An Absurd Affair
Panther, London, 1970
The blurb on the back:
The Degradation of Sarah Howard
A British married couple who have, through the joys of the meritocratic Fifties, pulled themselves up from the lower middle-class to the middle-class proper, James and Sarah find themselves in Vienna. He's an accountant with a deep fear 'that he had no real feeling for painting or music, that, in fact, he could not understand what they were about at all,' (p.37), while she's a supremely bored housewife, who doesn't much like her son and whose sense of duty isn't deep-rooted enough to survive in a new environment.
When they stumble upon a photo taken by a passing acquaintance that apparently shows an act of oral sex (heterosexual? homosexual? it's never entirely clear), she becomes increasingly obsessed with the idea that there might be something better going on somewhere. She's right, of course, but you never get the impression that it's going to work out for her, and by the time she does a runner to Italy to discover herself, you realize that effectively we're in EM Forster territory. Admittedly it's a Sixties, super-charged version, but the central theme is still the repressed sexuality of Northern Europe seeking fulfilment amongst the sweaty, earthy peasant cultures of the Mediterranean. Post-Forster, pre-Falaraki.
A curious and somewhat cynical book. The characters are convincing enough, but there's a lack of sympathy somehow, as though we're supposed to feel condescending towards their inadequacies. Which, I suppose, we are - it'd just be nice to feel some warmth as well.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 2/5
Poppy Mandragora & The New Sex