This is the sort of book that crawls into your heart. I read the first half of it on the train up to see my family for new year and I arrived inexplicably on edge; it took me a few minutes to realise I had to blame Spark. When I’d finished I put the book down like something too hot, and kept on reflecting on it for a while as I drifted off to sleep.
One thing I reinterpreted retrospectively was the reason for Spark’s flat-toned foreshadowing. She was really playing with the concept of authorship at a moment when the possibility of autonomy was becoming increasingly available to women. I don’t think I agree with John Lanchester’s reading at all. I don’t think the story expresses a horror of modernity itself, certainly not of emancipation, sexual or otherwise. My interpretation is that the story explores a particular flavour that modernity can give to alienation, and also perhaps satirises the backlash against feminism during the period. Lanchester seems to lack all sensitivity to these potentially radical possibilities.
What most puzzled me was deciding what depth, what quality of sympathy I need to have with Lise. The tension I feel is between Spark’s play on patriarchal literature’s habit of mounting to a heroic climax in which the loser is vanquished, and Lise’s rebellious co-writing of her own text (for the incidental, the hindrances, are Spark’s, aren’t they? That three men attempt to rape Lise seems to me to express frustration at just how difficult it has been for women to wrest control of their lives, their subjectivities, their texts.