This is a short novel, indeed it’s barely a novella – but it is beautifully written, and has weight beyond the number of its pages. At heart, it is the story of a friendship between two people: Quin, an eccentric Englishman working in publishing, and Margot, an editor. They have a close, flirtatious, spiky, humorous friendship – and Quin soon comes across as someone unafraid of social niceties and prepared to push boundaries. Margot loves that side of him, but it’s something that also gets him into trouble.
That trouble takes this into #MeToo territory, as Quin is on the receiving end of complaints and online petitions, ending his career and challenging his world view – and the bedrock of his friendship with Margot. This is where Gaitskill’s skill comes to the fore, as the tale is perfectly balanced and ambiguous: the lines between what is right and wrong, and where the reader’s sympathies lie, shift constantly into shades of grey. And the same is true for Margot who both understands well (given an early encounter herself) of where he’s transgressed – but is simultaneously baffled at the actions of some of those holding him to account.
There is much here to ponder: the nature of agency and passivity; the subjectivity involved in judging transgressions; and a sort of ‘When Harry Met Sally’ on steroids-view of can men and women ever be friends. Quin is no Weinstein – and that makes this a less clear-cut case, and allows for a more nuanced exploration of male-female relations in a changed, modern world.
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