Full disclosure: I know Shelley personally. We have the kind of friendship that sprung from fireside chats in a writers’ retreat. Where your admiration for the person’s work, spreads to an admiration of them. I like Shelly. I love her book.
Vigilante has an amazing premise: a woman, a real woman, a mother, dresses up like a superhero and fights crime in her sleepy English town. Except this isn’t a cartoon caper of the likes of Kick Ass, this is a visceral, heartfelt act of courageousness by one woman who feels she is disappearing into the mundane mediocrity of her daily grind. Jenny Pepper is flesh and blood and very real. Not simply a midlife crisis, Jenny’s story is a battle cry against hers and the fate of many: the disappearing middle aged woman. She was once young, once lithe, once felt sexy, once full of dreams, and hopes and aspirations. Now she is invisible. Until she puts on her mask. Perversely, by covering up she becomes unavoidable – even if that means people laugh at her, or worse.
With a guttural scream Vigilante shakes what we’ve come to accept: that women reach a certain age and vanish into the background. It slashes through the sexualisation of young women. Tears at the social conditioning that tells us women are weak. Shreds the notion that only men are heroes. Fashion. Footwear. Roles. Sexuality. Society. Marketing. Motherhood. Expectations. Fear. Suppression. Sacrifice. Kick! Smack! Kerpow! Vigilante takes them all on. It shouts of the army of women that cook, feed, clean, that sacrifice their own bodies, their attractiveness, their dreams on the alter of their children. This is a story of love, and fear, and hope, and anger. The effortless fast-paced twists and turns of Jenny’s journey, ever closer to the dark corners of humanity, rip along like flayed fishnet stockings. I’m not playing dress up, I’m not playing at all: Vigilante is one of the great feminist novels of our age. It’s time to fight back. Ladies, don your masks.
Vigilante, Shelley Harris: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No: it’s a great book! 5/5