Book 1 from “The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh” cycle
In our youth the idea of the future is imbued with an alluring foreboding of love, since all songs and books say love is something special, and the body is excited by the anticipation of something sweet and forbidden. Love longing is precisely what allows sometimes complete strangers to enter your life and sometimes even become a part of your life. What do we expect from love and do we then get exactly what we expect?
In this exquisitely written romantic book the author analyzes the experience of her youth in search of love. She recalls the time when the iron curtain separating Russia from the Western world was destroyed, the country stopped building socializm and tried to adopt the so-called “Western values”.
I just read the book Adèle by Leïla Slimani. In this book we see a very curious and valuable study of the nature of female sexuality.
In some ways, Adele resembles the heroine of my autobiographical cycle “The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh”.
So here’s what we read about Adèle in Leïla Slimani’s novel: “She was not hungry for the flesh of men, but for the situation itself.” The author of the book describes that Adèle, in the measured routine of everyday life, tried to feel herself in the center of men’s attention, to feel being desired, and then so that this situation would receive some kind of intimate continuation, and this her longing was especially aggravated at parties. In sex, she liked his intimacy, his hidden side. I am writing in Serious Relationship: “In sex I loved the very atmosphere of intimacy most of all, and it was unique with each partner”.
Communication, parties are boring if Adele does not feel being desired. She immediately notices all the signals from men in her direction. Watches how long men resist her advances. At the beginning of Serious Relationship, I detail how my heroine methodically and patiently seduces her boyfriend’s friend.
The second part of the cycle “The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh”. – Serious Relationship – starts like this:
“What is a man? Firstly, this is his eyes, when he staring at you more or less intensely, furtively or openly, with more or less pleasure. Then this is his penis inside you, functioning better or worse, and these more or less virtuoso movements of the penis cause in his biological master more or less self-reflection on everything that happens”.
In her novel, Leïla Slimani gives a more detailed formulation of my thought: “Men, making love, look at their penis. They lean on their hands, tilt their heads and watch as their rod penetrates the woman. They want to make sure it works. For a few seconds they evaluate the movements and they probably enjoy this mechanic, so simple and so effective”.
Just like the heroine of the novel Adèle, my heroine was afraid of loneliness. As for Adele , “she was afraid not of men, but of loneliness. She was afraid not to be under anyone’s gaze, to be an unknown, nameless, pawn in the crowd. “ This is what is told about my heroine in “I am Becoming a Woman “: “Since sitting at home was mostly boring and lonely, I did not refuse any interesting pastimes that fate offered to me. After drinking a little for courage, I used to go off on a date with some new gentleman, whom I intended to charm”.
Here’s what Leïla Slimani writes about forced women integrating into the social behavior model: “Adèle had a child for the same reason she got married. To belong to the world and protect herself from any difference from others. “ I write about the same in “Serious Relationship”: “Gradually, I really came to consider myself as an old maid … I started avoiding people who might ask me if I had already married or not … From now on, a girl of my age needed to get married in order just to increase self-esteem”.
However, Adèle is not too eager to lead just a boring family life. “She will have to find something that transcends the prosaicity that strangled her in childhood, forcing her to say that there is no punishment more terrible than family life”.
This is what I write in Serious Relationship: “Due to the pesky duty of cooking that was imposed on a woman in our society, I never wanted to get married, and besides, I was terrified by the perspective of washing diapers and hearing baby’s crying”.
So do not forget to download my book- my own exploration of female sexuality:
Today I’m going to open a little the mysterious curtain over my book “I Am Becoming a Woman” so that interested readers can get an idea of what kind of text they have the possibility to immerse themselves in.
So, in my book there is nothing invented – this is a real true story about my relationship with numerous men in my life, about how my body was trembling with the desire to surrender to every next man, and, due of my inexperience, still not quite understanding what kind of desires made me experience such a strong excitement, that I almost reach the feeling of nausea. … About my fear of loneliness and about my willingness to spend the evening with almost any man interested in me as in sexual object. About my lonely evenings, when I was sitting at home and waiting for the call of my next gentleman, going over in my mind all the words that I said to him during our previous meeting, in order to convince myself in a fit of euphoria that I did everything right and that therefore I would surely hear right at that moment a phone call from him, or, on the contrary, to remember something from my words or deeds that might have disappointed him, and by this to explain to myself why the phone was so silent all the time and that meant my current boyfriend decided to break his promise and not to call me and thereby to cut off our communication right at that moment, sowing the numerous complexes in my soul that something was wrong with me and that I was not attractive enough.
