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Ruby Brunton

The Women Characters Rarely End Up Free: Remembering Rachel Ingalls

Gaia Banks / New Directions Publishing

Ruby Brunton | Longreads | April 2019 | 10 minutes (2,674 words)

Rachel Ingalls, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 78, was a writer who did not seek out the spotlight, but found it not at all unpleasant when at last it came. Beyond a small circle of loyal friends and regular visits to Virginia to see her family, Ingalls lived a fairly reclusive existence after her move from the U.S. to the U.K. in 1965. “I’m not exactly a hermit,” she said, “but I’m really no good at meeting lots of strangers and I’d resent being set up as the new arrival in the zoo. It’s just that that whole clubby thing sort of gives me the creeps.”

A writer of fantastical yet slight works of fiction, with a back catalog numbering 11 titles in total, Ingalls flew more or less under the literary radar until recent years, when the newfound interest that followed the 2017 re-issue of her best-known book, Mrs. Caliban, also finally allowed her readers to learn about her processes and motivations; the attention slowly brought her into the public eye. Reviews across the board revered the oddly taciturn novella, in which mythic elements and extraordinary happenings are introduced into the lives of otherwise normal people by a prose remarkable for its clarity and quickness. “Ingalls writes fables whose unadorned sentences belie their irreducible strangeness.” Wrote Lidija Haas in The New Yorker; in the same piece she described Ingalls as “unjustly neglected.” (Mrs. Caliban was also lightheartedly celebrated as a venerable addition to popular culture’s mysterious year of fish sex stories, a fittingly strange introduction of her work to a broader readership.)  Read more…