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Helen’s Story by Roseanne Rabinowitz

The Blurb On The Back:

Contrary to rumours of her death, Helen Vaughn is alive and well and living in Shoreditch. Having learned a few things about painting from an old boyfriend, she’s set to take the art world by storm with a series of erotically-charged landscapes that will show everyone what really lurks beyond the vanishing point. Some readers might have already met Helen in Arthur Machen’s classic novella, THE GREAT GOD PAN. Now she gets to tell her side of the story.



Anyone familiar with Arthur Machen’s novella, THE GREAT GOD PAN will know Helen Vaughn and what happened to her. But Machen took artistic licence with Helen’s fate. Far from dying as an indistinct blob, she’s living and working as an artist in Shoreditch. Far older than the 35 years she looks to be, she uses her work to try and attract her childhood companion but the erotically charged nature of her work also draws art critics and collectors alike, none of whom are aware of how personal her landscape works really are …

Roseanne Rabinowitz’s novella is an erotic horror that draws on Machen’s original but is a stand-alone story. I haven’t read THE GREAT GOD PAN but was still able to enjoy this book. I really loved Helen’s spiky, unsentimental voice and her relationship with her strange companion while Rabinowitz does a great job of showing Helen’s creative process, giving it a sensuous, erotic charge that’s disturbing in its sexuality. It is slightly overwritten in parts and the dialogue can be rather stilted but it is a novella that worked for me and I would definitely read more of Rabinowitz’s work.

Rabinowitz does a good job of weaving in Helen’s account of her childhood with Dr Raymond and why the cold sterility of that environment would drive her to her companion with the development of her current work and I enjoyed the slow burn reveal of why she’s painting her landscapes. Her relationship with Rachel is also sensitively developed, although I would have liked to have had a bit more development of its breakdown. Helen’s attitude to sex is refreshing and I particularly loved the fact that bisexuality is no big deal for her (although this is slightly pushed by the incest revelations).

However, her relationship with Rory didn’t convince me, partly because he’s a little wooden as a character and although I believed in Rory’s reaction to Helen’s revelations, I didn’t quite believe why she was so keen to persuade him to her viewpoint given that she’s quite an emotionally cold character in some ways. Also, the dialogue is stilted at times – there’s a lot of characters saying hello to each other and using each other’s names when it’s not needed in the context of what they’re talking about.

All in all though, I thought this was a good read and I’d read Rabinowitz’s other work.

The Verdict:

Rabinowitz does a good job of weaving in Helen’s account of her childhood with Dr Raymond and why the cold sterility of that environment would drive her to her companion with the development of her current work and I enjoyed the slow burn reveal of why she’s painting her landscapes. Her relationship with Rachel is also sensitively developed, although I would have liked to have had a bit more development of its breakdown. Helen’s attitude to sex is refreshing and I particularly loved the fact that bisexuality is no big deal for her (although this is slightly pushed by the incest revelations).
Tags: erotic, horror, novella, roseanne rabinowitz
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