Unmentionable – Therese Oneill

I still remember how crushing it was the first time someone felt it would be fun for my own good to pop my Disney–and–Robin Hood–blown bubble, and let me to know that those marvelous castles I was always admiring, those perfect settings for all my dreams, were actually massively drafty, stinkingly unsanitary holes. To my every “Yeah, but – ” there was another quelling response. No, really – living in a castle in period was horrible (and living in a castle now would be the very definition of “money pit”).

So now, why not? Let’s eviscerate all those glowing visions of the Edwardian and Regency and Victorian eras. It’s fun!

And – while it is surprisingly difficult to apply this new knowledge to Jane Austen and Upstairs Downstairs and so on … it is fun.

I was a little surprised that the author bounced not only through time but through space; it was as though she wanted to make sure the worst example available was used for any given situation, and in a lot of cases that was in more recently settled America rather than what I automatically expected: England. It was a little disconcerting at times to find I wasn’t reading about where I thought I was reading about – I do wish she had made that clearer.

The author’s voice – that of a snarky, just-you-wait-till-you-hear-this guide, sympathetic to the reader’s dismay but also a bit gleeful about popping the bubble – was, according to some reviews, annoying to some, but I had a good time with it. There were times I needed that “oh, my sweet summer child” presence – “they did what? With what? How? Wha -?”

We live in a world in which things are discussed which in earlier times were taboo. Verboten. Distasteful. Tacky. Maybe it’s my age – but I don’t think so, because some of my coworkers are in the same bracket. Maybe it’s the way I was brought up. Maybe I’m just a prude – I really don’t know. But on a daily basis my coworkers shock and horrify me with the way they talk about … everything. Loudly. Their sex lives. In detail. Their urinary misadventures. Their hot flashes – there’s a general alert with every one from every woman. Their complaints about their children or husbands or boyfriends. Things which in my little insular world ought to be private, personal, nobody else’s business. You see, I don’t want to know that one coworker with a bad cold had bladder slippage every time she coughed – but when she said this another coworker chimed in – loudly and with detail – about how the same thing happened to her. I don’t want to know that this latter experience was every time she threw up with that last bout of whatever illness – I really, really don’t. This is in an office with nine people, not all her friends, and one a man. There is not enough brain bleach in the world to eradicate the details I’ve heard about various and sundry from various and sundry. Want to hear more? I’ve been here three years. I’ve got more. Reams.

I’m not even going to talk about those Charmin commercials with the disgusting cartoon bears. One of my aunts used to watch the evolution of tv, aghast, and commented that next thing you knew they’d be modeling tampons in commercials. We’re almost there.

So … when did this happen? About a hundred years ago, no one would have dreamed of talking about these things except MAYBE in extreme privacy with her mother. And, yes, there is very much something to be said about more information being public about sex and health and sanitation; some of the things that doctors got away with as described in this book can’t (or almost can’t) happen now, and it’s surely better for women to know what they’re in for on their wedding nights or when menopause hits, or to know what they’re not the only person something happens to, etc. – more knowledge is almost always better (as opposed to Too Much Information). But … There has to be a middle ground somewhere between utter vulgarity and Victorian frigidity, where the information necessary for health and comfort is widely available without being wallowed in. Maybe we’ll get there.

Or maybe I’m just a prude.

Anyhow. This stuff is great to know, especially for writers (or time travelers)… For readers, maybe not so much. I’ve always figured that if you’re sitting there wondering while you read how and where a book’s main character is going to relieve herself in a given situation, you’re not paying enough attention to the book. Like one of those people who can’t resist pointing out every continuity error in a movie or tv show – that wine glass had three quarters of an inch more wine in it when they shot from that other angle! – you need to just relax and not worry about it until and unless it becomes relevant.

I think, in the end, that I’m glad I’ve been schooled – while mores may have slipped badly, we’ve come a long way in other words, baby – but I’m also disgruntled that the more I know the less appealing a trip through time in the TARDIS becomes. I don’t think there’s a time period in history I much care to see firsthand anymore. Ah well – there’s always the rest of the universe.

If you know something unsavory about the Madillon Cluster or Shallanna, don’t tell me.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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2 Responses to Unmentionable – Therese Oneill

  1. Jane Steen says:

    I remember standing in the church lobby listening to a friend tell me about her sex life and wishing she would stop.

  2. stewartry says:

    In a church lobby! That’s even worse than at work. And they just don’t think anything of it.

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