E- Going for a
Fay Weldon’s latest novel is aimed squarely below the belt, as she told Philip Parr.
‘This book is just an exercise in phalloeentricity, something which interests me — a kind of answer to . men’s preoccupation with the size of women’s breasts. That is something over which the woman has no control and equally men have no control over the size of their dicks, dongs, willies or | whatever you call them. It is seen as perfectly legitimate to admire women‘s bodies. so we should be equally free to admire or discredit the male organ.‘
Fay Weldon‘s latest novel, Life Force is indeed phalloeentric —‘ revolving around the member of Leslie Beck or. as he is christened in the novel. ‘Leslie ofthe Magnificent Dong‘. Weldon landed on that particular term, she thinks, because ofa childhood obsession with Edward Lear‘s poem ‘ ‘The Dong With The Luminous Nose’; it was only a matter oftime before it became the central feature of one of her works. And what a feature — ten inches of manhood which the four leading female characters in Life Force are unable to resist.
‘It‘s basically a story about domesticity.‘ says the
" i I I ‘
author. ‘about a group of people who are focused on their personal lives and really have not much interest in anything else. They were all normal people until Leslie Beck came along and they all went bananas. Some men have the power to do this. but most just play their part in middle-class
f suburbia. 1 keep thinking ofone passage. “having
dongs ofconventional size. confines them to living their lives within the broad norms ofwhat seems
Weldon explains Beck‘s unusual power over
women with the same relish which characterises the unfolding ofthe story in the book. The tale is
told by Nora. the least glamorous ofthe group of yuppie friends who are all drawn to Leslie‘s
5 ‘charms’; apart. that is, from when it is narrated by = Marion. gallery owner and the mother ofone of
Leslie's offspring. Flitting from one narrator to the other epitomises another Weldon trait, that of playing games with the reader.
‘l‘ve been to one extreme.’ she says, ‘talking to “dear reader" — a sort of fictionalised me speaking. So you might as well take it one step further: having a formal narrator. then disclosing that in fact it‘s not — it’s being written by somebody who is biased. who has her own opinions. What you are doing is indicating to the reader the dangers of reading fiction.‘ And playing games with the reader. . . ‘Oh yes. and with any journalist who should ask me about it.‘
This is Weldon playing the enigmatic author again — a trick she seems unable to resist in her books or in real life. Having written the book as an autobiography virtually all the way through. she throws in one almighty twist in the closing pages.
‘l didn‘t know that was going to happen but it was such a reliefwhen it did.‘ she admits. ‘You just go into a real writing mode and the ending comes to you. Usually it‘s all rather fast and probably I should go back over the end bit but I can never be bothered. . . Well, it‘s not that 1 can‘t be bothered. it‘s. “here is the solution and that's it". You rely on your unconscious to come up with something. I write by hand - you could never do this sort of thing on a computer because you wouldn't have these piles of scruffy paper moving up into the air and producing their own conclusion. The difficult bit is getting started, the rewrites are fun. and the end is exhilarating. At least. it is if you know how to do it.‘ And have you always known how to do it? ‘Oh yes. always,’ she says, making sure that the enigmatic twinkle in her eye is clear for all to see.
Life Force is published b y Harper Collins at £14. 99.
Fay Weldon ’s collection of short stories. Moon Over Minneapolis, is now available in Flamingo paperback at £4 . 99.
[- Broad church
‘We should always be questioning tradition and structure because they themselves are not liie —they’re meant to hold liie. lithey’re no longer doing so, it tile is bursting out oi them, they need to go.’
‘The change now is seeing homosexuality and the ieminine and the masculine not as separate things in little watertight boxes, but as very much a part oi the whole oi my being.’ ‘I‘m an earthy woman! The ilesh is very important ior me . . . I have not renounced my body-I am my body- and I have not renounced my sexuality, no way!‘ ~
‘There are two things I’ve done over the past iive years which have helped me . . . (one) is the colourtesting where you discover ii your skin and hair colouring suggest that you should wear colours loosely described as spring, summer, autumn or winter. And since I’ve discovered that I am a spring, with
Nuns unveiled: challenging the stereotypes
a wing into winter, I have been able to walk into shops and know exactly what I should and should not buy.’
‘I don’t believe God is especially interested in religion.’
Few people would guess that any oi these statements were uttered by nuns; iewer still that all oi them were. Each, however, is taken irom one at the ten lite-stories which make up Unveiled: Nuns Talking, a new book by Mary Loudon, in which women living a religious lite describe their own experiences in their own words. ‘Nuns are synonymous with guilt, girls’ schools run by the iierce or repressed , and endless jokes about sex,’ Loudon
writes in her introduction. ‘Either that, or they are patrons oi the poor and sick who light up dark lives with their gleaming sense at purpose.’ And while the initial impetus tor Unveiled arose irom personal reasons — at eighteen, the agnostic Loudon iell in love with an Anglican priest, and went to talk to a local nun about her uncertainties - it gradually developed into a desire to challenge some oi these stereotypes. ‘People who’ve seen the book so iar have been absolutely bowled over by the iact that these people are human belngs— it’s that basic,’ says Loudon. ‘I was, too; at eighteen, i thought they were a load oi irustrated losers as well, which they’re not. What they also are not is incredibly wonderiul, articulate, whole, totally happy people, because nobody is. They have great strengths, great qualities, and also great weaknesses; they’ve had great pain and great struggle in their lives and
The women in Unveiled include both Catholics and Anglicans, living in both enclosed and apostolic -open - communities, ranging in age irom 36 to 76. Among them are an ex-ballet
dancer and an ex-consultant anaesthetist; those who now have jobs include an AIDS counsellor, a silversmith and a ioster mother. The iactual details which emerge as each tells her story, oi a litestyle so radically diiierent to what most oi us know, are iascinating, oi course, but the real power oi the book lies in the utter honesty and rigour oi the ongoing soul-searching (literally) each woman describes. Even as a total unbeliever myseli, I iound the amount oi heartielt, clear-sighted optimism and, yes, love, in these testimonies intensely moving. ‘Spendlng a lot oi time with people who had very strong convictions was a very energising thing, it was lovely,‘ Loudon says. ‘And the people with the deepest convictions were the ones who asked the deepest, most penetrating, most obvious questions, and they keep asking them, keep looking — I iound that very exciting, to meet women in their 70s who were still looking, and were going to look until the day they died.’ (Sue Wilson)
Unveiled is published by Chatto and Windus at £9.99
The List 31 Jul} — 13 August 1992 63'