I will now quote a small fragment from the text of the book:
He admitted he would be very sorry if I “flew inside” – it was the first time I heard this strange slang expression. After having told me about his occupation – he worked … as a pimp, – a guy asked if I had a man. I answered in the negative. “Do you want me to do for you what every woman dreams of?” At that moment, I was all ears since, of course, I was eager to learn what a real woman should dream of. “I will introduce you to a foreigner, you will marry him, go abroad and see the world.” Then there was darkness, the film and his hands. He was affectionate, gentle and attentive. “Do you feel uncomfortable when you are kissed?” he guessed. “Suppose I feel good, but how should I express it?” I tried to joke in response. “You could simply look at me, and I would be pleased.” In order to cheer me up, he said, “You are just a little girl and you do not want to learn anything!”
Recently, I have been analyzing a lot of what exactly gave me the impetus, what exactly motivated me to write my story “I am Becoming a Woman”. The novel “Christine” (1952) by English woman writer Pamela Hansford Johnson is one of those books that, since having been read by me many times in my youth, influenced some part of my life after that – for example, what I was like in my 17-18 years old. Thus, the reasoning and behavior of the Hansford Johnson’s heroine influenced indirectly the heroine of my own novel.
Now, when I decided to re-read this novel in order to find out how much echoes of this text can be found in my own story “I am Becoming a Woman”, I was surprised to see a fragment from the novel “Towards Swann” by Marcel Proust as an epigraph to “Christine”, including such words:
“all this was not only experienced, thought out, kept by me for a long time, but … it was my life and it was me myself.”
Yes, I was really surprised because it was Marcel Proust and his literary style who gave me the idea of writing my autobiographical novel, and thus both names – Marcel Proust and Pamela Hansford Johnson – turned out to be indirectly related and, so to speak, “the circle has beem closed” in a way.
As we recall, critics initially found the style of Proust’s first novel unusually confusing, especially when it comes to the chronology of the events he described. Life events, sometimes rather chaotical and unpredictable, emerged in the memory of the protagonist, serve in Proust’s book only as material on which endless analyzes of “elusive sensations” are built. In his text, Proust gives very little development of the plot in terms of the amount of “action”, but at the same time, a certain impressionable young man with a fine mental organization was chosen as the main character of the novel, who perceives these ordinary and unremarkable things that happens to him in a rather sharpened manner. Therefore, on the pages of the novel, we come across literally “kilograms” of the author’s reasoning on general themes and an analysis of the elusive feelings of this young man. And all this is held together solely based on the unique recognizable author’s style and on this very analysis of the smallest sensations, plus on not too banal – and sometimes, on the contrary, even on a little paradoxical – reasoning on general topics.
As for the literary cycle “The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh”, then as for events retelling, it is built much more linearly, although from time to time I am also quite a bit distracted from the main narration – well, I am doing this like in some play the actor sometimes utters next remark, addressing not to his partner, but turning conspiratorially to the theatrical auditorium.
In my immodest opinion :), the events of my youth were much more exciting than the measured life of the hero of Proust’s novel, and besides in my reasoning I stand on the position of a person familiar with the much later and more sophisticated fruits of intellectual achievements of human civilization than Marcel Proust used in his reasoning.
As for the novel “Christine”, this is a very interesting reading, first of all, for connoisseurs and lovers of the Clapham area and Clapham Common park in London – Pamela Hansford Johnson “dilutes” the diary of her main character Christine with numerous nature descriptions in these places at various times of the year… Besides this novel is interesting as a reflection of that distant era when pneumatic mail was used in London, and electric lighting was installed in houses for the firt time… The era of popularity of Hawaiian guitars, when young people first were eager to dance in clubs of London suburbs, and later were eager to drink cocktails in bars in Mayfair … But, of course, the novel is interesting not only for researchers of the habits of Londoners in the early thirties.
Now, after many years, it was really touching for me to discover unexpectedly in the novel text those passages that I once carefully reread and which have become part of my personality. Of course, I have remembered for the rest of my life the final phrase of the novel “A stranger here, I was free,” it marked how the heroine is pleased to realize that she had long since escaped from the oppression of endless thoughts about her past. The image of Christine in some way reminded me of the very image of a girl that looms in my own cycle “The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh.“ Most likely, I became just what I was because I repeatedly re-read the novel “Christine” in my adolescence.
