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Review: Sweet Torture of Breathing, by Lorna Thorpe

Lorna Thorpe's second book for Arc, Sweet Torture of Breathing, also contains narratives that are clearly personal, almost confessional. Thorpe's grip on such narratives has grown even more technically adroit than in her first book, A Ghost in my House; the reader is pulled quickly and quietly into the anecdote and held throughout these usually page length pieces.

In the first section of the book, Thorpe creates a world where fantasies of a better life for women are played out over the realities of slightly perfunctory sex amid the small-town blues. These portrayals of reality suggest Thorpe as a kind of feminist romantic with an acute sense of the drab and limiting:

As for Madame Bovary,
she's signed up for a twelve step programme
with Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous,
where she's sharing how she gets her kicks
from romantic highs, learning that she uses
them as a way to sidestep intimacy

Mind, body and spirit

Here, the iconic is brought down to ironic earth by contemporary mechanisms that theoretically offer 'solutions'.

And Thorpe can certainly show women's lives as 'nasty, brutish and short'. In Fallen Angel:

Today, her feet are blistered from dancing,
her dress and beaded slippers,
the smuts of mascara beneath her eyes,
confess the ruin of last night's revels,
her skin is crusted with salt.

And the second section of this generous book has portraits of other fallen angels: Janice Joplin; Modigliani's mistress, Jeanne Hebuterne who took her own life when nine months pregnant with Modigliani's child; and the photographer Francesca Woodman who also committed suicide.

Finally, though, Lorna Thorpe is a writer with an acute eye for the ecstatic; not just the sexually ecstatic but also a sense of sheer joie-de-vivre and energetic engagement with the everyday in all its aspects. In I could eat a house, Thorpe wittily does just that. And, her close engagement with women's lives is an engagement with life itself, and that engagement is celebratory and warm,

As for dancing
as if no-one's watching
even when I'm on my own
I like to imagine an audience, captivated
by my shimmies, my Cuban hip action, how I manage
to be wild and self-contained all at the same time

Living life to the full

Thorpe also has a great line in striking book covers!