Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Spy In The House Of Love, by Anaïs Nin

(pb; 1959: fourth volume in Nin's five-book "continuous novel")

Review:

Sabina, a neurotic thirty-year old European woman, feels trapped on Long Island while she waits for her husband (an "equable" Alan) to return from his work-travel in New York City.

She staves off -- exacerbates -- her insomniac frustrations by sleeping with other men, then immediately fleeing if they begin to become too real, too human, for her.

Her lovers include: Phillip, a handsome singer who's sick of the love hunt; Mambo, a nightclub owner, who wants a calm, caring wife; John, a young pilot who's haunted by the hijinks and grotesqueries of war; Donald, an effeminate Momma's Boy; and Jay, a successful, no-bulls**t ex-pat painter, who's just returned home from France.

These men briefly provide thrilling distractions from her head-tripped, empty life and self. They provide her chances to try out different aspects of her personality, or varying "roles."

Alan, her peripheral husband of ten years, is merely a thirty-five-year-old father-figure, who accepts her transparent lies (regarding her affairs) while soothing away her histrionics.

All the while, she's being watched by a nameless "lie detector," a cipher-man she "accidentally" called late one night.

Sabina's garrulous affairs and restlessness could easily be soap operatic hack-work, but in Nin's hands, it's an examination of a woman who is trying to find herself, but then shies away from that knowledge when she realizes she might discover it: she enjoys the thrill of her tail-chasing too much to abandon its circle-rush.

Nin provides an effective counter-balance to Sabina's slutty gabbiness with shrewd psychoanaltyical observations, sometimes given by an omniscient outside voice. The rest of these observations are voiced by other characters, like Jay, or Djuna Barnes (the main protagonist in Nin's The Four-Chambered Heart).

Nin also shifts, here and there, from past tense to present tense. Some readers may be put off by that, as well as Nin's favoring eliptical moods and phrases in order to maintain Sabina's chaotic mindset, and the nebulous feel of the novel.

Solid work from a distinctive author.

Followed by Seduction Of The Minotaur.

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