I was having a very gay day when I read this ARC — it was the second queer book I’d read in the space of a few hours, though it was quite a different kettle of fish from the first one. Honestly, the amount of LGBTQ fiction I’ve had the opportunity to read through NetGalley is one of my favourite things about it, because it can be so hard to stumble across in everyday life (and the Kindle Store ‘Gay and Lesbian’ section is dark and full of terrors).
This is a historical f/f romance, which is a relatively rare but well-established genre boasting writers like Sarah Waters. There’s something about historical lesbian romances that you don’t get from other historical fiction: they place a lot more emphasis on female characters, even outside of the immediate main characters and those who have a romantic role to play. This one’s no exception to that, with plenty of women who are either supportive or vindictive according to circumstance.
That said, history has rarely been kind to queer people, and the characters of this book face their fair share of negative feelings and behaviour, which can be uncomfortable to read. I think one always knows that this is going to be the case with queer historical books, and on the plus side, this has a wonderfully happy ending: it refuses to give in to unhappy tropes, so while there is bad stuff to overcome, it works out in the end.
I would definitely argue that this is more of a romance than an erotic novel, but there are some sex scenes that are reasonably explicit. I’ve definitely read more explicit ones, but these still might be a little detailed for sensitive readers, even though it’s of the poetic lovey-dovey variety rather than anything kinky or graphic. (I’ve read more than enough fanfic to tell the difference.) It’s less risque than some of the classics of the genre (*cough*TippingTheVelvet*cough*), and the relationship portrayed is somewhat domestic, since Alice has children. It added a layer of sweetness that gave the relationship a lot more depth, in certain ways.
Alice & Jean is set in New Zealand after World War II, which was interesting for me to read because in many ways it wasn’t dissimilar to Britain, at least socially, but aspirations were very different — though I guess the jobs available reflected the rural landscape more than anything particularly Antipodean. It was a setting I’ve never come across in a book before, and it gave it a fresh feeling regardless of anything else that was happening, just by virtue of making it a bit unusual.
I read this book while pulling an all-nighter in an attempt to reset my body clock, so my review lacks some of the more detailed reflections I might have had if I’d actually slept, but if you’re looking for historical lesbian fiction with a happy ending… well, you could definitely give this one a go.