We went away to Port Fairy for five days after Easter. Both of us tired, neither of us intending to do much. Nothing much actually involved a great deal of eating (having breakfast late, out, going to the pub for tea, buying those packs of posh ice-creams from the supermarket) and walking (there’s a whole other post on walking to be written, especially as I’m currently reading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, which is about just that) and reading.
I never know quite what reading mood I’ll be in when I’m on holidays. It can be crime thrillers or bestsellers-of-yesteryear or that classic I always meant to read or the latest in heavy-reading literature… I have taken a mixed half-dozen good, interesting, well-reviewed novels and non-fiction books away with me for a four-day bush retreat… and in the end, resorted to the tatty and ancient mass-market paperbacks other guests had left on the shelves. It’s hard to tell. But this time I picked four winners.
Here’s one of them:
I only know Paula Fox as a children’s author – The Slave Dancer is the book that comes to mind – and I didn’t know she also wrote for adults. This is very adult.
The Brentwoods, a wealthy, cultured New York couple – Otto is a lawyer and Sophie is a translator – seem to be living the perfect life in their elegant apartment. And then the stray cat she’s been feeding bites her – and everything goes downhill from there. Small but unsettling events pile up. Rubbish, vomit and excrement threaten to engulf their street. Friendships waver, fray, fracture. Violence seems to simmer under the surface. Their Long Island holiday house is vandalised and Sophie is obsessed with the fear that she may have contracted rabies. Sounds weird? It is. Odd, funny, frightening, and elegant.
It was published in 1970. The social disorder and disruption of the 1960s forms the ominous background to the novel. Here’s what one character – he’s Otto’s only just ex-partner in the law firm; unlike Otto, he’s wanted to represent the blacks, the underprivileged, minorities, the poor – says to Sophie:
“You don’t know what’s going on,” he said at last. “You are out of the world, tangled in personal life. You won’t survive this…what’s happening now. People like you…stubborn and stupid and drearily enslaved by introspection while the foundations of their privilege is being blasted out from under them…”
My other great picks were: