Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 23. September 17, 1968
[Norma Meacock: Thinking Girl, a novel. Reviewed by Jan Walker]
This first novel of a woman involved in the English intellectual-literary contemporary scene uses all the 'right' points of departure but fails to draw the necessary links between them. Her novel becomes studded with names, references and events but the originality, the interest, the substance which should have been between this name-dropping is not there.
Her novel begins "Tell me about Wittgenstein, I begged," and ends with the observation that there are, "No Nijinskis in the ethical class." Yet this intellectual snobbery cannot disguise the flaws in this novel. It is the story of a rather off-beat girl who lives in London, her lovers, her literary and political affiliations, her marriage and subsequent acceptance of her role as wife and mother. Norma Meacock allows herself to dominate her book, so that only her own views and character are ever explained and it becomes plainly autobiographical at least so far as a young bohemian girl in London would like to imagine herself.
She is the wife of Peter Fryer (Mrs Grundy and Private Case, Public Scandal); Klaus the hero of Thinking Girl is a thinly disguised Peter Fryer even so far as being involved in sexual research at the British Museum. He is quoted from his research on this subject: " 'From Guilford' he said 'Infused on the door of a public convenience:
It's no use standing on the seat
The crabs in here can jump ten feet' "
Her sources are acknowledged in the first chapter, when Jockey, a man she has met at a rather contrived demonstration asks her what she does:
"I told him 'I write, you see but not fiction. Stories are carpets; they hide the floor. I keep a note book,' 'Like Doris Lessing?' he ventured. 'Like Simone Weil' I retorted."
—" 'I would've thought,' he hazarded, 'that Sibelius has all Beethoven's faults and none of his virtues.' 'He has them,' I replied, 'so thoroughly that they are virtues.' "
— "She [Ivy Compton-Burnett] creates a world,' I said, 'where grotesque malevolence underlies human relations.' 'Our own;' he suggested. 'There's no one-to-one correspondence between art and life' I said."
— " 'I go sometimes to Antonioni, Bereman, Fellini, I told him." In Paris I saw The Andalusian Dog. Most people gasped and turned away when a razor sliced an eye. The surface held for a moment, then collapsed and jelly bulged out of it! "
— " 'Do you go to exhibition? Have you seen the Kandinskv exhibition? What do you make of it?' Silence. I was nonplussed. 'I don't know,' I said. T have trouble generalising.' "
Norma Meacock is at her best when she is describing with some humour her sexual adventures; her lesbian relationship with Girly, her attempted seduction by Aaron the eighty year old sculptor, her lonely landlord, randv doctor, her lover and husband. Her adventures have the certain, inevitability of de Sade's Justine, but she identifies more with the spirited Juliette. Her marriage, the birth of a child, the poverty and her husband's subsequent affairs break down her individuality. She becomes the wife rather than the "other woman", the betrayed rather than the betrayer and learns to accept the restraint on her freedom. She marries out of frivolous indecision; she wants to retain her marriage for good ordinary bourgeois reasons. Hut none of these relationships are understood or analysed: all we have is the product of a feminine sub-culture.
Norma Meacock: Thinking Girl, a novel. Neville Spearman, London, 1968. $2.80. Reviewed by Jan Walker.