British-American poet Sarah Fletcher reveals the book that most affected her, as part of an ongoing series of reviews by members of the Writing Squad.
drunk, trans-sexual faux-doctor in drag starts to cry in a 1920’s Parisian bar.
He is overwhelmed by the increasingly damaging secrets he’s become privy too.
Starting to spill each stream of salacious gossip into the sozzled crowd, he
sobs, as he breaks every confidence he can, ‘Oh, it’s a grand bad story, and
who says I’m a betrayer? I say, tell the story of the world to the world!’”
is the sort of moment in the swirling, strange universe of Djuna Barnes’ 1936
novel Nightwood that becomes normal
throughout this glittering book. Written in a luscious, High Modernist style, Nightwood is surreal in the most
genuine meaning of the word: marked by the intense irrationality of a dream
that is utterly believed by the dreamer nonetheless. Nonsensical, grotesque and
fall in love with the wrong people; then in wrong with the loved people, ad
gut of the story is the dithering and pathetic love of Nora Flood for her
party-loving girlfriend Robin Vote, who leaves Nora each night in search of a
new cocktail, a new social scene, a new set of arms to sleep in. Berlin, Paris,
London and Vienna become almost interchangeable in their flapperish glamour and
"The gut of the story is the dithering and pathetic love of Nora Flood for her party-loving girlfriend Robin Vote, who leaves Nora each night in search of a new cocktail ..."
love-gone-toxic is the guts of this story, its heart is the delicate,
spellbinding language that weaves the plot together. When Robin passes out
after a drunken night, Nora describes her flesh as having “the texture of plant
life…sleep-worn as if sleep were a decaying fish”.
these startling turns of phrase and beautiful descriptions throughout the novel
that make the sordid plot palatable.
"Championed by T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas, Nightwood is often marketed as a lesbian love story for its portrayal of vicious, triangular relationships between women."
by T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas, Nightwood is often marketed as a lesbian love
story for its portrayal of vicious, triangular relationships between women.
While this is an important aspect, I still return to the faux-doctor’s cry of
telling “the story of the world to the world”.
Nightwood is an imminently human
story, that beautifully expresses the complex sorrows and desires that make up
human relationships. For as peculiar its plot is, a reader may not be left
thinking that this
could happen to me
but, in all its intensity, a reader will surely know that this could be felt
by me, and, one day, I will feel these things.
About the reviewer
Sarah Fletcher is a British-American poet living in
London and studying for a postgraduate at Royal Holloway. Her poetry has been
published in Poetry London, The Rialto and the London Magazine. She was
named a 2012 Foyle Young Poet of the Year, has received the 2012 and 2013
Christopher Tower Poetry Prizes, and has been shortlisted for the Stephen
Spender Prize and Bridport Prize. Her debut pamphlet Kissing Angles was published with Dead
Ink Books in 2015 and her pamphlet Typhoid August with Smith|Doorstop in 2018 as part
of the New Poets Scheme.