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After Claude (New York Review Books Classics) Kindle Edition
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The first person approach is very appropriate. Harriet is very funny, very bitter, intelligent and unhappy. She clings to Claude, even though she despises him, because she seems to have no place to go. Of course he rescued her six months earlier when she returned to New York, but the poor misguided fellow seems to have attempted to turn her into a domestic asset and that was never on the cards.
This does give the (male) reader a bit of a problem. We can enjoy the jokes, and the clever observations on the foibles and the failings of friends and acquaintances, but one must be wary. Harriet is trouble and one can sympathise with Claude, boring and self obsessed though he may be, as he desperately tries to rid himself and his apartment of this annoying female.
In real life a relationship with Harriet would be very difficult but as a character in a novel we can enjoy her company for a brief time for the price of the book, and that company is great fun!
Sadly this sparkle is partially extinguished when Harriet becomes enmeshed with a 'guru' and his sect. But even in these unfamiliar circumstances she retains much of her self-awareness and her critical faculties.
Emily Prager, in an interesting introduction, remarks that the novel is 'a meditation on the ends to which an intelligent woman will resort not to use their intelligence' and sees the ending as a 'scorching lampoon of the 1970's everyone-loves-each-other gooey groupthink'. I am not so sure that it is quite so highfalutin but I have to agree that if Harriet were to be recruited to the commune then there would doubtless be trouble ahead for all concerned. I rather hope that she would revert to type, but the story ends there so I'll never know!
Harriet, the protagonist of Iris Owens's "After Claude", may be one of the most annoying literary figures you will run into. Calling her toxic, totally self-absorbed and completely free of any self-reflection or sense of irony would be an understatement. Harriet's problematic, irksome personality is revealed early on in the book and I think this will leave a reader with two options: one will either put down the book after the first chapter, never to pick it up again; or, will be totally entranced by this walking train wreck of a person and turn every page to see just what mishegosh will come pouring from Harriet's lips next. Count me among the latter.
Set in New York City in the early 1970s, the story opens with Harriet and her soon to be ex-boyfriend Claude (known to her as Claude the Rat) leaving an art-house cinema on the Upper West Side. The `bumpy ride' starts immediately and Harriet is told by Claude she will have to move out of his Greenwich Village apartment. In the week that follows we learn how Harriet came to live with Claude, why she was tossed out of an apartment by her last roommate, Rhoda-Regina, and see her wind up in a shabby room at the Chelsea Hotel (long a haven for New York's bohemian crowd including Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, and Arthur C Clarke who wrote 2001 A Space Odyssey while staying at the hotel). The story concludes with a bizarre encounter with of group of people at The Chelsea who may have been Harriet's match in terms of other-worldliness.
"After Claude" is not a book in which it is the story or plot that gives the pleasure but, rather, Iris Owens' ability to tell Harriet's story in a pretty compelling way. Told through Harriet's eyes you get a glimpse of the world as she (and only she) sees it while wincing at Harriet's inability to see even for a moment just how toxic she is being. Harriet's stream of consciousness narrative is frenetic, funny and sexually charged. At one point, while recounting the story of the disastrous encounter Harriet arranged between Rhoda-Regina and a stranger Harriet found in the adult classifieds of a newspaper she makes much of the advertiser's claim that he spoke Russian, French and Greek only to snicker when he arrived speaking only English. The joke relates to the meaning of Russian, French and Greek in the sex trade, and is funnier when one considers that Owens wrote pornography under an assumed name in Paris (Harriet as it turns out) and must surely have been intimately familiar with their meaning. The story is dotted with little incidents like this.
As noted, "After Claude" may not be for you if you don't much like the idea of a book whose main character is really an annoying wreck of a person. I couldn't resist it, perhaps because Harriet seemed to me to be a composite of every toxic relationship I've ever had and at each mis-adventure, each cringe-inducing moment I smiled to myself and thought, ruefully and not too seriously, "thank goodness those days are long over!"
I got a real kick out of "After Claude" but, as Harriet may have said, your mileage may vary. Recommended.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I reordered "After Claude," because I was trying to remember why I was so affected by her. To my horror, Iris/Harriet is everything I don't want to be. I'm horrified because I had so loved it when I was in my early 30s. What was I thinking? Where was my morals, respect for others, sense of reality. Apparently, back then I still hadn't learned right from wrong. In fact, I only made it through half the book. As I recall, there was no transformation of Iris' character Harriet. She never became a good person. I didn't care about her, so why waste another moment.
I'm a published author now, and I've learned a few things about writing and about life. This book -- and remembering how it first affected me -- has brought the old line "You've Come A Long Way, Baby" to mind. As a result, I'm going to do a total rewrite of a memoir I wrote several years ago, when I was still trying to convey how self-centered and selfish I was. And how funny I thought that was.
I enjoyed the beginning but felt the story became unwound at the end, much as she did.
Amazingly, this book was written by a woman! It's like she gave away Victoria's Secret!
Even if this does not accurately depict your ex in all ways, everyone knows of such a woman. So what is to be done with her? Other reviews have complained about the book's ending, and they're right — the narrative falls apart despite that a gratuitous sex scene is desperately thrown in — but a curious point is made. Harriet seems to find what she needs in a cult and a Charles Manson-like figure.
You'll recall that Charles Manson had a gaggle of young women following his every command, and none of them had quantum sensitivity syndrome or towed an oxygen tank behind them. So maybe your ex was a lazy slob because of your shortcomings as a man — because you lacked the motivational charisma of Charles Manson?
Not a great book, but an amusing read. The NYRB reprint features a forward by Emily Prager that is better than the novel.