21 August 2016

A sexual Sherlock! Narrelle Harris

The Adventure of the Colonial Boy
Narrelle M Harris
Improbable Press, London, 2016

Sherlock Holmes was single; we know that. It seems that Dr Watson was widowed.

Before he married ‘good and sweet-natured Mary’ Watson had spent a lot of time in Holmes’ flat; two friends or work colleagues spending time talking, drinking tea, working through problems. But Holmes often humiliated Watson so what drove him to stay? What benefit did Watson get from the relationship? And Holmes. What was in it for him apart from an exercise of power?

All humans are multifaceted and complex and it’s a lazy writer who draws a linear character.

Harris is no lazy writer. Because she’s writing in 21st century Australia she’s not been bound by the strictures of Victorian England. And because she’s not Arthur Conan Doyle she’s not been bound by the two-dimensional character of Holmes that he drew.

So let’s talk about sex.

ACD’s Holmes was asexual; Watson too. All asexual men share one characteristic: they’re not breathing.

Mrs Hudson: was she breathing? She’d been married of course but no longer so. What happened to Mr Hudson? Dead? Divorced? Ran away? And where did that leave the Widow Hudson? Any friends? Any lovers? What did she dream about in the dark hours?

Narrelle asked all those questions and arrived at some startling answers about both Holmes and Watson and about Mrs Hudson.

Now let’s talk about an Australian connection.

Watson’s brother is buried in St Kilda cemetery in Melbourne, or so Harris tells us. And when evil men intent on murder go to Melbourne, Watson follows. But does Holmes? Isn't he dead? Killed by that evil Professor (being a professor makes him the more evil) Moriarty. Who is that filthy disreputable fellow lurking the Melbourne docks? Is there vacant accommodation in the rooming house kept by an outrageous artist in Collins St? And what of her? Does she have lovers? I mean she’s a painter, right? She’s not going to be pure and chaste!

Harris has had enormous fun researching this new Holmes/Watson mystery. Colonial Melbourne is right. Ararat and the trains to Bendigo and Castlemaine are right. The Western District bush is right.

Some material she borrows from an authentic source. “The Honourable Ronald Adair [for example] was a British noble. He was the second son of the Earl of Maynooth, governor of an Australian colony. His murder at his Park Lane home in 1894 shocked London's fashionable society.” It says so in The Adventure of the Empty House so it must be correct. Official records show no Earl of Maynooth as Governor of Victoria but it’s plausible he be found there. Some material she's researched in situ; some, evidently researched  in the excellent resources of the State Library of Victoria.

And that is the essence of historical fiction. If it didn’t happen it could very easily have done so. And that’s why The Adventure is such fun to read. It’s been superbly researched but, more importantly, it’s been brilliantly (in the proper sense of the word) written and expertly well edited.