Sunday, 8 January 2012
Author: A. Alvarez
Year of publication: 1974, Penguin edition 1977
Back cover blurb: Hers, A. Alvarez's first novel, is a story of sexual jealousy and one woman's icy pursuit of self-knowledge. Julie's affair with a young student brings her face-to-face with her own sensuality, and forces her to rediscover her war-torn childhood in Nazi Germany. The ensuing drama is told with memorable force, written with all a poet's sensitivity and visual effect.
Quick flick reveals: Here we enter an exciting sub-genre of 'lost' books for the first time, this being 'heavy literary fiction made to look more fun by sticking a naked woman on the front'. (I suspect the lady in the charity shop I bought this in did not approve. She did not offer me a bag. She was offering other people bags.) Although mainly a Seventies thing, Atomized by Michel Houellebecq sported a neat 21st Century upgrade of this trend on its British cover.
As you are all no doubt aware, Al Alvarez is an esteemed poet and critic, and was tied up in that whole Sylvia Plath/Ted Hughes business, something that earned him the honour of being played in a film by someone who would then go on to be in Mad Men. Hers is his first novel. Flicking through it, it looks like one of those novels about the tormented inner lives of slightly posh people that made J.G. Ballard want to write about having sex with a blender in a tower block lift (or something). Having said that, there's every possibility it might be good, albeit maybe a bit of a period piece, so on to the to-read pile it goes.
Random paragraph: Usually it was he who made the advances, she who held off in distaste or fatigue. Now his dulled and obstinate passivity puzzled her and frightened her a little. And that, in turn, was vaguely exciting. She knelt down by the bed, pulled off his underpants and put his limp cock into her mouth, inhaling the musky, private smell. He didn't move. She worked deftly away on him, licking, sucking, fingering, until he gradually began to harden.