Call Me A Cab

THE TAXI by Violette Leduc. Published by Hart-Davis/MacGibbon, £1.40

The Taxi is the last book by Violette Leduc, the author of La Batarde and Ravages. It was written shortly before she died from an illness which spoilt the last few years of her life. It was sad that her constant bad health began so soon after she had finally been internationally-acclaimed as an important writer.

Violette was one of the most eccentric and fascinating ladies Paris has ever known. All her life she was an adventuress – a sort of outlaw – long before it became fashionable to be so. She always described herself as a “bastard”. Her lesbianism, which I would rather call her homosexual-orientated lifestyle, was always less than a secret, and her mini-skirts and wigs were forever shocking the ‘good taste’ of Parisian society. She was born in 1908, but always adopted the fashion and looks of teenage girls.

To me it seems that she put all of this into her last work, which is also one of the most wonderful fantasies one could have dreamed of. Unfortunately, no mere review can do justice to her extraordinary imagination. The story is simply told by means of the dialogue between an adolescent sister and brother who decide to spend a day making love to each other in the back of a luxuriously fitted out taxi. They have been able to realise this forbidden dream by stealing a jewel from the aunt they both hate and despise, and then by paying people to initiate them into the arts of love-making.

First they meet a gorgeous whore, Mademoiselle Cytiese, a lady from Pigalle, who teaches the brother. She then introduces the adolescents to a pederast, Dane, who gives lessons to the sister.

The tale begins when they are at last in the taxi, racing across and around Paris, protected from the driver’s eyes by an orange curtain. They make love, eat pâté, drink champagne and talk.

They talk about what they are doing to each other, what they learnt from their strange teachers, and how they were led to this peculiar situation by some kind of irresistible fate. The most enjoyable aspect about The Taxi is that as well as being a long erotic and fantasising poem, it also succeeeds in involving the reader in depths of feeling and passion that are at times almost frightening. It is important to add that the translation from the French by Helen Weaver is excellent, as it accurately matches Leduc’s unique style.

The Taxi will be performed as a play on the Paris stage soon and I look forward to seeing it staged in London in the near future. Through this kind of interpretation, it will not be so much literature, but a more sensual experience that all can indulge their fantasies in. Art is life, and life, when mirrored in Violette Leduc’s The Taxi, is one long, liberating orgasm.

Liberal Bunkum

A YOUNG PERSON’S GUIDE TO LIFE AND LOVE by Dr Benjamin Spock. Published by Mayflower Books, 40p.

Dr Spock is one of those “slightly disgraceful” but respected “liberals” who use the established forms of communication to condemn established forms of thought, in favour of new established forms of thought. He’s the father of the worst form of mind control — the advice manual, the horrific idea of which is that we need some pillar of soporific liberality to instruct and shape our attitudes, that we are too conditioned into apathy to reason out our own behaviour patterns, or act instinctively.

His book for teenagers contains little that I would imagine they don’t know already, or would want to know, or would do anything to allay fears of that burning sensation which is adolescence. Despite the extended sections on sexual matters, there is scarcely even a passing reference to bisexuality, so often a significant part of our lives. Homosexuality is dispensed with in three brief pages, and classified as either of two conditions, that of a person who takes on the character of a person of the opposite sex, or “appears normal” but desires persons of the same sex. “Men and boys who are effeminate feel like women.” How elucidating for a worried fifteen year old, who not only has to contend with television comedians and parents, but with this repressive bible too.

According to Granada Publishing the original Spock book “Child and Baby Care” sold 23 million copies in the USA alone, and they suppose “that all the parents who read it and all of their children, will want to read this one.” One therefore supposes that Dr Spock’s ideas on homosexuality or anything else, will be for the next few years, one of the major influences on the attitudes of the American public.

Myths about homosexuality are really just the starting point for one long faiiy tale of life. The entire book is full of startling misconceptions and a blatant avoidance of fundamental adolescent feelings, such as the complete disbelief and disagreement of a system which prescribes school, university, job, formalised marriage, and sees marijuana as something which changes “aspects of the personality”, possibly for the worse.

Best Of The Paperbacks

THE MAHOUND by Lance Horner. Pan, 40p.

