- The President’s Child by Fay Weldon
Hodder, 220 pp, £6.95, September 1982, ISBN 0 340 24564 6
- Silence among the Weapons by John Arden
Methuen, 343 pp, £7.95, August 1982, ISBN 0 413 49670 8
- The Facilitators, or Mister Hole-in-the-Day by Peter Redgrove
Routledge, 173 pp, £6.95, September 1982, ISBN 0 7100 9214 8
- Pleasure City by Kamala Markandaya
Chatto, 341 pp, £7.95, September 1982, ISBN 0 7011 2617 5
- Worldly Goods by Michael Korda
Bodley Head, 347 pp, £7.95, September 1982, ISBN 0 370 30932 4
- Dutch Shea Jr by John Gregory Dunne
Weidenfeld, 352 pp, £7.50, September 1982, ISBN 0 297 78164 2
The President’s Child works, effortlessly, on many levels. First, it is a political thriller. Isabel Rust, a television producer and former hack reporter, once had an affair with a man who is supposedly being groomed as Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States. Her apparently spotless marriage was hastily contrived by her to provide a home for herself and the child of that previous union. On the surface, all is middle-class respectability in Camden Town. But as news coverage of the Primaries increases, people begin to notice the resemblance between Isabel’s son and his real father: Isabel herself is seen by the candidate’s campaign managers as a potential menace, and various moves, entirely credible, are made to dispose of her.
Vol. 4 No. 21 · 18 November 1982
SIR: I do not know what personal nerve I could have touched in Anita Brookner for her so sourly to misrepresent my novel The Facilitators in your columns (LRB, 7 October). I would have hoped that your journal’s previous interest in my work would have guaranteed at the very least a fairly close reading of my text. The core or disclosurepoint of the book is on page 142, and includes a famous quotation: ‘ “…the Gate was opened to me, that in one Quarter of an Hour I saw and knew more than if I had been many years together at an University, at which I exceedingly admired.” This book that I am writing to tell you about the Institute lies in front of you because every detail, every tremor in it was implanted in my skin during that act…Fiction and fact, what is before you now is the effort to express truthfully what I knew and felt in that moment.’
Such moments of disclosure, when they occur, are notoriously difficult to reproduce or describe directly: if one is a mystic, one usually declares they are ‘incommunicable’. Yet in one form or another they are among the most important of human experiences. One of their characteristics is a certain strangeness or peculiarity that remains after the core of the experience has evaporated, a kind of impulsion or eccentricity that has been recorded of mystics from Hildegarde of Bingen to the hero of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. My strategy in The Facilitators has been to approach the core experience through its eccentricities. This happens also to be the chief therapeutic method in Jungian psychology. In the free play of the imagination, in fantasy, in ‘negotiations with the inferior function’, we have an important therapeutic method that assembles all that is neglected and strange in us, and once more centres it around an undeniable integrative experience. What we make of this afterwards depends on ourselves; but above all we must not neglect the strange, because it is exactly this, and not the conventional, which can lead us to the truth about ourselves.
It is hard to have this programme unnoticed or misunderstood by your reviewer. ‘Introversion’ is not ‘solipsism’, though for the extrovert Ms Brookner that may be how it appears. ‘Magic…which is used in the cause of easy-access surrealism and hippie celebrations…’ I search my book in vain for hippies, and I have said quite plainly that the magic is all Tall Stories: ‘Nice try, Daniel…But I think I should like to hear a few more stories about me first’ (page 173). The confidence tricksters come into the Institute with the explicit intention of inventing a madness so magical or comical that ‘it makes Madame laugh.’ But they are overtaken, not by ‘willed lunacy’, but by an unexpected integration: ‘We…have become what we are; and it wasn’t quite what we expected or wanted, brushed by these wings’ (page 170). Clearly I haven’t made Ms Brookner laugh, nor has anybody else much, to judge by her review generally: but then she is not Madame (or is pretending that she is not she).
Ms Brookner herself has emptied my book of meaning, and purveyed the husk of it. She says: ‘ “magical masturbation”, for example, is supposed to bring about dynamic transformations in consciousness.’ But does masturbation not bring about transformations of consciousness? Most people find that it does: though there is a class of people to whom masturbation, and sex, are merely the release of an intolerable pressure. My book is absolutely against such an idea. My central character declares this on page 90: her credo is that masturbation, whatever else it may also be, is an excellent preparation for loving intercourse. Plain speaking on this subject, and the importance of masturbation in achieving depth of intercourse, is one of the liberations achieved in this generation by the Women’s Movement. Is masturbation and erotic enthusiasm what Ms Brookner means by ‘induced delirium’?
I chose the title very carefully. The word ‘facilitator’ is not my own coinage. It is one used in the humanistic psychology movement: in its desire to be thoroughly democratic, there are no ‘therapists’ charged with the responsibility of healing, there are only ‘facilitators’ whose task it is to make obstacles easier to surmount. I thought ‘facilitator’ a funny word, containing a serious and important idea, suitable for what I intended to be a funny book, also containing what I considered an important idea. Indeed, why does everybody have to be so solemn about psychology, when every working therapist or facilitator knows that those culminations which occur in analytical work, those moments of ‘emotional insight’ (as defined by Rycroft), are always accompanied by astonishment and wonder, often by laughter or overwhelming good cheer, and a kind of marvellous delirium which is both sensuous and intellectual at once, which the analyst attempts to contain. Such occurrences look strange to people who have not experienced them, and even stranger to people who have some interest in resisting and distorting them, but are nevertheless what my book is about. I wish Ms Brookner had passed it to a more interested reviewer, instead of difficilitating it.