Sophie Thompson: The Scalp of Virginia Nettle by A.R. Taylor

Sadie starts by asking for everyone’s first impressions. Claire makes hushed apologies as she scuttles to her seat with another glass of prosecco. She was on drinks this week.

Rachel gets the ball rolling, as is her civic duty. She thinks the book is incredibly thought-provoking and that, as a woman herself, the protagonist’s slow progression from her veil of luscious locks to the vulnerability of nakedness and the resulting breakdown of her relationship, totally captures the zeitgeist of the Fourth Wave. What is it to be a woman these days, and what is ‘feminine’ beauty? Indeed, why must women be beautiful? And in whose gaze and for whose pleasure?

Lorna thinks the book is a heartfelt, sensitive account of a woman’s journey with alopecia.

Claire likes the bit about the emerald ring. The others agree that the imagery in that passage is outstanding. Claire adds, with a glint of a laugh, that she wishes her boyfriend would buy her something nice – like an emerald ring. No one joins in. She steals another sip of prosecco.

Céline is squeamish, and the bit where Virginia’s hair is falling out in clumps in the shower made her feel ill, so she didn’t finish the book. Sadie harrumphs that it’s only 213 pages long and Céline could have persevered. Céline sniffs and examines a loose thread on the cuff of her jade jumper. She repeats the number of pages with a tut into her Merlot.

Sadie asks for any other thoughts before they get to her discussion points. She has six and they’re already ten minutes into the hour.

Lorna says she just can’t see how the book is about feminism. Not everything has to be about feminism. Sometimes you can just have a simple, poignant story. Rachel snorts that if the protagonist has tits, then of course it’s about feminism.

Catherine asks if anyone wants a top-up. They all decline and watch her leave the room. Sadie marks Catherine’s sole contribution to the conversation, and reckons that she’s probably only here for the nibbles. She makes a mental note to stop buying those truffle crisps she saw Catherine scoffing by the fistful earlier.

Lorna announces that she was so moved by the book that she decided to email the author to ask some questions about it. She heard back from A. R. Taylor just this morning, in fact. An approving murmur ripples around the room. Even Rachel looks grudgingly impressed. Sadie addresses her wristwatch, asking what the author said.

Lorna informs them that it really is just a book about a woman’s journey with alopecia. She grins, vindicated.

Claire lets out a nervous titter, before sticking a swift cork in it.

Rachel muses that, regardless of what the book is actually about, the simplicity of Virginia’s story – a woman’s story – is just so brave and powerful. It spoke to her on such a personal level. Céline asks her if she’s had to deal with severe hair loss before, leaning in, mesmerised. Her sympathetic gaze is tinged a greasy hue of olive. Rachel says she hasn’t, but that’s not the point.

Lorna’s eyes give up and retreat somewhere deep into the recesses of her skull.

Sadie clears her throat and attempts the first discussion point, but Claire raises an emboldened hand and asks whether they could read something a bit lighter next month. Anne of Green Gables is a lovely book.

Sophie Thompson is a writer and social researcher, originally hailing from Northern Ireland. She lives in Essex with her partner, young son and three chickens. She was the runner up in the Farnham Flash Fiction Competition February 2024 and her work has featured in The Hooghly Review, Ink, Sweat & Tears and Roi Fainéant.
Story illustration via Unsplash.