trashy crime thrillers. But the genre formerly known as terrible has enjoyed a dazzling renaissance in the last decade. Leading the charge is Sarah Waters, the self-described queen of the “lesbo Victorian romp.” Her notorious first novel, Tipping the Velvet, introduced strap-on dildos to mainstream Britain when it was adapted for the BBC in 2002. Since then fellow Brit Ali Smith’s first two novels have topped the bestseller lists and prolific US writer Dorothy Allison received the Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction just last year. With help from Emma Donoghue, here are Xtra’s picks of the bunch.
Dorothy Allison, Trash Stories
Republished in 2002 with a new introduction, Allison’s award-winning collection of stories gives voice to “a cross-eyed working-class lesbian, addicted to violence, language and hope.” A new novel, She Who, is forthcoming.
Rebecca Brown, The Last Time I Saw You (City Lights)
This collection of 12 stories about lesbian breakups showcases Brown’s dark and lyrical prose. Brown received the prestigious Genius Award from Seattle’s Stranger Magazine in 2005.
Emma Donoghue, Landing
A wry and witty tale of two lovers separated by continents. Can true love conquer distance, difference and skeptical friends? Watch out for Donoghue’s upcoming reader’s guide to a millennium of lesbian narrative motifs.
Helen Humphreys, Afterimage
A Victorian couple’s world is unbalanced by the arrival of their new Irish maid. Ontario-based Humphreys was inspired by the pictures 19th-century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron took of her maid Mary.
Ali Smith, Girl Meets Boy
A modern version of Ovid’s genderbending myth of Iphis. Reluctant marketing exec Anthea is transformed (in more ways than one) when she meets graffiti artist Robin. Smith won the Whitbread Award in 2005 for her second novel The Accidental.
Sarah Waters, The Night Watch
In her fourth novel Waters departs from Victoriana and lands slap bang in the middle of 1940s London. The result is a compelling look at queer identity in wartime.