So, Christine is looking for her love, not knowing yet what kind of the chosen one the fate will send her. Of course, in your youth the idea of the future is imbued with an alluring foreboding of love, since all songs and books say love is something special, and the body is excited by the anticipation of something sweet and forbidden. Love longing is precisely what allows sometimes complete strangers to enter your life and sometimes even become a part of your life.
Pamela Hansford Johnson writes about the sexual side of Christine’s emotions with caution, noting that at that time (late twenties and early thirties) young people were still very innocent, and even in English there was no corresponding expression “to make love”. The author exquisitely compares the excitement of the heroine at the thought of sexual intimacy with “the fluttering of a flower in the close shackles of a bud,” and Christine, inspired by reading some love stories, imagines her wedding night in a dark room on the seashore, full of aromas flowers.
Of course, in my novel, I pay much more attention to the physical component of love than in this novel of the early 50s.:) My first book describes the habits of Russian youth in Moscow in 1987-1989.
The heroine of my novel, like Christine, is always very attentive to what exactly her boyfriend is telling her about his other women.
Following the young Christine, my heroine is sometimes vain and is fascinated by men’s age and status – indeed, what girl does not dream, for example, of an overseas prince who will take her away to the castle in his country? She is waiting with patience when, finally, cavaliers with their own cars will appear in her life. The third part of the cycle, entitled “Flirting over a Cup of Coffee”, describes the love affairs of my heroine with mature, respectable men almost 30 years older than her.
Christine feels being in love and charmed by the male charisma of the boyfriend caring for her, despite her boredom already on the second date with him and realizing that the two of them will have nothing to talk about. Later, Christine tries to convince herself that, probably, there is nothing special in the love and attitude of women towards her husband, and probably everyone has known this for a long time except her.
I will quote here the clever words spoken to the heroine of my story by one of her men about the selection of her future husband:
“Regarding vital precepts оf a wise knowledgeable man, addressed to a girl“ considering her future living ”, he advised me in any case to marry a man with a”lofty”education (he used not”high “but namely”lofty”as a joke), otherwise we would have nothing to talk about in the evenings of our future family life. “
Christine tries not to take to heart the fact that her chosen one is indifferent to literature close to her in spirit, and his ear pathologically does not distinguish melodies, although for Christine herself the power of music and memories of the melodies she has ever heard is of very great influence. For comparison, I will give a quote about the meaning of music for my heroine:
“At that time – however, and now too – my ecstasy from music was so great that as the highest form of interaction with a guy I liked I was dreaming about joint listening to my favorite music. This obsessive desire of mine is somewhat similar to the idea of the Marcel Proust hero, who was eager to admire the Gothic castles together with a beautiful girl, so that her presence would enhance his aesthetic pleasure of the beauties of ancient architecture. “
Inside Christine’s thinking there is some internal struggle all the time, and sometimes she even gets angry with herself because of feelings that go out of her mind control. In building relationships, inexperienced Christine acts intuitively and sometimes makes mistakes, which brings her a lot of problems with her boyfriend. Here’s what I write on this topic in my novel:
“When I still had no experience in dealing with men, then, finding myself in some situation together with them, I acted as some kind of instinct told me. And It seemed that this was exactly what the men expected from me. Most likely, I behaved like this according to some woman in me who existed separately from me and who had lived much longer than me. Maybe she lived by some life of my dreams and wishes or continued her existence in the memory of previous generations – in a word, it was an “archetypal woman” in me. “
Once, having come to my office room, he drew me close to him and started speaking we needed to meet, looking at me with a desire that really excited me. He was looking at me with passion, but not as a romantic young guy usually did, but as a man who knew clearly what could be obtained from a woman, and including a good idea of what he could get exactly from me. Every time he was looking at me, I felt excited as if he was climbing into the most intimate parts of my body – therefore, he seemed to have possessed me already by means of this look.
It was a quote from ” Flirting over a Cup of Coffee” (The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh Book 3) .
