Book Review – Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

books, reviews

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This book was picked as our book club’s choice for Pride. Thanks to several scheduling problems, we ended up having to move the meeting back, so I didn’t actually start reading it until July. In fact, I didn’t start reading it until a few days before the meeting. I barely finished it in time. Although, I was better off than a few other members who had read it for June and couldn’t remember it. It made for a slightly awkward meeting. Next month will be better.

When it was first published in 1973, Rubyfruit Jungle was one of the first real lesbian coming-of-age narratives. It offered an unflinching and explicit portrayal of lesbianism at a time when this was still very much a taboo. This is still an important book and it definitely deserves its place in LGBTQ+ literary history. It was also a book that I was excited to read. I was looking forward to something funny and unforgettable. In the end, it didn’t really do that for me.

Putting aside the historic aspect of this book, I don’t think it’s aged particularly well. Part of me really loved the central character of Molly and her devil-may-care attitude. She was out and proud and didn’t care what anybody thought about her. She’s a strong woman and I can see how empowering she could be. However, I didn’t get much depth from her. She was pretty one-note all the time. For a character who went through so many bad things, Molly never really showed many emotions. She brushed everything off so easily and I didn’t buy it.

I also had a few issues with the way she behaves in the book. Molly is very confident in her sexuality, which is great. However, this confidence regularly sees her trying to persuade plenty of straight women to have sex with her. This is quite possibly just a takeaway from a time when people were more restricted but I was definitely thinking about consent for a lot of these moments. Maybe I’m just overthinking it all?

Then there’s the plot. It’s so quick and flimsy. She always moving and we never really get a chance to get to grips with anything. Seemingly key characters are introduced and then gone in the space of a few pages. Plot points are finished in the blink of an eye. In the end, this just felt like a collection of incomplete vignettes tied together by a few characters. Not a problem in itself but not what I was expecting. I might not even have cared about the narrative had there been more character development.

Rubyfruit Jungle promised a humourous portrayal of lesbianism and I would say the comedy isn’t as obvious as the book goes on. It started off really well. I thought I was going to love it and was ready for the laughs. Then it just kept getting weirder and darker. So many awful things happen to Molly and they are played out in a really strange way. They’re never dealt with in any way. They’re just forgotten about. Talk about compartmentalising. That girl must have a very large part of her memory set aside for all of the trauma she has never dealt with.

So, yeah, this might have been a super important piece of literary history when it first came out. It might have been the lesbian novel at one time. That doesn’t mean it’s still as relevant as it once was. There is stronger representation out there now. Of course, I’m sure some people will definitely be able to engage with this book better than I did. It just didn’t work out that way for me.

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