Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories by Alisa Surkis and Monica Nolan

Lesbian HorsesThere’s a reason I decided to get hold of a copy of The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories, and before I go any further, I’ll share it with you.

As you probably know, when you run a blog  you can ferret around in the bowels of the thing and see the search terms that are bringing people to you.  We derive a great deal of less-than-innocent amusement from watching the ‘search terms’ list and our current favourite is “how is pride and prejudice different from pride and prejudice and zombies?”. (Hardly at all, darling – hardly at all …).

A couple of years ago, we were bemused but delighted  to spot someone searching for “the big book of lesbian horse stories” … and even MORE bemused but delighted to realize, after a swift search of our own, that it was not only a real book but also the 2003 winner of the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year.

Fast forward to last month when I spotted a copy for sale on AbeBooks for – inexplicably – £7.55 including postage (the average asking price for this classic of sapphic literature is £70.00).  Naturally, I snapped it up and it went straight to the top of my TBR pile (sorry, biography of Oliver Postgate, latest opus from Steven Berkoff and the 50+ others that got shunted down one …).

I’d like to be able to report that the book lives up to its magnificent title and wonderfully cheesy dime novel cover, but unhappily the joke wears very thin very quickly.  It would have been a great parody for one short story:  throw every lesbian trope (and then a few) into the pot, add a clutch of dastardly Sons of Adam and several magnificently muscled thoroughbreds, and then write the whole thing down at a headlong, overblown,  pulp fiction gallop.  Unfortunately, it palls dramatically after the first two stories and half way through the third I was just thinking “Oh please …”.

Even allowing for the fact that the writing style is deliberately laboured (at least I hope it’s deliberate) it’s very stilted, mannered and hard to read.  Think Girls’ Own with groping.  That, however, is not the main problem with it.  What I really can’t forgive is that from time to time you catch it taking itself horribly seriously.  Behind the ‘Hey Girls, isn’t this FUN!?” facade, the authors can’t resist delivering little sermons about how horrid men are – how they’ve ruined the earth, oppressed women, do nasty things to animals, etc, etc, etc. On top of that, we get silly homilies about “the cossacks and their terrible pogroms”, race relations, the relative merits and failings of Marxism and Capitalism (as debated by two Depression-era teenagers)  … I kid you not.

The males in the stories are there simply as punch bags and are variously dim, evil, lecherous, thuggish or all four (except for the occasional kindly, avuncular type of course).  At one point I thought they’d actually created a LIKEABLE male character, but it inevitably turned out to be a girl in drag.

I wanted SO much to like this book – because there’s a germ of a good idea in it somewhere – but not only was it peculiarly humourless for a book that its  army of devotees insists is hilarious, it also left me with the uncomfortable feeling that I was being drip-fed a  feminist polemic  in the guise of a pulp fiction pastiche – a technique that makes it very difficult for anyone, particularly someone with external genitalia, to criticize anything about it, because the authors can just turn around and say:  “Lighten up!  Can’t you take a joke?”.

Well, yes I can.  And I don’t think this was one.

It’s still a great title, though.  Shame about the book.

Kensington Books. 20002.  ISBN: 0-7582-0254-7.  228pp.

11 comments on “The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories by Alisa Surkis and Monica Nolan

  1. Anne Brooke
    February 22, 2012

    Great review, Moira! What a shame though – I shall, with some regret, strike this one from my list …

    The cover and title are still magnificent though! 🙂


  2. Hilary
    February 22, 2012

    Oh what a shame – another ‘book that wasn’t all that’. I don’t know why, but i had this dream – I was really hoping that it would turn out to be exactly what it said on the cover, and not a weighty exercise in irony delivered with a massive wink. There’s a gap in the market waiting to be filled, and these authors are sitting on the perfect title 😦

    Super review, Moira! Great to find out that a part of Vulpes Libris den mythology turns out to be real – at least I *think* it’s great – hmmm … not sure.

  3. victoriacorby
    February 22, 2012

    Oh dear what a shame. My husband says his family used to say that his sister’s favourite book would be one that had nurses on horseback in it and this looked perfect as her next Christmas present.

  4. Jackie
    February 22, 2012

    This sounds like a thoroughly unpleasant book. I wonder if it isn’t a sort of parody with all that stereotypical hyperbole? And that awful cover really looks like it was composed by a man.
    I can’t believe people are spending 70 Pounds on this. I understand it’s a collectable, but still….

  5. Moira
    February 23, 2012

    The cover was designed by a woman, Jackie … Although the artwork is by a man.

    It IS supposed to be a parody of sorts – but the authors just don’t have the necessary deftness to pull it off. And it’s not so much unpleasant as – well – just a bit tawdry, silly and very boring. It could have been SO much fun done right.

    Victoria – I don’t know what to say. Disappointment is part of life. But if I find a book with nurses on horseback, I’ll buy it and review it! 🙂

  6. Lisa
    February 23, 2012

    (So was there really not a lesbian horse in sight?)

    Excellent review, Moira. I know sometimes people say it’s better to NOT review a book you haven’t enjoyed, but how could you possibly read but not review The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories? It is the finest title (and I mean “title” only in a literal sense) to have ever featured on Vulpes Libris.

    Re: the cover. Those boots were not meant for riding (a horse).

  7. Moira
    February 23, 2012

    No. Not a lesbian horse anywhere. SO disappointing …

  8. Jackie
    February 23, 2012

    My neighbor across the hall has a pair of boots exactly like that!

  9. eyejewels
    April 10, 2012

    Someone tweeted a link to this review as I’d tweeted my despair at reaching the bottom of my library book pile and left with nothing but this. Agree with all of the above but would like to add that even as a horse mad youngster I would have pulled this one up for its annoying ignorance of all things horse. Was expecting something with a modicum of wit and fun, not puerile drivel, and though heterosexual I can’t think anyone would want to think something like this a fair ambassador for their cause… Ho hum…

  10. whydoc
    May 3, 2012

    useless drivel, thats all I have to say

  11. Ian Smart
    November 29, 2017

    If you want to read good lesbian horse stories try Karis Walsh’s trilogy about the, fictional, Tacoma Mounted Police Section – Mounting Danger, Mounting Evidence and Amounting to nothing – interesting stories with believable mounted policewomen (OK apart from the fact that none of them are straight) who are n’t man haters

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