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An Absurd Affair

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Panther, London, 1970
price: 6/- (30p); 192 pages
(first published by Longmans, Green & Co, 1961)

The blurb on the back:

The Degradation of Sarah Howard
Poor Sarah is bored. Her dear dull husband and her dear dull son are driving her crazy. She is twenty-eight and attractive, yet life is grey and uninteresting. In desperation she takes up photography - and gets a not altogether unpleasant shock. For when she borrows James Lock's developer she finds he has left in it by mistake a negative the like of which Sarah has never seen before. It disturbs her and excites her, driving her to wild fantasy and a craving for Lock himself that she finds too overwhelming to ignore. Her sensual appetite, suppressed for so long, now takes control of her. Sex becomes an obsession which finally precipitates a tragedy from which there is no escape.
Colin Spencer was educated in Brighton and attended Brighton Art College. He is one of the most multi-faceted talents to emerge in Britain since the war: novelist, playwright and painter, his work has appeared in the West End theatre and in art collections as well as between the covers of several successful books.

opening lines:
'I'm bored,' Sarah said, 'the place frightens me.' She looked at James eating hungrily and then at Robin who seemed the exact replica of James, solid, slightly fat and bespectacled.

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.

Colin Spencer


from the maker of...

Poppy Mandragora & The New Sex