Saturday, March 13, 2021

My Friend Says It's Bullet-proof

London: Virago, 1989, c1967.
224 p.

I need to remind myself more often that English novels from the 60s don't agree with me. I read this one because it was in my Virago collection on my shelf, and because it's set in Canada, most unusually. However, while there was a fair bit of interest in it, it didn't quite satisfy me. 

It features Muriel Rowbridge, a woman who is having an existential crisis about her life as a woman, due to having breast cancer and having one breast removed. This is a major deal for her, causing her SO MUCH distress and difficulty. I guess it's the time period that makes this into such a major trauma; it seems like it is destroying her ability to exist in the world. 

She's a journalist, and has been sent on an unexplained press junket to Canada with a group of male journalists - her beat, of course, is for the 'women's pages'. She slacks off though, and skips out on many of the press events to go off on drives and outings with a man she met the first night in Canada. Of course she ends up having an affair with him although it happens rather suddenly and instantly and there's no real explanation of how or why this comes to pass so quickly. 

While nowhere is named in the book, besides Montreal, it seems clear that she's travelling around the Montreal and Ottawa areas. She goes out to the country, to a lake, to small roadside cafes and so forth. It's quite a realistic setting in that way. 

The question she's grappling with is whether to stay in Canada with this new man and start over again, or return to England and deal with the end of her relationship with the married man she's been living with and all her old surroundings and their expectations again. Should she run away from her past, or face up to it as a new person? Mortimer really digs into Muriel's inner monologue thanks to her journalistic habit of writing everything up; we get to see the evolution of Muriel's thoughts and feelings. It's a good basis for a story, but it felt far too louche, vague, and 60s for my own tastes. 

I've read a number of titles from the 60s, by English writers, over the last while for the Century of Books, and I don't know what was going on exactly but they are all pretty dark on the subject of women's agency in their own lives. I haven't really enjoyed many of them at all. I'll have to try some titles from another place and see if that 60s feel carries over outside of England. 

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