Review of ‘A Light on Altered Land’ by Becky Bohan
These two women take processing very seriously. It makes for a wordy book but there’s so much more to this story and that wordiness fits the characters so well that I didn’t really mind. I did roll my eyes a few times, but always with tenderness, with one exception to which I’ll come back a little later (and which accounts for my rating).
When Ellie and Kathryn meet for the first time, they’re just strangers getting coffee from Starbucks. Ellie is a lesbian widow, Kathryn a straight divorcée, both at crossroads in their life. Ellie is charmed at first sight, Kathryn has never even thought of anything happening with a woman, but she could do with a new friend. A new friend who makes her feel alive.
‘A Light on Altered Land’ is unexpectedly full of hope, and I was enjoying the energy and the writing until Ellie went on a rant about feminism and trans people that almost made me want to stop reading. Later, she goes off again on Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and Camp Trans. Obviously, the author has strong feelings about this topic but I’m not convinced she did Ellie a favour by making them hers. Yet I liked how Kathryn, speaking from a very different experience and background, put things in perspective.
I’m probably one of the people Ellie would accuse of not wanting her to speak her truth. So be it. While I can see where the concerns come from, exclusion has never been a solution in my eyes. Trans women are women. Moving on.
Without this aspect of Ellie’s character, which left a very bitter taste in my mouth, this book was well on its way to at least 4*. There’s a lot to love in this book with lesbian mature characters, not least that both main characters are over sixty. They are also layered and completely believable and reading about their very different journeys up to their meeting, and how joyfully they jump in what is quite certainly their last relationship was captivating. Although I could have done without Ellie’s tirades, these scenes are part of Ellie’s character growth, her path to leaving the past behind and embracing a new world. I wish her enlightenment took as much space as her transphobia, however. Hence the 3*.