He sat me on a chair in front of himself and began to caress my legs, acting greedily, but still giving me time to get used to his touches. Climbing higher and higher with his hands, he was spreading my legs with irresistible male perseverance, noticing with satisfaction my growing excitement , and then skillfully caressed my womb through my panties, that made me fidgeting in my chair with eyes rolled up from pleasure. He tried to get into my panties, but at this moment I jumped up and began to resist his hands, muttering, “Don’t do that, it’s not good,” but I have no doubt that a lascivious smile was playing across my lips at that moment…
It was a quote from ” Flirting over a Cup of Coffee” (The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh Book 3)
“By the time you read these words, I probably will be gone…” In the middle of the night I wake up. I’m shaking. With a tearful grimace, I am trying to sink back into the dream saving me from reality at least for a while.
Mom, mom, don’t call me. Don’t come into my room. I do not want to eat. I’m not going anywhere today. I will lie like this under the covers, with my face turned to the wall, and sobbing. Let the tears choke me. I want to cry out all my tears.
The helpline is 999-99-33. I’ll call, this is my last hope. Once I overheard this number and wrote it down by inertia. And now the moment has come to use it.
“Girl, and did you have such a situation… When, on the contrary, you had to tell someone you didn’t need him? Although you knew you were hurting him by saying this? ” a professional psychologist asks me. She is calm. She is completely calm. “I have … ” I’m starting to remember.
A woman on the other end waits patiently. This is her job. “Well, now you see, girl! So you also had such a situation! And now you’ve kind of changed roles. So that…” So that… Don’t worry! Be happy!
Someone, – it seems, it was Alex – said in such cases you needed to take several pils of demerol at once, and then it would all be over. I will be lying on the bed, crying and imagining I will call him from the telephone box, say I will kill myself, and then take out the pills brought in advance and swallow it.”
It was quote from “Serious Relations” (The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh Book 2)
“In the search for the man of my dreams, I used the special parties called “dating balls”. Such events for youth were organized by the company called “The Scarlet Sails”, which rented assembly halls of universities and houses of culture from time to time on Saturday evenings.
Usually, before going to such a disco, I used first to go somewhere to have a little drink to get in the mood. Once I managed to go into one of the “nest of vipers” as Vlad used to put it, just near the October Field metro station. There I came to the attention of some dudes who started expressing signs of approval to me. These guys turned to have come from Sochi city.
Feeling that I was being watched, to keep my face, I ordered a little more vodka than that was needed, and, of course, there were no snacks, and this led to sad consequences… In one of the periods between memory lapses, I suddenly found myself standing in the street in front of some kind of entrance of the house where they were trying to make me enter into. As I understood, these dudes were renting an apartment somewhere nearby, and at the sight of my sociable behavior – in fact, I just wanted to show that I was really cool in my ability to drink, and there was absolutely nothing personal in it – they had the idea to drag me in there…
As a result, I got off with a black eye, but the degree of intoxication was too great to go to some disco after this, and I went to the side of my home instead and as soon as I reached my bed, I fell right to sleep at once. “
It was quote from “Serious Relations” (The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh Book 2).
Sometimes it happens so that a book comes to you at such a moment that it extremely resonates with the strings of your own soul, and then every barely noticeable hint in the text evokes a storm of emotions and tears are about to splash … It is exactly like “Upon a fiction, heavy tears I’ll weep “, as Alexander Puhkin said in his poem “Elegy” (1830)…
Reading this largely autobiographical novel by Cronin, I involuntarily recalled many other works of world literature about childhood. In general, it is always especially interesting for me to read the diary notes of a generation, refracted in the writer’s mind, telling about the youth that took place at the beginning of the 20th century … For example, the study by two friends of the fauna of the Wynton Hills, described by Cronin, reminded me of Marcel Pagnol’s childhood trilogy.
In his presentation of events, the author tries to be objective and to place accents accurately, at the same time striving both with a grain of irony to imagine how the hero looked from the outside, and not to miss the whole stream of thoughts and emotions that rushed through his head, while he was answering to his interlocutors with his meager restrained remarks.
Perhaps I will make this review rather personal since I’d like to describe my amazement when I was captured by emotions about the episode in which the “grandmother”, with the best intentions, sews a school suit for Robert instead of the worn one, using the fabric of the green lining of her skirt, and all the troubles that awaited the main character after that. And when a caring “mother” suggested that he put on his aunt’s women’s sharp-toed shoes in case his own ones would suddenly break off at the moment of perhaps the most responsible exam in his life … “The poor are not given the right to choose, my boy,” says his “dad” with some hypocrisy, the main feature of which was stinginess … In this book, stinginess is perhaps brought to the point of absurdity, but perhaps this is somehow familiar to many readers in some form, and this is especially true of the older generation in our country – Russia, accustomed to try to save extremely – even if sometimes they could well afford something more.
