Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor
In Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, Andrea Lawlor manages to define queerness in a way few books have been able to achieve
Queer is a tricky word to define. A derogatory slur appropriated to mean someone or something not-heteronormative, the word carries a heaviness, typically used to describe a state of otherness, of absence, of strangeness. Unless you are in it, it remains unattainable. It’s no small feat then, that in Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl's 300-odd pages, Andrea Lawlor manages to define queerness in a way few books have been able to achieve.
The titular Paul is our hot mess of an antihero. 1990s Iowa City is our setting. Alongside tending bar at night and taking gender studies classes during the day, Paul spends most of his time shape shifting between male and female bodily forms. This magic trick is never explained. Instead, Paul lives a life that both defies and transcends classification, neither gay nor straight nor bi nor pan nor trans nor gender-fluid, yet somehow encompassing all these states of being simultaneously. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is a clear influence, but Lawlor’s writing is all her own. With a voice that is both funny and tragic, she drops the reader into unexplained situations and backs out, giving us space inside her characters’ heads.
Lawlor’s novel is full of unabashed, smutty, graphic sex as Paul with his aching libido moves 'like a shark', unable to stop, through the city searching to satisfy his desires. What a pleasure it is to read a book about a queer body that is a source of pleasure, rather than one of self-hatred, to be pitied or condemned. Sexual greed is a way of survival, a way for Paul to feel alive. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl reads like a liberation. It is magnificent.
Pan Macmillan, 18 Apr, £14.99