Sphere, London, 1971
price: 5/- (25p); 160 pages
(first published in Great Britain by Victor Gollancz in 1969)
To No Establishment
The blurb on the back:
'A rare extravaganza in which society governed by the young forces everyone to retire at 50 and live in ... self contained ghettoes till suicide or compulsory liquidation at 65. And They has got a lot more to it than this...' - Scotsman
'The chilling and self defeating aims of the youth worshippers taken to some of their logical conclusions' - Sunday Telegraph
'Marya Mannes has written SF - in the sense that Gulliver's Travels or 1984 are Science Fiction' - The Listener
Although circumstances have forced me to release my mother's manuscript in its entirety, it is with mixed feelings that I do so for reasons that will be self-evident.
This is a neat book. Marya Mannes was in her sixties when she wrote this which presumably explains why it's a nightmare vision of a future America where 'old' people are segregated off to die.
There are clearly two major sources of inspiration. One is a modern culture in which age is no longer venerated, in which the media celebrate youth at every opportunity. This is her account of how the elderly were already being treated in the 1960s:
The poor, useless, or, more accurately, intolerably burdensome to their children were syphoned off into dingy furnished rooms until they were too feeble to rise from their beds to turn on the television set or put out the garbage. Or they were put, at the first faltering of mind or dribbling of mouth, into institutions of bleak horror where they died by inches in bare corridors looking at nothing.
Or they were put in 'nursing' homes attended by slatterns who slapped them when they cried for help and left full bedpans in their beds for half a day.
Or, used for so many years to their little grubby shelters in old tenements, they were evicted (relocated was the word) to make way for some huge white battlement of luxury apartments and put in an alien place, rootless and lost.
Were the rich much better? Oh, much, much better ... Nursing homes at $1500 a month, for only nice people. You visited them once in a while and it all looked very comfortable and clean, except for that special smell of age in the air, that close, dead smell. And your mother, who was seventy-five and very intelligent, said, 'It's so wonderful to see you, there are so many old people here, I find them so boring!' And that unbearable parting: 'When are you coming again?' (p.32)
Sorry to quote at such length - I did trim a little, but it's such a devastating critique that I wanted to do it some kind of justice.
Anyway, the story is concerned with a small group of sexagenarians who retreat into a private coastal house, and the nature of their professions indicates the other key motivation behind the novel. Because what we've got here are a writer, a conductor, a songwriter and a painter, and what we're looking at is a hatred of the degeneration of art in the modern world. It's not the most original argument, of course, but Mannes explores it with considerable intelligence and gives it a thorough airing.
The common theme to these two strands is a divorce from tradition. On the one hand, modern artistic movements make a fetish of novelty and of lack of association with the external world, whether natural or human; on the other, the celebration of youth negates the value of experience and history. And that's the focus of the book.
Unfortunately for a novel that is intended to defend the solid virtues, the storyline is less than gripping. The debate about artistic values just about keeps it ticking along, but there's not much narrative going on.
ARTISTIC MERIT: 3/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 2/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 3/5