Meanwhile two reviews, both of them my rare hostile ones,
GREED by Elfriede Jellinek
(Serpent's Tale 340 pp. £15)
reviewed by Roz Kaveney
Some books are so virtuous that it hurts. They sing out how virtuous they, and their writer, are in every laboured sneer at consumerism, environmental degradation and, crypto-fascism to an extent that makes dislike for the actual process of reading them seem sinful even to those of us thus inclined. Elfriede Jellinek is a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature - at least one member of the Swedish Academy objected to her winning on the grounds that she was too depressing - and has impeccable politics.
GREED, though, is a distinctly joyless book which may arouse admiration, but never pleasure, with its tale of how a small-town policeman seduces women and destroys them, often to obtain their land, but equally often for its own sake. Anyone looking for deep psychological insight into the processes whereby men destroy women is not going to find it here; for Jellinek, women who are vulnerable are weak in their core, and there are male predators out there who will find and kill them, and that is all there is to it. This has happened before; it will happen again - Kurt Janisch is so typical a destroyer that much of the time Jellinek only refers to him as 'the country policeman' - this is a novel about types rather than characters.
Because it is so much about types, the use of what at first sight seems to be stream of consciouness to tell how Janisch seduces and blights a dim young girl and a cleverer, but still doomed, middle aged woman incomer is paradoxical. We are not being given privileged insight into the minds of individuals so much as constructions of how a particular sort of person thinks, a construction which regularly sidetracks itself into editorials about the degradation of the environment by the rapid suburbanization of the countryside. GREED is a book which some people will find bracing and others abrasive; it tells us, rather than showing us, a devastitingly bleak view which some, but far from all, will admire, and others will consider hoplessly far away from what they look for in the novel. and
RED VELVET SEAT : Women's writing from the first fifty years of cinema
edited by Antonia Lant with Ingrid Periz
(Verso 872 pp. £24.99)
reviewed by Roz Kaveney
Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo shows us what cinema was for the first generations of women film-goers, an escape from the unbearable into electrifyingly sensuous dreams. The problem with Antonia Lant's literate and thoroughly researched collection is that it is, for the most part, writings by women intellectuals sufficiently busy carving a space for themselves to think and write in that they could not relax into the plush comfort of a cinema seat without anguishing over whether they were letting themselves relax into tawdriness and torpor.
One of the defining characteristics of much, if not most, of the writing here is a patronizing attitude towards other women content to have Hollywood and its European equivalents feed them with the heady richness of fantasy. It is perfectly understandable why this should be the case, but several hundred pages of it tries the patience, especially when Antonia Lant will give us so much of the context of the pieces while giving us so little of where that massive condecension, and sense of entitlement to condescend, came from.
Her decision largely to exclude fiction means that some attempts to build a bridge of empathy between women who create or critique and women who consume are lost from view. She also tends, in large part, to neglect the experience, much of it part of the literature, of the women who helped create those dreams, not only as directors, but as actresses and designers. It is deeply worrying that this is a book whose index has some twenty references to Dorothy Richardson and none whatever to the highly articulate Louise Brooks; Lillian Gish is one of the few actresses given her own voice here.
Of course there is much here to treasure - pieces of whose existence one was unaware, like Colette on the voluptuous appeal of Mae West or Lotte Reininger on the spooky aesthetics of cinema's game of shadows. This might, indeed, have been a better book had it been far lighter; the disproportionate attention Lant gives to critiques of cinema-going by problematic 'reformers' like Marie Stopes distracts from the highlights and irritates the reader.
And now to write my second 500 words of the day. I seem to be about to invent something called a Flat Ogre: I wonder what that is.