Those of you who have followed the apparently endless priapic saga of the ‘Flaconhurst’ series of novels, written by Horner and his collaborator Kyle Onstott, licked parched lips over that splendid epic of fellatio ‘Child Of The Sun’, wriggled to ‘Santiago Blood’ and ‘The Tattooed Rood’, will not be disappointed by ‘The Mahound’.

If anything the pricks get bigger, the fucking more frequent and more frantic, and the hero and his friend finally capitulate to the erotic pressures of Africa and get their ends (both ends) away with gentlemen! Needless to say Rory Mahound, the staggeringly well-hung Scottish stud of the title is under the influence of a powerful aphrodisiac at the time. But it’s the first time this reader can remember one of Horner/Onstott’s heroes actually enjoying a little bi-sexuality. Who knows where this permissiveness will lead to next!

This is the eleventh in the series of novels written by this phallically obsessed pair, and one of the best. If you’ve got to read trashy erotica, and don’t we all, then you won’t find better than this at W H Smiths. On second thoughts, buy it somewhere else.

PRICKSONGS AND DESCANTS by Robert Coover. Picador, 50p.

Robert Coover’s stories make rather gloomy reading on the whole. A man makes love to his wife, discovers that she’s been dead for three weeks, and has his genitals smashed to a pulp by a disgusted cop etc, etc. In fact savage attacks and mutilations of one limb or another crop up with almost monotonous regularity.

However there are two stories of true brilliant black humour which will probably appear many times in future horror anthologies.

‘The Hat Act’ takes a magician’s stage show to its horrid, illogical conclusion, while ‘The Baby Sitter’ twines the erotic daydreams of six different people and weaves them into a farcical nightmare that ingeniously arrives at a conclusion that has to be read to be believed. I won’t spoil it for you.

DOWN AND OUT IN BRITAIN by Jeremy Sandford. New English Library, 40p.

‘Edna The Inebriate Woman’ was shown on television some months ago. It was received with enthusiasm, but nothing like the critical acclaim of his earlier work ‘Cathy Come Home’. The reasons are clear – a homeless family has a more immediate appeal than a meths drinking dosser. And yet this book, the background research Sandford used for ‘Edna’, is an even more horrifying indictment of a Welfare State who can spend billions of pounds on destructive weapons and research, and yet has still failed to come to grips with the problems of thousands of sad, wasted people who have somehow lost control of their lives.

Sandford demonstrates with chilling effect how our legal system, law, police, and welfare authorities can turn the inadequate eccentric into a criminal or madman, and that ‘our society is becoming harder and harder for people to live in, and that those who are unable to cope are often not so much helped as given a kick in the crutch.’ Remember that by conservative estimate, 2,000 people will be sleeping rough tonight, in London alone.

For those who care or want to help, there is a list of organisations included who need all kinds of assistance in their endless therapeutic help to the homeless, the addicted, the unfortunates of this world.

Mitchum, Bitch ’em

THE ROBERT MITCHUM STORY, ‘IT SURE BEATS WORKING.’ by Mike Tomkies. Published by W H Allen at £2.50.

The last few years in the publishing world has seen a massive rash of biographies of famous film stars, most of which have been written solely as commercial efforts, and not because the author has any specific feeling or interest for the subject, rather like many of their films have been created, in fact. Sad in this case, because Mitchum is for me one of the genuinely fascinating Hollywood figures, and “It sure beats working” is yet another savage let-down. It’s written in the journalistic style of a local paper, and with its massive quotes from earlier Mitchum interviews and articles, gives the impression that it was written entirely without his personal collaboration.

None of this would matter very much if the author showed any signs of affection or sympathy for his character; but he doesn’t. Everything of interest in Mitchum’s life and everything else is skated over superficially and unfeelingly, from his teens when he lived for a long period as a hobo, we are given no ideas of his motives for living like this, through the early Hollywood bit-part days, through to the big star years.

As the book progresses, instead of becoming a deep character study of a fascinating man, it becomes more and more like a potted history of say a nineteenth century politician, a date and time diary of cardboard figures. The chaper on his arrest for smoking marijuana in 1948 for example, is solely an account of Mitchum’s arrest by one of the policemen responsible, and a rather clipped, non-committal passage on the controversy the event caused in Hollywood, and the difficulties in urging the public not to make pre-judgements on the matter. One has the feeling that Mitchum’s genuine feelings and ideas here have been restrained, for fear of offending his image, or the book’s vast sales potential.

