Friday, 5 December 2014

A Spy in the House of Love

Anais Nin

I read this when I was young enough to believe that I could, if I wished, ‘be’ Sabina.  I had already devoured most of D H Lawrence’s novels and been impressed, as only a pretentious undergraduate can be, with this (or any) kind of angst-ridden literature, so I was ready for more and was inclined to believe that Anais Nin would go deeper in, as it were, and stay there for longer.

A third of a century later, I downloaded the English version to my kindle and plunged in once again.  What I found was a predictable minefield of emotion, a philosophy that had more twists and turns than an anaconda and, in between, passages that struck home with one or several blinding truths that went off like fireworks in my brain.  More!  I wanted more.  It was like sifting through sand to find diamonds, laborious but ultimately worth the effort. 

Nin is a master at proving the point that, as The Verve later put it, rather more succinctly, in Bittersweet Symphony: (we are) ‘a million different people from one day to the next…’  Sabina wrangles with her multiple personalities and endeavours to satisfy each one, all the time searching for the elusive real ‘Sabina’.

I will undoubtedly return to this book, but I will try it in French next time. The English version was chosen for its lower price tag (shameful) and in the vain hope that it might be easier to read (genetic flaw).  I have to say that it is not a bad effort, (I believe that Nin was criticised greatly for her English*) but there is an unavoidable awkwardness that jars the flow and this book needs, above all, to flow.  There were too many ‘annihilations’ ‘dispersions’ ‘fragments’ and every part of speech involving the base form ‘bleak’ (this last one must have been when even the author had had enough of Sabina’s inner turmoil and her long-way-round trip to find herself).

A richer, more natural lexical field would at least have avoided choices that are almost but not quite apt, not to mention the tedious repetition of standby, last resort words as mentioned above.  ‘Lostness’ was probably the last straw for me.

However, until I get to grips with the French edition once more, which may read better, I feel a bit of a fraud.  Even in English, the book is definitely well worth reading.

* I believe that Nin wrote in both English and French and that her books are not translations.

1 comment:

  1. Isn't it interesting how writing mannerisms can be irritating. As you say, much may have been lost or sidestepped by translation, but I'll be interested to hear if you think the original is more fluid.