In times of frustration I prefer reading memoir. Other people’s complicated, potentially miserable, lives perk me up. I’ve been reading a fair amount of memoir, two of particular interest, lately.
Girl on the Net is not a misery memoir. I actually bought it because somebody called BookCunt had reviewed it, calling the book the ‘thinking woman’s filth’. Who can resist such an accolade from a person who calls herself that?
The problem with many memoirs (I know because I teach a memoir course) is that they frequently don’t have a plot. Girl on the Net gets round this problem by chronologically describing each of her lovers, from one to about thirty eight. Number eight gets about half the book devoted to him; number 24 to 28 get about a paragraph each. Such is life when it comes to our exes.
From BookCunt to Hilary Mantel. (I didn’t think I could get both those names in a single sentence, but I managed, admittedly with strain.) Mantel named A Notable Woman: The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt her Book of the Year in New Statesman. Mantel says: “…it’s a life seen from the inside, of a romantic, clever, mostly unsuccessful woman…For reasons that defy analysis, it is wholly absorbing and deeply entertaining.”
Maybe it’s entertaining partly because one has a real sense of reading something illicit. Pratt started a journal at the age of about 15 and kept going throughout her life, producing over a million words. They’ve only been published now, sixty years after her death. You’re really get the feeling you’re reading something private, although I’m sure she frequently imagined a reader, as most diarists do.
But what struck me the most is that the two memoirs are very entertaining to read consecutively, because they show you the wildly successful effects of feminism for certain women living in certain parts of the world.
Whereas Pratt, in about 1925, bemoans wearing glasses (“But there is still something lacking – just a boy. To take me to the pictures, to be teased about, to write me letters, to dance with me, to sort of fill Leslie’s place. But I must be patient. I know it’s my glasses, always has been. Leslie said once, ‘I suppose you’ve got to wear glasses? You know, without pulling your leg, you’re a pretty girl.’”), Girl on The Net revels shamelessly in her perversions, of which there are many – and enjoyably varied.
If you want to go between Japanese fetish sex clubs and the meanderings at the Tennis Club (“No one at the club cares where I go or not. It is too large for me – I fit in nowhere. I cannot somehow play tennis well enough to arrest the attentions or kindly regard of the upper sects. The bright young people boss me.”* – maybe because
she doesn’t wear her glasses?), I recommend these two memoirs. There’s something intriguing about reading a memoir that seems to converse with, even answer, another book, despite the fact that the authors are separated by so many decades.
* Yes, yes, it’s a bit like the lit scene.