Although a short read, Indelicacy by Amina Cain is a delightful, thought provoking novella about socioeconomic amelioration, the complexities of marriage, and female agency. Following main character Vitória who, longing for the economic and temporal freedom to write, climbs (and falls down) the hierarchical ladder from gallery cleaner to kept wife to independent singleton. Indelicacy celebrates the arts and female friendship above the apparent ‘need’ for a woman to produce, commit to and maintain a marriage.
We first meet Vitória working as a cleaner at an art gallery, with little to her name except a small apartment. She spends her days captivated by the beauty of the grand paintings on the walls of the museum and, lamenting her position as a secret writer on the periphery of the art world, she conjures dreams of an artistic career in her own name.
Her desire to dedicate her days to literature becomes a reality when she marries, swapping a life of lower-class manual work for one of middle-class leisure. All appears content within this new life of domesticity and writing, with themes of female desire interwoven to reiterate the notion that married life has liberated her in more ways than one.
But this is no fairy tale and, as her home life and marriage begin to sour, she is faced with the realisation that economic stability and a spouse do not equate emancipation after all. Happiness is found, however, in the close female friendships she creates and, eventually, within herself: the overarching message is one of character development, of establishing an identity when ‘Still in the process of becoming’ and, ultimately, of self-love.
Feminist theory permeates every pore of this novel, with Cain subverting the concept of the male gaze accordingly. Although the men do look – ‘He looked at me. Then looked again’ – Vitória not only returns their gaze but looks further afield by directing her own lingering vision, swathed in desire, towards art, culture and female friendship. Similarly, Cain denies the key male character, Vitória’s husband, a prominent role in the narrative by making him nameless. Where we know many of the female characters by name – Antoinette, Dana, Solange – regardless of social class and their relationship to Vitória, his role in this tale is of husband, making any information beyond this largely irrelevant to the plot of female liberation.
Shrouded in obscurity, the novella’s geographical and temporal location remain a mystery throughout. All that we are told is that reading by candlelight and travelling by carriage is commonplace. This is, however, by no means a hinderance to the reader, as for all the intrigue surrounding the unknown excited me, it did not disrupt or distract from the flow of the narrative.
I think fans of historical, romance, and fantasy genres will enjoy this book. With its short but captivating chapters, it is one I struggled to put down to such an extent that a quote from Vitória herself can only do it justice: ‘I forgot where I was, so forceful were the and characters in those books I read, so fine and deep. Yet when I came to, it In fact, it pleased me very much’.
Indelicacy by Amina Cain is published by Daunt Books Publishing, 168 pages.