Arabella Scott, suffragette and hunger striker, is held in solitary confinement for five weeks, force-fed by the prison doctor, Hugh Ferguson Watson. Two years later, his wife, Donella, is trapped in a sexless marriage with a man haunted by the past. What happened between the doctor and his prisoner patient? Fifty years on, Donella is still trying to find out. A Petrol Scented Spring is a riveting novel of repression, jealousy and love, and the struggle for women’s emancipation.
Back in December, a parcel arrived for me. All the gifts I had ordered had already come, or not been dispatched, so I was confused. Then I saw the handwritten address, and was filled with joy. I have been friends with Liselle for years, thanks to the internet, and have spent some lovely days together. She is kind and thoughtful and brilliant, and has just been accepted onto a masters program which is properly exciting. Anyway. So in this parcel was a note saying that Liselle had been to see this author speak, and thought I would love this book, so she got me a copy and got it signed, and also enclosed a bookmark that she had crocheted for me in the WSPU colours. But as we know, I’m terrible, and I was in a fug for a while, so it’s been on my bedside table, waiting to be read, ever since.
I pulled it out last week and starting reading on my way to work, and was instantly hooked. Suffragettes, and a suggestion of lesbians: THE DREAM. A Petrol Scented Spring is well-written, uncomfortable, brutal. It doesn’t shy away from the reality of force-feeding, of emotional and physical abuse. I found it incredibly interesting that the characters were, for the most part, real people – a biography of Arabella Scott is in the works, and I’m excited to read it – though I wish I’d realised before reading it, but that’s my oversight. It emphatically is not a biography, though, but a fictionalised account of what could have happened, what may well have happened, according to this blog post by the author. It’s fascinating. A Petrol Scented Spring has been nominated for the Walter Scott prize for historical fiction
After seeing the film Suffragette and reading The Hourglass Factory last year, I was glad to read another account of the suffragettes. I am interested in the struggle, but know relatively little about it. I look forward to more novels, films, even non-fiction, about it, and would love some recommendations – pop yours in the comments!