14 Sep 2013
First Single Review: My Beauty, by Rowana Macdonald
My Beauty, written by Rowana Macdonald is a short story of the very short kind, totalling three and a half pages. But then, as is the case with most decent short stories, there's no need for more. It focusses on a couple of hours in the life of Danuta, a Lithuanian beauty who works on a Danish fur farm to finance her studies. Or rather, who used to work at the farm until she became the owner's favourite and moved in with him. Danuta has learned a lot about fur during her shifts at the farm, but above all she's learned the value of flawless beauty - and she is determined to use her own marble features to make her way in the world. Danuta's biggest rival for Sven's admiration turns out to be Princess, the only mink with a name on the farm, flawless too with her white fur, and tame in Sven's hands.
Macdonald eerily connects the two beauties' fates with each other, whose existence stands and falls with Sven's mercy, thereby playing with the commercialisation of beauty and the possessiveness and cruelty of those who "appreciate" it. In instances like "His favourite mink is asleep in her cage, reclining with a seductive twist on her back. Her nipples are tender pink berries and her mouth is curled in a secretive smile as if she's having sweet dreams", the parallel exploitation of minx and mink becomes almost too obvious. However, although fur and skin are the pervading motifs, the story exudes such a coldness through the characters that any notion of emotional kitsch is kept at bay. Everybody in this story - even the animal - seems to be constantly calculating their profits, and every kind of relationship is solely based on these. Three and a half pages is all it takes Macdonald to conjure up a story that alludes to the exploitation of immigrants, prostitution, and violence and that leaves you with a feeling of chilly unease.
As to the technical side of things - I suppose this is the digital equivalent of that part of the review where you usually comment on the quality of the editing and the academic apparatus, at least in academic reviewing, so I think this is somewhat important for my purposes here - the ebook is designed probably pretty much in the same way as Galley Beggar's physical books are. Nothing wrong with that, but the format doesn't adapt too well to the screen size of my 7'' tablet: the pages are too wide and the type size appears tiny, so that a lot of time passes with enlargening, scrolling and swishing over my screen to follow the sentences. I have to add thought that I got the PDF version; perhaps the other digital formats are easier to navigate in this respect. I promise to try out alternatives.
Book Single information:
My Beauty, by Rowana Macdonald. Published by Galley Beggar Press, 2013. 4pp. GBP 1.