Friday, 12 May 2017
Author: Mai Zetterling
Year of publication: 1966, Panther Edition 1968
Back cover blurb: 'we live in the mind of a teenage boy - the macabre, grotesque nightmare of his memories: sexual obsession with his promiscuous mother; the ageing aunt who shares his strange cannibalistic games; the great luxurious house that envelopes them like a womb - or a morgue... And in the present there's the beautiful Mariana, his one hope of rebirth. But first he must exorcise his past, so they enter the human hell of the night games - humiliating, degraded, profane...
MAI ZETTERLING, the Swedish actress and film director, astonished the world with her first outrageous novel, and then turned it into an outrageous film - hailed, damned and the first to be censored at the Venice Film Festival.'
I met Mai Zetterling once, when I was fourteen. It was at the premiere of the film version of Roald Dahl's The Witches, directed by Nicolas Roeg, which was held at the prestigious location of the newly-opened Cannon multiplex at Ocean Village, Southampton. Zetterling, who during the fifties and early sixties was a stalwart of British film, adding a touch of Swedish sophistication to many a potboiler, played the grandmother in it, and I had come second in a short film competition with my existential super-eight meisterwerk, The True Face. That there were only two entries in total is neither here nor there. Anyway, after receiving my plaque, Zetterling introduced herself and explained that she was an actor and filmmaker and suggested that perhaps one day I would follow in her footsteps and become a professional filmmaker also. This, of course, did not happen. Well, you know, with one thing and another... I'm sorry, Mai. It's just not the way my life panned out. Please forgive me, Mai. Why can't you forgive me? Get out of my head, Mai. GET OUT OF MY
Zetterling did not mention that she had also written a novel, which she had then adapted into her first feature film as director. I did, nevertheless, go on to write a couple of novels myself. Is that enough for you, Mai? Is that enough? WHY ISN'T THAT ENOU
The novel, like the film, is a bit much. While the film version is like watching Fellini, Bunuel and Bergman put through a mangle (John Waters is a fan), the novel is similarly excessive, with every detail thoroughly mined for psychodramatic effect as we examine a man's fucked-up childhood memories of his sexy mother, which overall is quite exhausting. Nevertheless, that someone so established in one field would throw caution to the wind and do something quite this barmy in another is to be celebrated. It is the type of novel Martine McCutcheon one day needs to write.
Random paragraph: 'Our cover is, I suppose, not unoriginal, though at first I don't approve of it. Our atrocious efforts are bound in pubic hair. Myself rather taken by textures, I will reluctantly admit that it is a pleasant thing to handle - though in the end becoming rather goatlike and cheesy in a locked drawer. But Albin says it is such an agreeable pastime to hunt for it that I haven't the heart to deny him this one small pleasure.