I picked up another of Anna Kavan's remarkable novels, The
Parson, one of the last of her books to be published and this one post
humously after the discovery of the manuscript in amongst Anna Kavan's papers
at the McFarlin Library at the University of Tulsa.
There is something other-worldly about Anna Kavan's writing and I enjoy it immensely. When I turn the final page I feel as if I've been a on a bit of an extra-terrestrial excursion and have to reground myself in my surroundings. You certainly know you've had one of the most intense and concentrated reading experiences possible and it's easy to see why Anna Kavan has migrated into cult status. She takes you deep into the recesses of the human mind and you emerge the other side slightly disorientated.
Her heroin addiction has probably helped this move into cult considerably and it's good to read anything by Anna Kavan with Jeremy Reed's fascinating biography to hand. A Stranger on Earth The Life and Work of Anna Kavan is a revealing and moving account of the agonies of Anna's life as one of the first registered heroin addicts and offers a much deeper awareness of her writing as a result.
The Parson, still published by Peter Owen as were many of Anna Kavan's books in her lifetime, recounts the unlikely and very unbalanced love story between the outsider,the gentle and unassuming but besotted army officer Oswald and Rejane, the manipulative and wealthy heiress with an acutely refined sense of her own beauty and power. Here's what Rejane thinks when she looks in the mirror,
"The love she'd always felt for her own beauty was her deepest, most sincere emotion, and for a while she was oblivious of everything but the reflection. She had no thought but the admiring wonder inspired by that lovely face, almost luminous in the dulled light, more radiantly beautiful than she'd ever seen it".
You get the feeling that Anna Kavan would like to slap Rejane and she
effectively does so within the pages of this book, because as a reader you can't warm to her even a fraction.
The Parson the story of the greatest mismatch of all time.
Anna Kavan uses the desolate setting of unnamed Northern moors to full effect.Cold and barren she invests them with a malevolence that is both sinister and increasingly malicious as the saga unfolds.With little effort on the part of Rejane, Oswald is completely seduced and degenerates from a kindly rather unassuming misfit into something of a monster. He behaves disgracefully towards Rejane for which he then suffers great pangs of existential regret.
For an acutely observed portrayal of a mind in turmoil Anna Kavan must take the victrix ludorum (I've tweaked the Victor bit because I know my Latin teacher of forty years ago is out there with her red pen)
The Parson is a perfectly pitched little novel with a huge story to tell and a book that would warrant several reads before you'd even scratched the surface.
Then turn to the life of Anna Kavan and read how she lived an existence outside the boundaries of the Arts world.A misfit and an outsider herself, sufficiently different and averse to the literary social scene and therefore looked on with suspicion and contempt by her contemporaries.Nursing a strange psychiatric history and one it's difficult to unravel from the heroin addiction, a chicken-egg situation, but whatever the conclusions Anna Kavan's psyche seems to have been all a bit of a debilitating muddle.
Last words to Jeremy Reed,
'Anna did not network or play the game because she had something better to do - write. She believed,as her sort of sensibility does, that the work should speak for itself, and in an ideal world it would...Anna herself was especially sensitive, especially vulnerable and intent on escaping nothing.Her strength lay precisely in her difference'.
Oh no, typical woman here, not quite last words, I have more Anna Kavan to read and I relish the thought and hope some of you might give her a try. Jeremy Reed doubts that Anna would have found any consolation in being rediscovered in death after so much neglect in life, but I disagree.
With the passage of time I would like to think that Anna might be quietly and humbly honoured.