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Mrs S

"Sultry, heady and intense, Mrs S captures the timeless intricacies of falling into queer obsession "

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LoveReading Says

LoveReading Says

I’ve been awaiting reading Mrs S since it was first announced – it’s not often you get a butch leading character, and the sexiness of this story was immediately obvious from its early blurb. Thankfully, much like the affair in the novel, the anticipation only made the delayed gratification even hotter. 

Mrs S conjures the way details of the beloved becomes painfully meaningful – the heightened awareness of the way your body and mind work, the yearning overthinking and longing for touch but terror that you aren’t desired – the hopeful dread that she might want you too.

We love a literary novel which does chic things like disavowing speech marks and refusing to name its characters (we never know the main character’s name, and other key figures include ‘the other lesbian’ The Housemistress and the eponymous Mrs S, wife of the headmaster Mr S; the school students are all The Girl). The effect is a sense of overhearing a secret, being let in on gossip that’s taboo, dangerous, and so must be coded. It’s a book that forces you to slow down and savour its precise revelations. It’s deft, precise, glass carefully angled to the sun to start a fire. 

The story feels timeless, suspended – set in an antiquated boarding school, separate from other civilisation, where our heroine’s queerness is met with a passive curiosity, or tacit hostility, and yet where the performance of gender – the props of binders, chains, rings of keys, dildos – are identifiable to modern readers. It’s grounded, yet enjoys a cinematic melodrama – stolen touches while the husband is next door, a defaced church, girls performing a tragedy and mysterious rituals in graveyards… You’re always tense, never knowing what drama is round the corner, the feeling that prying eyes are omnipresent. 

The boarding school where our butch heroine starts as a matron is haunted by homages to the famous dead author; it feels like a nod to the ways in which Mrs S is in conversation with the sapphic canon – echoes of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt in the attention given to their hands, gloves, delayed touch; Dorothy Strachey’s Olivia in the hierarchical school setting, and the holy language of obsession. Or maybe I’m stretching this just to try to sound clever – am I just describing lesbians? More than just the sexual possibility of sapphism though, I really appreciated that Mrs S is also a love story of queer friendship, the deep sense of belonging and loyalty that forms between the heroine and the Housemistress. I’ve already recommended it to several people.

Lily Lindon

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