Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Spy in the House of Love

A Spy in the House of Love
By Anais Nin

I'm a spy,
In the house of love,
I know the dreams,
That you're dreaming of.

Yet another book that left me with a song stuck in my head. Not a single page went by in this book when I didn't hum this song. I've been whistling it for days and not even my old stand-by, Paint It Black, has been able to erase this mediocre Doors song from my head. Poor Anais Nin. I don't think this was her intention when she wrote A Spy in the House of Love.

This was an avant-garde novel about female self-discovery (or self destruction, depending on how you read it). Sabina, the lead character, is a young, attractive and married woman who seems to be on a quest to seduce every attractive man within her limited world. Much of the novel reads as a confessional as Sabina speaks to someone known as The Lie Detector, a person she finds by randomly dialing the telephone. According to what I have read, Nin modeled Sabina after herself, just so you know.

Let's start right off and admit that Anais Nin is a hell of a writer and this is, all things considered, a good book. It was my first attempt at reading Ms. Nin and I'm glad I did. The trouble is that A Spy in the House of Love is not a good book for me. So please, don't let what I write sway you on this book.

I have a hard time with avant-garde books. It's not that I don't understand them (ok, sometimes I don't) but I find avant-garde books are a lot like watching old UHF television channels. If you got the rabbit ears just right and stood in the left corner of the room with your right leg stretched across the back of the sofa you could get a clear picture for a few minutes before the television gods would reset the rules and then you'd have to guess what configuration of furniture and human body would clear the picture once again. If you simply tried to watch UHF as it was, it would invariably be a cacophony of snow and static with periodic glimpses at a program buried deep within the recesses of your television set.

For the young'uns out there, back in the day, watching television was full contact. And we wore onions on our belt, as it was the style at the time.

I find the same issue with avant-garde books. If I concentrate hard enough I can focus on what is happening on the page and in the story for a page or two, but inevitably the picture scrambles again and my mind wanders off in search of other shinier things to think about (or as was often the case during this book, songs to hum). It's a constant struggle to keep the story straight when you are investing so much time in simply keeping the sentences straight.

Like I said, it's not that Nin isn't a great writer. Anyone who writes prose such as...

She smiled indulgently when he lay down on the couch preparing such floral arrangement of limbs, head, hands as to suggest a carnal banquet.

...should be applauded and praised and awarded prizes for their lucid use of English diction. It's that several sentences in a row of such dense imagery really pack a punch. It's like 7.7% beer. Seems like a good idea until you get halfway through a glass and realize you couldn't possibly get another drop down. It's too filling. Anais Nin is a sipping beer, if you pardon my mixed metaphors.

I'm a keg chugger. I enjoy six-packs and two-fours. I'm the frat boy of reading. I can't simply read a page or two of verbosity every day and feel satisfied. I need to be drunk with story. I simply cannot keep my mind focused on novels like this. It takes me three times as long to read because I often read three or four pages before realizing that I have been thinking about other things for the past three or four pages and have to go back and read them again (sometimes even a third time).

If had some success with other writers of this style, most notably Virginia Woolf's Orlando which I really enjoyed. But on the whole I should learn to avoid the avant-garde genre.


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