Review: Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles

First published in 1943, this is the story of Christina Goering and Frieda Copperfield who are two strained and constrained women who want to break free, although it is not entirely clear what it is they want to break free from. Society? The conventions of heterosexuality? The boredom of their female lives? Anyway, Christina is a wealthy spinster who takes a companion, Miss Gamelon, into her home where they settle into a routine of being catty to each other. Soon Christina’s male friend, Arnold, moves in with them too, and later when they all move to a falling-down house on an island they are joined there by Arnold’s father who has walked out on his wife. Christina leaves the house, trying to improve herself in some manner perhaps, but becoming a sort of prostitute, falling into relationships as a ‘kept woman’. Mrs Copperfield, meanwhile, takes a trip to Panama with her husband. The couple drift apart as Frieda finds herself attracted to the seedy underworld of prostitution, drinking in bars and brothels, falling for a prostitute named Pacifica and leaving her husband to move in with her.

The whole story is told in quite a blank, straightforward style. In the short memoir about Jane Bowles at the end of the book by Truman Capote he says Jane Bowles is an authoritative linguist; she speaks, with the greatest precision, French and Spanish and Arabic – perhaps this is why the dialogue of her stories sounds, or sounds to me, as though it has been translated into English from some delightful combination of other tongues. I thought this very apt, as the dialogue sounds very clipped and precise somehow. Not at all natural, although that merely adds to the rather surreal feeling and also the sense of constraint throughout.

Read the rest of my review for The Bookbag.

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