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The utter pointlessness of everything,
This review is from: Two Serious Ladies (Paperback)
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This is a curious book: irritating, frustrating, but, once properly into reading it, oddly interesting, and then, finally - a feeling of release once finished. It follows the fortunes of two characters, the serious ladies of the title, who are acquaintances rather than deep friends .(though, to be honest, there seem to be no real relationships of meaning and emotional intimacy anywhere in the book)
At the start, the 2 acquaintances encounter each other at a cocktail party, on the eve of one of them frequently addressed by the other as 'little Mrs Copperfield' departing for a journey to Panama with her husband, whilst the second, Miss Christina Goering, is about to decamp from her rich abode, for no particular reason in order to rent a seedy dwelling out of the fashionable milieu, with 2 or 3 hangers on. The married lady is a lesbian,and is drawn to prostitutes; the unmarried one, without any particular interest, it seems, in sex, nevertheless drifts into meaningless encounters with men, and gets mistaken for a prostitute. They go their separate ways, and we follow each story. Each woman is rich, drinks heavily, is febrile, curiously rootless, weak-willed, selfish, inconsiderate, and exhausted (not to mention exhausting to the reader!). They meet up at the end in another meaningless encounter with each other. The world of the book is suffused with ennui - and yet there are enough sharply drawn moments, or moments when people come awake, briefly, before settling down back into torpor, to keep a thread of interest alive.
Like Carson McCullers, Bowles' characters are freakish, on the margins - but the lack of any real engagement, any real relationship, the utter pointlessness of the characters and their encounters becomes too much in the end. It isn't even the strong sense of life-as-meaningless-existential-unease (which at least involves a strong emotion) of existentialist writers, this is too unrelieved in its not even deeply felt pointlessness to really grip.
It seems curiously valid that the afterword, by Truman Capote, who knew the writer, should start
"It must be seven or eight years since I last saw that modern legend named Jane Bowles, nor have I heard from her, at least not directly". He proceeds to write more aboput himself and about other writers they both knew, and Tangiers, where Bowles was living at the time Capote provided this afterword to a collection of her published writings, than he does about Bowles herself. So everything about the book hangs heavy with dislocation, disconnection and a sense that it's all, really, futile. In a tired, rather than an angst filled sort of way. And yet there are these odd moments of humour, in dialogue of inappropriate formality:
On the encounter between Miss Goering and the wife of one of her hangers on:
"You're a harlot" said his wife to Miss Goering. Miss Goering was gravely shocked by this remark, and very much to her own amazement, for she had always thought that such things meant nothing to her.
"I am afraid you are entirely on the wrong track" said Miss Goering, "and I believe that some day we shall be great friends"
The scene and the sentence construction irresistibly reminded me of Gwendolyn and Cicely's tea-party in The Importance of Being Earnest. Wit is there to be found, but I found myself too easily sinking into the torpor of the Serious Ladies world to become enchanted, engaged, angry, or any other strong, dynamic response