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THE WOMAN BETWEEN THE WORLDS Reviewed
The Woman Between The Worlds
by F. Gwynplaine Macintyre
THE WOMAN BETWEEN THE WORLDS is a blend of science fiction, history, mystery and Victorian horror. The story starts in 1898 London, just seven year after the electrical tattoo machine was patented. A woman walks into Embellishments, a London tattoo parlor with a particular request. She is in fact invisible and asks to be tattooed flesh-colored all over. The artist consults his H.G. Wells (he rereads "The Invisible Man") and decides if she can pay, he'll do as she requests. The mysterious woman produces the one thousand gold coins requested and the tattoo work begins.
Naturally, such a unique customer catches the extreme interest of the tattooist, both as her body is slowly made visible to him as he tattoos, and as her personal story unfolds. Who is she? Where does she come from? And just how did she come to be invisible? It is a colorful tale indeed, and also features a guest appearance by Aleister Crowley, a real-life character of the time.
Curiously, the narrator remains nameless throughout our tale. Not one character refers to him by his name and the story is written in his first person point of view. The only clue to his identity is in the very beginning of the story, when he first meets Vanessa. She talks of seeing the Zebra Man on display and then sought out the tattooist who did that work. The narrator explains the Zebra Man was tattooed by his now deceased uncle but he helped on some bits and that is how he was able to learn his trade.
Now this is where tattoo history bends to fit the fiction a bit. There was famous tattooed Zebra Man of London named the Great Omi, and he was a real man tattooed all over with wide black stripes. These were the creation of London tattooist George Burchett. Omi started out as an ordinary tattooed man named Horace but wasn't that spectacular an attraction. He had his whole body tattooed and made up a story of being captured and forcibly tattooed and, suddenly had a career. So you might presume the narrator/tattooist is the nephew of George Burchett. However, Omi was born in 1892 and wasn't tattooed by Burchett until 1927. Thus, the narrator remains a mystery.
The period tattoo technology is accurate, as is the lengthy time period it takes for the tattooist to work on Vanessa. His inks come from pigments he grinds with a mortar and pestle himself. Most medicines are alcohol suspensions, all of which have to be avoided as they as Vanessa claims she is "allergic." She turns down the tattooer's offer of laudanum for when he works on especially tender body areas, saying she cannot tolerate any alcohol in any way. The tattoo artist doesn't speak of having any tattoos himself, except for one reference to having part of a section of one arm near his elbow where he tests colors on himself before working on a customer.
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