The Fountains Of, Neptune

by Rikki Ducornet
220 pages,
ISBN: 0771029962

The Last Of The Golden Girls

by Susan Swan
320 pages,
ISBN: 0886192234

Post Your Opinion
She Monsters.
by Anne Denoon

ALTHOUGH they are quite dissimilar in theme; style, and setting, these two novels do have a few things in common. They both explore the way their protagonists' childhood traumas reverberate in their adulthood Both reach their conclusion in the 1960s, both were written by women, and both display 'the', kind of uhabashed misogyny that perhaps only female writers can get away with nowadays.

The Fountains of Neptune is an -ornate psychological fable about, among many other: things, an orphan's search for knowledge of his dead mother. An outline of its plot - the boy's deceptively idyllic life with his adoptive parents, Rose and Totor, in France just before the Great War,: and his' painful physical and psychological reawakening after a mysterious 50-year coma can't begin to convey its atmosphere. Ducornet is a virtuoso stylist whose language, richly allusive, sometimes arcane, but almost always rigorously precise, is occasionally reminiscent of Colette's; at least when she is describing the' sensual pleasures of nature or food. Her writing also has some of the insane logic. and, subtle menace of Lewis Carroll's, for example, in 'a scene where the child, drowning, finds himself conversing with a bat and a baboon. A list of other possible contributors to the book's sensibility is thoughtfully provided at one point: "Kafka and Lao Tse, Perrault and Bachelard, Melville and Freud." But Ducornet's young hero, Nini, is most drawn to the "riotous universe" revealed in the sea faring yams of Totor and his friends. These fantastical, macabre tales unveil a world of violence and perversion that propels the boy toward an awareness of the hidden story of his parents' deaths, And then into what almost becomes a lifetime of oblivion, as he "clings to sleep as a castaway clings to a raft." It's hard to dispute the diabolical old salt Toujours-La's contention that "the worl' ish evil evil, evil beyond telling." It will be confirmed, after all, by some of the events of the 20th century that Nini is destined to sleep through, awakening just in time for Vietnam. Yet it's also dispiriting to find Evil repeatedly personified by Woman, whether in mythical form, like the sea/she mongters Bel, the Ogress, and la Vouivre, or their earthly counterparts, the sexually voracious Odille and the pedestrian malapropist Rose, not to mention the gangs of censorious crones that twice descend to shatter Nini's fragile Eden. Even Dr. Venus Kaiserstiege, the "Freudian hydropothist" who becomes Nini's would-be rescuer and third mother, adheres to a goddess/mother/ whore conception of womankind, though she herself perforce belongs, in name and deed, to the first category. Given the "intrinsically enigmatic character of everything: real, imagined and dreamed," surely an artist of Rikki Ducornet's inventive powers might have devised a less hackneyed psychic universe.

Jude, the heroine of The Last of the Golden Girls, lives in a world that is more mundane, but no less savage. At 13, she falls victim to a cruel and humiliating joke perpetrated by her two "best friends," Shelly and Bobby. Ten years later, in 1969, we meet the three again as Jude exacts a futile revenge by appropriating their current lovers. The inscrutable, hardboiled Bobby, with whom the adolescent Jude shared some sexual experiments and a blood-sisterly vow to enslave men in, their future lives, remains the true focus of her emotions.

The unattributed quotations from the poetry of Sappho that preface the novel's first two parts seem to indicate ,that the distinctly female experience of love is one of its themes. On the whole, that experience is presented as a 'rather degrading business, "a helpless, undeniable sensation of vulnerability" that also finds expression in Jude's slightly coy insecurity about the acceptability of the female body, including her own, and 4 predilection for fellatio in heterosexual encounters. In this version of the battle of the sexes, the friendly fire is the most dangerous, for the men are generally passive, mere trophies to be won. The book's major problem, however, is the character of Jude herself. It's difficult to determine whether we are meant to admire her, sympathize with her, or recognize her for the self-important, hypocritical, and deluded person shes shown to be. Despite her profession of love for Bobby, and of belief in a female God, her behaviour toward both sexes is a compendium of cat-fighting stereotypes. She's also given to statements that range from the silly to the offensive. Apparently under the impression that Marxism is a form of spiritualism, she calls it "an ideology . . . I'll graduate to one day before I die, when I am less preoccupied with worldly things," and remarks elsewhere "to an Indian paradise is the next beer." The author may have anticipated the reaction her heroine might evoke, for in part two Jude begins to apostrophize the reader as "Old Voyeur Eyes,"- claiming ungraciously that "the passive quality in your nature is the very reason you are here," that is, still reading the novel. But she seems less confident of our passivity when she insists, later, "you find you are liking this woman even though she* is not paying attention to you." Personally, I wouldn't be too sure.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us