There is, of course, a national flavor in the book, and it is described especially vividly due to the fact that the main character was born in Dublin into a Catholic family, but then he was forced to live in a small Scottish town inhabited by Protestants – by the way, through the prism of the perception of the little hero we we learn a lot about the way of life and manners of this very town.
Summing up, I will note that we have an example of such kind of book, in which, perhaps, there are no such action events as in a thriller or in an action movie, but, nevertheless, thanks to the correctly placed accents and interesting cognitive aspect of the text, the level of the reader’s response to which far surpasses many books of sharp genres.
“There will always be someone whose view is wide enough,” it is said mysteriously at the very beginning of the novel -really, it is not yet too clear what this is about – oh, this will become obvious only closer to the end of the novel.
And after that, paragraph by paragraph, the picture unfolds before the reader of a hero’s acquisition of his memories, for the time being, buried somewhere. Acquisitions bit by bit, with the help of some stable verbal turnovers being recalled, with the help of not too recognized yet person images who for the time being do not have their own name that are poping up from memory.
He identifies Russia by seeing himself in the church, and outside the window – a snow-covered country. And I think this very combination is extremely “Russian”!
“The church is a great joy, especially in childhood. Small, that means, I hold onto my mother’s skirt … And so I soar in church, float over the priest, waving a censer, through the fragrant smoke. Above the choir – through his chants (slow waves of the choir and his own grimaces on high notes). Above the old woman candlestick and the people who filled the temple (flowing around the pillars), along the windows, behind which there is a snowy country. Russia?”
Then he finds his memories even more accurately in space – this time with the help of recalling of the images of spire and the river. I can’t help but quote this metaphorical description of the tramway movement:
“I am recalling. Tram rails on the frozen river. An electric tram making its way from one bank to another, benches along the windows … The car driver is concentrated, he is the last one to lose hope. The conductor is also strong in spirit, but does not forget to cheer himself up with sips from a flask, for the frost and moonlit landscape will discourage anyone, the conductor must remain vigorous. Sells tickets for five kopecks, rips them off with icy fingers. There are ten fathoms of water under it, a blizzard on the sides, but its fragile ark, a yellow light on the ice, strives to its goal – a huge spire lost in the darkness. I recognize this spire and this river. Now I know what city I lived in. “
And gradually this one who is recalling finds himself, feels himself, – first in space, then – in time. And most importantly – bit by bit he restores pictures of idyllic Russian life, forever lost and preserved only in the memories of those who, like him, are still alive, or … captured on paper by those who did manage to write it down.
“I try to approach the past in different ways in order to understand what it is. Something separate from me, or something I still live through?”
Honestly, keeping in mind the title of the novel – Aviator, I was afraid that it would turn out to be a text about the everyday life of some outstanding plane designer like Sergei Korolev, but my fears were not confirmed. In general, when the reader tries to understand why the book is named in one way or another, then an amazing kind of scanning of the text occurs in his mind … Of course, the theme of the aviator (really fashionable and sometimes tragic occupation for the 1910s) echoes the poem of the same name by Alexander Blok (1912). But, closer to the end of the text, we may find a quote about a wide view of the picture seen, shedding light on the mysterious phrase about the width of the view at the very beginning and, besides, on the title of the novel:
“Once in Siverskaya I saw an airplane take off from a poorly mowed field. Taking a take off, the aviator went around potholes, jumped on bumps and suddenly – oh, joy! – was in the air. Looking at the car convulsively moving across the field, no one was flying, frankly speaking, he did not expect. And the aviator took off. And there was no more hummocky field, no laughing spectators for him – the sky appeared in the clouds scattering over it and the motley, like patchwork, earth under the wings. “
The hero of the novel identifies himself with Robinson Crusoe, the hero of his beloved childhood novel … By the way, the very book that his grandmother read to him when he was ill, listening to it through the sur of his fever, it is difficult to imagine something more idyllic. That’s right: he is now Robinson Crusoe, because he was left completely alone, he was cut off from the world of which he was a part, and he was deprived of the opportunity to build a boat to get on it to the “Big Earth”.
So, all that remains is to remember and try to write down as many of your memories as possible.
“There is no point in writing about any major events … Descriptions should concern something that does not take place in history, but remains in the heart forever.”