Arachnophile – Betty Rocksteady
Oh, Betty, Betty – what did you do, Betty?
Often, when you open a NBSA book, you're taking a risk. Does the author know what they're doing? Can they finish the story properly? Are all the good things they do at the beginning going to peter out into an unsatisfying ending? In short, is the writer in control? Betty Rocksteady is in control.
From her subtle use of language, to her poise of character development, Betty is always in control. The story is great – I immediately loved the idea of riffing on “Guess Who's Coming To Dinner” and all the choices Betty makes are great. Even the switch in gears for her ending.
Her soft and loving descriptions of the spider's embrace are particularly impressive. Her prose is warm and velvety and just....oooh so scrummy. It was a real delight to read.
There's a load of depth and subtly to her world, it feels lived in and real, yet at the same time utterly strange and bizarre. People's houses are infested with insects and the furniture is sentient in some indefinable way, and of course, spiders are considered a class of citizen – even if they are a lower class. They're alien, but through her imagination, Betty manages to bring out the emotions of our arachnid friends. We see their art. Hear their music. We feel their pain when they're in pain, yet we don't entirely trust them – they are after all spiders.
Like all my favourite bits of bizarro. Betty is talking about other things when she talks about spiders. For spiders read outsiders. The “others”, and their strange cultures, rituals, and ways of speech. This book feels oddly poignant as our various governments face the current refugee crises around the world. Wherever we are, we're going to have to get used to other cultures interacting with our own – getting up close and personal. There are lessons to be learned from this novella.
It was a joy to spend a few hours kicking it with Betty and her spiders. I highly recommend it.
What did you do? You made me care about a spider, Betty, that's what you did.