This book needs no more reviews; but I’m a compulsive reviewer, so here goes.
I’m of the generation the author writes about in this modern classic and found so many points on which I was able to connect that it was like making a visit to my early home. However, my enjoyment of the period was interrupted by events that excluded me from a lot of the freedoms of the time (No; I was in the armed forces, not in jail!).
I had obviously heard of the book and it was recently brought back to my attention by another writer. I thought it time I read the work. I’m glad I did.
At its best, literature can be formative. It’s perhaps a good thing I wasn’t exposed to the ideas within as a young man: who knows where such influence may have led me? One aspect of the book that is still relevant to a happily married man is the insight into the minds of women. Of course, this was a seminal work and much has changed, at least superficially, for women since it was written. Much of that change was probably driven by the ideas and themes covered by the book. I suspect that, had I come across the novel when younger I may well have lived a rather more wild life than I have. Whether that would have been a good or a bad thing is open to conjecture.
Erica Jong writes this novel as an autobiographical account that reads as authentic, and it does contain elements of her own life, though it isn’t by any means a real autobiography. Her beginnings as a poet are evident on every page; the language used is beautiful, evocative, full of imagery. She covers a huge range of literature in passing references and her knowledge of the world of culture and art is staggering for one so young at the time. With no internet to supply quick links and potted information, she must have been armed with her subject matter through experience and actual reading during the writing of the book. Shame so many modern novels lack this depth of personal knowledge and experience.
This is essentially the story of a young and vulnerable woman in search of herself, on a voyage to conquer her fears, which are many. It quite ruthlessly unmasks the pretentious world of the psychoanalyst and therapist; portraying these parasites as the leeches so many seem to be. There is sex and nudity aplenty, but this isn’t an erotic work; there’s no attempt to seduce the reader with her straightforward accounts of sexual encounter. Daring, unconventional, promiscuous and often superficial, these sexual adventures are often meaningless to the narrator but sometimes deeply significant. This latter becomes the case when she believes herself in love with the chosen partner. All other encounters are merely physical experiences undertaken as a means of escaping boredom, visiting revenge on a cheating partner, filling a void, or simply gathering a new experience.
This is a long, entertaining, thought-provoking and insightful read written by a woman who has been sometimes brutally honest in her narration, and I’m very glad I came across it. I suspect many men will find it a little scary and some women will be alarmed by it, but I’d say it’s a book that should be enjoyed by all adults.