Anyway, while dusting my wife's bookshelves last week I came upon the 1994 paperback edition of Nin's 1959 novel, A Spy in the House of Love. If the advertisements in the back are any indication, the book was marketed exclusively to women, but, I am, you know, open-minded like, and early this week I read the 166 page novel.
Sabina lives in New York City with her loving husband, Alan. Sabina leads Alan to believe she is an actress, that she is with a theatre company that performs in New England. In fact, during these absences, as well as at other times, Sabina is with one or another of her lovers, in Manhattan, up in Provincetown, or over in Long Island. These lovers include Phillip, an opera singer, Mambo, an Afro-Caribbean mathematician and drummer, and John, an RAF war veteran who suffers from survivors' guilt.
Sabina is unable to find satisfaction with one man; she is driven by a desire to experience all the world has to offer, she aches to live more than one life, be more than one Sabina. With each of her lovers, Sabina plays a different role, leads a different life, is a different Sabina.
A Spy in the House of Love is more of a character study than a story; there isn't much plot. I sort of expected the ending to show Sabina either achieving her freedom, abandoning guilt and learning to enjoy her promiscuity, or, giving up the life of a "spy" and learning to love the man who loved her the most sincerely and generously, Alan. Instead, the ending of the book is surreal and I didn't quite get it; Sabina gets long-winded advice from two mysterious mentor characters, then she listens to Beethoven and then, apparently, keels over. Maybe this is just a symbolic death?
I expected the novel to include explicit sex scenes, like, say, Henry Miller's Sexus. There are in fact no such scenes.
The book is full of metaphors; presumably some readers will embrace them while others find them ridiculous. Here is a sample, from pages 50-51, describing the aphrodisiac qualities of what Nin calls "Debussy's Ile Joyeuse" (apparently this is an unconventional spelling):
The model notes arrived charged like a caravan of spices, gold mitres, ciboriums and chalices bearing messages of delight setting the honey flowing between the thighs, erecting sensual minarets on men's bodies as they lay flat on the sand.There are lots of odd, clever bits that I liked. Sabina's guilt drives her to talk, to confess, so she sits in bars and tells exotic stories to people for hours, leaving vague whether they are tales from her own life, or from the lives of friends, or just things she read. She so needs to unburden herself that she will telephone random numbers late at night and talk to absolute strangers. One of Phillip's hobbies is making his own telescope, even grinding his own lenses. He hangs an open umbrella from the ceiling of his apartment over his half-finished telescope, because the running of the children who live upstairs rains plaster dust on his delicate lenses. Sabina suspects the source of her behavior lies in her youth, when she eschewed sunbathing and instead "moon-bathed," laying naked in bed before open windows at night, letting the rays of the moon wash over her. It seems that some people back then thought exposure to moon beams could have strange effects on the body and mind. Sixteen-year old Sabina believed her moon-baths gave her skin a "different glow," and her friends asked what it was that had changed about her; was she using drugs? Mom complained she looked like a consumptive.
|Nin's peers according to Pocket Books' marketing people: Jackie Collins, Judy Blume, & Joan Collins|
A worthwhile read.