Still Murder, by Finola Moorhead.
Still Murder, by Finola Moorhead. Australia: Spinifex Press, 2002. First edition, 1990.
Finola Moorhead’s prize-winning blend of literary merit, mystery genre, and feminism.
Moorhead is a fine writer whatever she chooses to write. I love the expansive way that she sweeps together genre, images and ideas in original combinations. In this book, she unites three approaches that could be seen as contradictory into a comprehensive whole. The result is experimental writing that is very accessible to a wide range of readers.
The organization of Still Murder is unconventional. Here Moorhead uses a mix of documents to introduce background material them and then follows events from different perspectives. First we are given a “confession” by a Vietnamese Vet about his wartime experience and his feelings about the woman he loves. Next there are a series of clippings about a body bizarrely buried in the flower bed of a park and discovered by a nun. We receive brief descriptions of the major characters in the book from a database. Finally the narrative begins in the form of case notes kept by Margaret Gorman who is assigned to watch and get to know a woman who may have a connection to the case. Other accounts, some private and some public, follow.
Moorhead has certainly not retreated from her radical feminism, but she expresses it in a story more accessible to general readers. In this book she focuses directly on rape, an issue critically important to feminists. Men’s violence against women is placed in the context of larger failure to validate them as full human beings. Patricia may—or may not—be mad, but she has sharp insights into her own past and into women’s prescribed role in the world. “Don’t you see, while a woman is a place, a space, like an horizon, in someone else’s movie, in someone else’s collage or bloody jigsaw, she can’t have a place of her own.” She goes on reiterate her point.
When the lie that I am living gets too much, I read feminist books…. They look back and say you are not alone, it’s been going on for centuries. Or they look deep and they see that man was the only one who existed in Freud’s mind, Marx’s mind, Darwin’s mind, Saint Paul’s, Augustine, Aquinas, Cardinal Newman, you name it.
In addition, Moorhead raises questions about women’s use of violence and revenge against male’s violence. Lesbianism, weaves in and out of the book, but story not based in the lesbian community.
Still Murder contains more male characters than Moorhead’s other books. The cluster of men who fought together in Viet Nam is presented with sensitivity. Readers like myself, and probably Moorhead, may not like these men, but she helps us understand them and their close bonds. Patricia’s husband, who rapes her lesbian lover, is presented in more negative terms. His actions, and killing generally, force the reader to consider violence in war and in private life. As always Moorhead raises complex questions but gives no easy answers.
I enjoyed Still Murder thoroughly, but my favorite of Moorhead’s book is still Remember the Tarantella. But I just ordered her Quilt. (Spinifex Press has free shipping for the holidays).
I strongly recommend this fine book to a wide range of readers, including those who may have been put off by her radical feminism. And all feminists, straight or lesbian, need to read this book as well as her others.