I don’t think I’m being unfair, because even within the very narrow verbal confines of a commercially sponsored American TV chat show, I’ve seen the emergence of a very much more deeply thoughtful man.

Nightmares In The Air

OVER TO YOU by Roald Dahl. Published by Penguin, 25p.

This collection of ten short stories were written by Roald Dahl after he had been transferred from active service in the RAF to the post of Assistant Air Attache in Washington in 1942. They originally appeared in a number of American magazines and later as a book, under the collective title of Over To You. This is the first time that they have been available in one edition in this country.

Dahl is probably best known for his two volumes of short stories that were published in the fifties, Someone Like You and Kiss Kiss. The central theme of these was a macabre one, with a controlled hysteria growing throughout them, till they eventually shocked the reader into the reality of the horrific conclusions. The spine-chilling effects they generally had, brought him much international acclaim. Since then he has written a number of children’s books.

I expected Over To You to consist of the type of tales I usually associate with Dahl, and was initially disappointed when I discovered that the book was subtitled ‘Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying’. But once I started reading them, I soon found that each was a form of nightmare, containing the twists and dark irony that make his other stories so surprising and readable.

Dahl’s successful style stems from his ability to draw the reader into the situations he is relating, making everything seem very real and plausible. This leaves one unprepared for the shocking revelations to come. His attention to detail and a fine use of dialogue also contributes to never allowing the stories to appear at all fantastic, despite the fact that they very often are. And as I said earlier it is only when one reaches the end that the reader realises how incredible the sequence of events has been.

The stories are all short and even a brief description of them may possibly spoil the enjoyment and iced thrills readers may derive from them. Suffice to say they are ideal for those who like their prose to be a little different.

The Angry Peace

HOMOSEXUAL: Oppression and Liberation, by Dennis Altman. Angus & Robertson £2.50.

I believe I am right in suggesting that this is the first book on homosexuality to be published in this country that is the work of an insider. Our bibliographies have tended to begin with Bryan Mageee and D.J. West who. inevitably, took the view of outsiders not so much looking in (such empathy is beyond them) but rather, subjecting homosexuality and the homosexual to the sort of detached examination that reinforces divisions whereby the homosexual is seen as abnormal. There are other books, essays, papers. But always written from a standpoint that sets the homosexual against the writer’s accepted values which, when not psychiatric, tend to be the product of a male-dominated, heterosexual-emphasised culture.

So the first thing to enjoy (and I do mean enjoy: it strikes me as a very joyful book) is Altman’s tone. His natural acceptance of himself and of all gay people is refreshing. This sense of liberation informs all he has to say: for him the homosexual needs no justification, no excuse and of course, no special pleading – that besetting sin of most British writers, straight and gay, on the subject.

So to say that Altman has written a book “on homosexuality” is inexact. In the course of it he examines theories of causation and related attitudes, but this is a part only of a much larger intention which is to define the new self-awareness of homosexuals and to discuss its implications both for gays themselves and for society as a whole. His own experience has been predominantly in America so it is in that context he writes: but it is clear that the pressures on gay people and the resultant secretive, straight-gay scene there is not so very different from that here. It does seem though, that the gay liberation movements in America are far more together, and far more potent (both internally and externally) than those in this country.

Dennis Altman is 27; he graduated from the University of Tasmania, became a lecturer at New York University and is now a lecturer on American politics at the University of Sydney. “Bring an academic and a movement together and one produces a book”, he comments in the introduction.

Academic disciplines are apparent in every paragraph; not merely in the tremendous range of Altman’s reading (there is a most useful bibliography), but in his ability to extrapolate and bring together information and facts from disparate sources, and in his general cool which results in a rational, firm, but never overstated approach. And the bleaker side of academic writing is missing; the dryness, the dullness, the arrogance, the lack of humour. If nothing else (and its a lot else) this book is always an entertaining, enticing read.

I think this is because a lot of experiential autobiography is present. Altman seems continually to be testing his information against himself and his own experience. This means no dogmatic statements and a touching honesty when he comes up against something he hasn’t quite got himself tv gether on. Were the book an attempt to make a massive, final statement this would be a weakness. As it is, it’s a strength. Dennis Altman doesn’t quite know yet how to relate to transvestites and transsexuals; so instead of blundering along he draws on statements from STAR and Red Butterfly and adds his own tentative ideas. This has the important effect of throwing the issue back at the reader, thus making him work too.

