The Electrical Venus

Written by Julie Mayhew
Review by Alan Fisk

At some time in the 18th century (annoyingly, the book gives no more specific clue), Mim is a mixed-race teenage girl in a particularly low-class travelling show owned by one Grainger and his possibly even coarser wife, Lizzy. The unfortunate Mim’s companions include the “pig-faced lady”, a one-armed boy, and a legless strongman with whom he conducts staged and rehearsed but nevertheless painful boxing matches, and a juggling dwarf, as well as a talking parrot and a (real) pig who does sums.

This varied assemblage drifts around with no change to be foreseen in their shabby lives, until an elegant gentleman appears at the show and expresses his interest in taking on Mim as his assistant. He is an amateur scientist, specialising in the effects of electricity, and he proposes to demonstrate electrical tricks as a way of making money for them all.

Before long, Mim’s act is to be rigged to a generator and let herself be kissed by all male comers at a penny a go, so that they can be literally shocked by her kisses. Is this what love is like, she wonders? She soon finds out.

The Electrical Venus was originally a radio play. I have refrained from searching for and listening to it, wanting to review this novel on its own merits. It may be that the author’s talents lie more in the dramatic form rather than the narrative form, because I found it a grindingly difficult read, repetitious, unconvincing, and inadequately structured.