Review: Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, by Andrea Lawlor

“a bookstore was really no different from a bar”

PTTFOAMG is an incredible feat of literature. Merging experimental contemporary fiction, queer theory, humour and erotica, Lawlor has created one of the most original books I have ever read, that feels like a landmark in LGBTQ+ literature.

In a trip down queer history, Lawlor places the reader in an America on the cusp of understanding and acceptance and into the mind of a character that refuses to conform to anything but their own desires. We enter a world of wigs, hippies, drag queens and lesbians where femme and butch are as interchangeable as salt and pepper, and just as debated.  In the midst of this, the story’s main focus Paul/Polly reveals an unapologetic identity that is remarkable in the fact that it refuses to explain itself, no one is being given a footnote in this novel as to what is ‘supposed to’ be happening. At times this style can be jarring and incredibly foreign and as someone who identifies as cis, the gender bending in this work made my brain hurt every now and then, but I would argue this is one of the strengths of this novel. It forces you into a perspective where we don’t have to be men or women, straight or gay. Everything about it feels deliberate and purposeful. In fact, the exploration of gender and sexuality in this novel is fascinating, it made me want to take it to class and I would be unsurprised if this book ended up on reading lists in the near future.

“I cannot believe I am made to be associated with her by shared accident of homosexual birth”

Bizarre and hilarious this book straddles frivolity and profanity while still managing to ask complicated questions about belonging. Strangely it feels like a combination of ‘just kids’ and ‘tipping the velvet’, as if it is letting you into a history you were never aware of, lifting the veil. As an exploration of non-binary, it is incredible, as a gloriously gay piece of fiction its delightful and to publishing in general this book is a sign of how far we’ve come, while its strangeness reminds me how far we have to go. A must read for those interested in identity, this book will answer the questions you were nervous to ask while making you gasp at its audacity. We should all be a little more Paul/Polly. 

“like a shark, Paul had to keep on moving. He slept only when necessary. He had business with the world, codes to crack, so many questions. Tonight, for example, Paul needed to know what fucking was like for girls”

Review by Maddy Belton

You can buy Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl here.

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