June is a by-the-book sort of woman. She’s straightforward. She knows what she wants. Not particularly satisfied in love, but also not particularly bothered enough to do anything about it, she gets on with her life in Glasgow.
Then one day a series of odd events leads her to a literal hole-in-the-wall of a shop where two women offer to make her something one-of-a-kind. In leather. June doesn’t wear leather, but something about the place speaks to her. While looking at the album of patterns she may choose from, a photo slips out—it’s come from the ‘other’ album. The one for customers with more specific tastes.
The woman who runs the shop has noticed June staring at the photo, though…She knows just what this by-the-book woman really needs.
Harry (Harriet, really) was supposed to be a boy. No one was happy she’d turned out to be a ‘gel’ as they pronounced it in their educated English accents. But she was determined to be quiet and good, as that’s what her mother wanted and what her mother paid her nurse to make her into. The nurse accomplished this by delivering pain in smacks and nips.
Harry develops rather an appreciation for pain from an early age and tries to get her classmates to dole it out at her boarding school. Some people simply don’t wish to play nice, though.
Then there is Senga—she runs the leather shop that arranges other sorts of services for certain clientèle. She’s had her own share of nonsense in life, as most people have.
And finally, poor, put upon Donalda. She, the dressmaker and general yes-woman to Senga, does what she is told.
Something Leather is thirteen chapters—the first and twelfth set up and tie up the majority of the action. The middle ten are stories about the background—the lives of the characters—of the four women in the first and twelfth chapters. The thirteenth carries on from where the climax of the twelfth leaves off.
The stories felt very different from one another, which, at first, I thought was because the characters each came from different class backgrounds and had different personalities. Then it turned out Gray had reworked several of his plays to use as short fiction. One story was from one play, another was from another, etc.
Another tidbit, which—like the above information—comes from the Epilogue, titled Critic Fuel, was that he wrote it after a conversation with Kathy Acker wherein she asked if he had thought about writing about a woman and he said no. ‘That was impossible because I could not imagine how a woman felt when she was alone.’
He goes on to describe later seeing a woman in a leather outfit just, as we would say now, working it. And he suddenly got a glimpse of how a woman would feel when she was alone.
In the epilogue Gray also says the title would have more aptly been Glaswegians, which is true. It’s much more about a plethora of humanity living in Glasgow during the 1990s and four of them engage in S/M orgy in one (very nice) chapter, with some non-consensual spanking (the spanker is the non-consenting one) in an earlier scene in the book.
Something Leather is an odd little book. If you’re only looking for the sexy/naughty bits read Chapter 12: Class Party and maybe Chapter 13: New June. The Epilogue also had some interesting insights into what Gray considered doing with some of the characters and plots at different points.
It’s more of a character study than about plot, though some weird occurrences…occur. To some weird people.