Revisiting my Anne Fine novel collection is a much appreciated balm to my anxieties. Somehow, she often seems to be addressing the very problems that are besetting my nearest and dearest, and I feel I am in wise company. Along with Fay Weldon, whose writing is similar, this sisterly warmth and faintly feminist chatter soothes away the rough edges of everyday life. It also explains a lot and makes you aware that you are not alone with your fears. Everyone really has the same rat in a trap thoughts.
In 'Taking The Devils' Advice' we meet head in the air Oliver Rosen, a renowned academic philosopher, who prefers to be alone with his mental processes, even if it means squatting in a laundry cupboard while attempting to write his life story. Intriguingly, the hot pipes conduct sound and render him an unintentional eaves dropper to conversations carried on in the kitchen below, where his ex wife Constance rants and rails at her new husband Alastair, their ex gardener pre divorce, about Oliver's impossible conduct.
Their two daughters Nancy and and Bonnie are the Greek Chorus, while Alastair aka Ally suffers terribly over denied access to his young son Ned whose vindictive mother, his ex, Stella aka Ratbag torments him with. We hear from Constance and Oliver in turn as she takes to adding her two penny worth to his growing piles of memories, this volume of work is housed in a Victoria Plum pillow case for secrecy, but that trick has been quickly sussed. I loved what she had to add and felt the comments she made were so pertinent and true they should be issued as research for marriage guidance counselors, when trying to put a couple back together. They spoke to me directly and I was grateful for the truths contained within. The exasperation of daily rubbing along in an unequal relationship, the self pity pushed aside in order to survive, the wonderfully wry humour, so well written, kept me entranced.
Oliver simply cannot see what the fuss is about. He doesn't notice what others see. To him a chair is a chair, not an item that must be kept and guarded because it once belonged to an ancient relative, he can literally only do one thing at a time. It was poignant to read of his efforts to make sense of normal everyday life. Constance has thought her decisions through and reaches conclusions that make you want to lift whole passages from her responses and have them written in stone for all to learn from:
Excuse me. This is your Constance speaking. Pardon me trespassing in this pillowcase for a moment, but I have a Public Service Announcement for all of Olly's readers. it is this: 'Don't be the one to ask for the divorce'.
I mean it. It's not worth it. You think, all you lot trembling on the brink, that your spouse is going to throw a monumental wobbly, grumble a little bit whilst coming to terms, and then fold up neatly and disappear, so things will be all right. Well, you are wrong. The one who cuts the knot cannot win. It is a rule. Be warned, all shallow paddlers everywhere, the water's cold out here. Stay where you are. Enjoy yourselves. make the most of your casual little affairs, your secret passions and your odd nights off. But don't try wading out this far, you'll only be sorry. There's more lurking in these deep waters than you think. Come out no further than waist high, and I mean it. You take my word for it. Stay in your depth!'
Brilliant stuff and there's a whole book full of it waiting for you. I first read this in 1990 and I revisit it every few years, each time enjoying it properly and being thankful that women writers like Anne Fine can see through the rubbish, straight through to heart of what we want to read about. I am grateful to have my row of her contemporary fiction. It doesn't date because all this stuff happens every hour of every day and it seems like something new every time, but of course it isn't. It's hard to make a success of a marriage. Full stop.