My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was given Disturbed by Her Song as a review copy from Lethe Press, and I’ve got to say, this was one of the most unusual things I’ve read in a while. It’s a collection of short stories written by Tanith Lee, but under the conceit that two of her characters are actually writing the stories. “Esther Garber” and “Judas Garbah” are half-siblings, and each of them is gay. The stories Lee writes for them explore same-sex relationships, and she does a very impressive job giving each of the siblings a distinctive writing voice. I didn’t think I’d like the conceit of her “channeling” these characters; thankfully, though, that’s gotten quickly out of the way in the intro, and the stories themselves stand strongly on their own.
Judas’ stories I liked less than Esther’s, but I think this was mostly a question of them being generally darker of tone and not terribly happy. It is however a testament to Lee’s skill that I picked up the strong impression that Judas’ stories are perhaps intended to be partly autobiographical. Of the lot, I found “The Crow” most intriguing, in no small part because it’s got enough substance to it that it would reward a second reading to pick up on what I missed.
Esther’s stories on the other hand quite impressed me. It is here that Lee’s language frequently shone. While I couldn’t quite call this collection erotica, it is nonetheless very sensual, and Lee’s command of her words goes a long way towards making this work. There are particularly lyrical passages in “The X’s Are Not Kisses” and “Death and the Maiden”, for example.
But hands down, the title piece of this work is the best. “Disturbed By Her Song” is a deeply bittersweet story, tying beautifully in with the ancient tale referenced by its title. Like Judas’ stories in the collection, it is not particularly happy. But it’s definitely one that stays with you.
All that keeps me from giving this five stars is how Judas’ stories didn’t captivate me as much as Esther’s. That said: a very, very strong four stars.