Thursday, January 17, 2008
Spa-ing with Fay
Something tells me I'm not going to be getting a birthday card from Fay Weldon this year ...
THE SPA DECAMERON by Fay Weldon
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375): a collection of 100 allegorical novellas based around the theme of love in all its many guises, from the erotic to the tragic.
The Spa Decameron by Fay Weldon (1931- ): the potted histories of ten women spending the week between Christmas and the New Year at a superficially luxurious spa retreat.
Oooh, right - I see what she’s done; taken Boccaccio’s blueprint and given it a contemporary makeover! How clever. Or ... how bloody boorish. On the one hand, Weldon’s latest offering could be taken as blue stocking chick lit (“She’s referencing a medieval author but replacing Giovanni’s serfs with modern women who find themselves trapped in oppressive situations caused by the patriarchal structure of Western society - oh, the highbrow irony of it all!”). But beyond the knee-jerk jibber-jabber spouted by the chattering classes, there’s nothing quite so interesting going in within the pages of the book itself.
Okay, it’s a good set-up: ten initially disparate characters in search of an author descend on Castle Spa, an expensive pampering hotspot deep in the British countryside. Narrator Phoebe Fox - a novelist already in a state of high anxiety about her marriage and the recent murder of some friends - lets us know, in the opening pages, that she has the ability to “hear other people’s thoughts”; cue a roll call of stereotypical ‘career women’ (the trophy wife, the Hollywood screenwriter, the war correspondent, the judge, etc) all ready to blurt their tales of woe as the services offered by the spa itself grind to a halt. But despite teasers of raunchy promise, the resulting yarns are either bland, trite or just plain dull, while Phoebe’s commentary veers between leaden, pompous and cringingly clichéd as the tales drag on.
Weldon’s heavy-handed attempts to be ‘daring’ (weaving incest, abortion, murder, psychotic disorders, lesbian dilly-dallying, gender realignment, child abuse and rough sex into the stories at every opportunity) does little more than turn the whole situation into a game of emotional charades with a pantomime dame as team leader, while a collection of extremely dull, attention seeking poor little rich girls eat caviar and agree that yes indeed, all men are bastards.
So, our bitter band of harpies may be denied their pampering treats, but those expecting to wallow in Weldon’s literary jacuzzi aren’t offered much refreshment either. Giovanni must be turning in his grave.