January 24th, 2013

The Co-habitational Reading Challenge #2: Wrap up

So I finished *The Information* and it was devastatingly sad and grimly ironic and brilliantly written–you guys already know I love this book. I probably shouldn’t have left it to the end, but I do have to address the one really problematic aspect in the novel, and that’s the portrayal of women.

I think there’s some rumours going around about Amis being anti-woman, misogynist, what-have-you. I usually don’t give too much attention, because a good book with creditable characters and a plot that affects me is much more valuable than political correctness. And Amis *can* draw a creditable, even sympathetic and interesting female character–the problem is he chooses to draw pretty much exclusively the worst of the feminine race–Gwynn’s wife, Demi, is depressingly familiar as a sweet nitwit whose husband doesn’t respect her; his and Richard’s shared agent, Gal, is familiar too as successful striver with a desperate fear of getting fat and an unexpected slutty streak. Lizette the teenaged babysitter lives only to give her boyfriend blow jobs in cars, and Belladonna the crazed fan just has sex with anyone who asks.

Amis is usually too subtle to write bad caricatures of simplistic female ciphers. He writes fully fledged women who can imagine meeting, though you’d probably try to avoid them. The only female in the novel who seems to have a braincell and be worth talking to is Gina, Richard’s wife. Unfortunately, she is one of the least believeable characters in the novel–written as a black box, because that’s what she is to Richard, I had no idea why she did anything she did, or what she truly felt about anything else anyone did. She seemed smart, but she did some questionable things–or did Richard just think she did? Or was she a woefully inconsistent character? I have no idea, and honestly, I didn’t care at all about Gina–she wasn’t human enough to worry me, even though the narration alleges that she’s much more sympathetic than Richard.

Well, who cares, right? This is a novel about men and what they do to each other–the women are only collateral damage. A few lame female characters does not really disrupt that. The only character I can really complain about is Anstice. A vicious parody or outrageous stereotype–take your pick–Anstice is the 44-year-old administrative assistant at Richard’s literary magazine. When she takes him to bed with her, he’s impotent, but Anstice–clearly a pathetic and elderly virgin–thinks his fumbling *is* sex and talks for the rest of the novel about his “hugeness” in her. She also melodramatically plots suicide since Richard is married and cannot be with her.

And then she kills herself.

And that’s it! It!! Don’t worry that I’m giving something away about the plot, but Anstice’s suicide is utterly immaterial to anything. There’s an incidental comment that this has happened, and then Anstice is simply absent–first conveniently, then inconveniently–for the rest of the novel.

This is, of course, supposed to be evidence of Richard’s immorality, lack of human emotion and empathy. And it is, repellantly.

The problem is not that no one cares that Anstice is dead-it’s that she was never a real character to begin with. She is a spinster, as Richard thinks and comments over and over again, and so alone in the world the doesn’t even bother to clean herself or her apartment. She not only doesn’t know how sex works, she’s weirdly over-confident enough to talk about her one non-sex experience constantly. And she has other no other characteristics, interests, or associations. She’s just a weird sad pastiche of what both men and women fear most about women.

I’m sorry to go on and on about this–women truly are a small part of the novel and the actual story is populated by fascinating horrible males–the whole book is about wretched people, but I just feel the wretchedness is far more accurate and active in the dudes than in the ladies. And Anstice is a bridge to far for me.

Nevertheless, I loved the book and again apologize for ending the series with this post, which is not representative of my feelings overall. Still, it had to be said.

It was a pleasure reading with Mark, who has now moved on to a new rereading project with James Joyce’s *Ulysses.* I won’t be joining for that one, but cheering from the sidelines.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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