It's Anna Kavan time again. I'm enjoying tuning into her writing so much and having just finished her 1963 novel Who Are You? I think there is no doubt I will now have to read everything by and about her..thanks Kit at Peter Owen!
117 pages packed with a contrasting heat-laden langour yet menacing intensity that it is difficult to find comparisons for.
Recently married off by her mother to an older man she nicknames Mr Dog Head, a nameless young girl finds herself deprived of her future at a university and locked instead into an oppressive and stifling life that is white, colonial and tropical. Her husband is brutal and uncompromising and his second favourite occupation is splatting rats with a tennis racquet.
I'll let you guess his first.
There now you know what you're in for, but nothing can prepare you for the way this book just shimmers so menacingly with the tension that rises inexorably with the temperature as the monsoon approaches.It's pure volcano-in-waiting as you stagger sweating and breathless to the conclusion.
The denoument is again clever in its own way and to tell would be to spoil, but be ready to cheer uncontrollably at something ghastly but completely deserved and then shout "oh drat" a few pages later. I love books that make me shout out loud and write things in the margin.The uncertainty this ending creates is unusual and thought-provoking and perfectly matches what has gone before.
There is something intangible and compelling to my reading of Anna Kavan so far, nothing is quite what it seems but not in a dissatisfying way.
No secret then that I'm beginning to see Anna Kavan's skills as remarkable and her powers of description matchless.When you subsequently learn that she herself longed to go to Oxford but was married off in 1920 at the age of nineteen by her mother to a thirty year old engineer on the Burma Railway whose favourite hobby was splatting rats to death with a tennis racquet then you invest deeper significance into lines such as
"It's no good inventing a happy future for her, since she's always been unlucky, and always will be"
There is nothing in the least bit relaxing about this book so it may help to read it with a gin and tonic to hand and probably wise to wear loose fitting mosquito-proof clothes and switch on the ceiling fans to help cool you down.
Keep a tennis racquet to hand just in case, which reminds me...no mustn't detract from Anna again, see next post.