Apparently my reading choices are now powered by spite: I’m reading Confessions of the Fox that I partially picked up because a negative review complained about a) the amount of dirty Elizabethan English (“many crude terms appeared only once, so the author apparently just wanted to show off his research”) and b) “If you like to constantly check footnotes whilst reading a novel, some of which are pages long, you might enjoy this book.”
Well, I do, in fact, enjoy footnote shenanigans and dirty old English and historical novels with new takes and, oh, queer representation, so off I went. The primary story is about Jack Sheppard, the protagonist of countless heist stories, including The Beggar’s Opera and The Threepenny Opera, re-cast as a trans man with a very intentionally diverse cast of friends. The secondary story is about the, also trans masculine, “editor” of the book, told in the footnotes – about his problems with corporate capitalist research and his failing relationships.
The combination did not work for me, even though I expected it to work and would have liked it to. I disliked the protagonist of both the stories, I found the footnote-story exceedingly depressing (maybe Nabokov has ruined me for literary professors telling their slightly deranged stories in footnotes, a very specific kink), and too embarassingly close to the author himself.¹
The story of Jack Sheppard retold through a lens of intersectional feminism could be exciting, but felt like a dry exercise, and no amount of explicit sex scenes could change that. “Here, have two trans men sharing the cis men experience of being led by their genitalia instead of their brain” wasn’t an exciting take either. The author also does the Umberto Eco thing (professors, amirite) of quoting everybody and everything at you, only that he uses the queer canon and related works instead of Eco’s modern-classical canon. But it’s the same thing, in the end.
I was cautiously excited by the idea, but very underwhelmed by the execution.
¹ I get that sometimes. If an author writes too exactly about their own life story, I feel faintly embarassed, especially when it fails to capture me or feels trite and unprocessed.