It is not my intention here to placate the lazy by digesting Dennis Altman’s thesis and trying to encapsulate his ideas. For this is a book which must be read by everybody. And I hope it will not be read only by those who have already talked, thought and absorbed a lot on the subject of homosexual liberation. Because to them quite a lot of the book, especially the opening phases, is going to come like old news. Altman’s analysis of oppression and detail of the schizophrenic life-style foisted on gays has been made before. What is new, and good news, is that here it is followed to its ultimate conclusion and stated in full without the aggression of a manifesto.

I was looking for something to quote. I have pencilled some fifty-five passages. Here’s one:

The essence of gay liberation is that it enables us to come out… Those who are touched by the new affirmation discover a new perception of how they have been oppressed by society and social norms, and out of this realisation comes both peace with oneself and anger at the victimisation that we and others have suffered… For the homosexual, the new affirmation involves breaking away from the gay world as it has traditionally existed and transforming the pseudo-community of secrecy and sexual objectification into a genuine community of sister/brotherhood…”

Which comes from the conclusion in which Altman posits the end of the homosexual. In essence I think it sums up the tone, the attitude and the message of this excellent piece of work.

Inside The Outsider

ORDER OF ASSASSINS (The Psychology of Murder) by Colin Wilson. Published by Rupert Hart-Davis, £2.25.

Completing Colin Wilson’s ‘murder trilogy’ is Order Of Assassins. The earlier two works were An Encyclopedia of Murder and A Casebook Of Murder. This new volume examines ‘motiveless’ murder, as opposed to the ones committed for economic, passionate or some other definable reason.

Wilson convincingly argues that ‘murder committed for its own sake’ is very much a phenomenon related to the individual’s lack of self-fulfillment and to frustration due to low self-esteem, as well as the obvious tendencies to space-age living to take away any possible ‘adventure’ out of life. The author believes that the ‘will-drive’ is the most important potential force in a man or woman and when this is frustrated it deprives the individual of needed self-expansion and drive.

He notes too that psychotic violence is swiftly becoming one of the most terrifying problems of our age. As the people of the ‘developed’ countries progress from the basic problems of having to gather in the material necessities of life, this leaves the average person with more time to explore his or her own areas of existence and development. To some, the lack of material problems, the banality of urban living, the need to create — amongst other functions – helps decidedly to turn some individuals into walking death machines, capable of the most horrific and violent crimes imaginable.

Wilson also argues that to describe, or categorise, tha deeds of the ‘Moors’ killer, Ian Brady, the novels and ‘fantasies’ of de Sade, as well as the Manson ‘family’ slayings, as being just sadistic, or fulfilling a sexual perversion, is to miss the point. It is in fact all too easy to dismiss these crimes with these labels. The author insists that these fantasies and murders are the perpetrator’s attempts at self-assertation, due – as said earlier – to the frustration of the ‘will-drive’. Whereas an artist can satisfy his/her inbuilt creativity by painting, this new type of killer has no such outlet. He/she is aware of their own ability to create – to assert – but cannot find the medium through which to express the ‘will-drive’.

Throughout the book, Wilson illustrates his arguments and ideas with numerous examples of ‘motiveless’ murder, each adding to the pattern of events which leads him to suppose that this problem needs serious investigating and re-thinking before society can attempt to check the growth of the ‘new assassins’.

An example of what I understand Wilson to be getting at is possibly what the alleged killer of Sarah Gibson, who was murdered at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, London, last July, wrote anonymously to the police. He said: “I found a strange sense of power in depriving a body of life”. Surely a sex-killer would have just gloated over the sexual outrages he committed on the lifeless body. It seems as if the real motive for the unnecessary killing by the alleged murderer David Froom, was an act of self-assertion — a destructive act of creation to satisfy an inner craving.

Order Of Assassins is a powerfully relevant book by one of the most important ‘thinkers’ writing today. Colin Wilson’s message is more than just a warning, for it is also an indictment of twentieth century life and its lack of creative evolution.

The answer is certainly not what happened to the corpse of the rooftop gunman in New Orleans recently. After killing the assassin with armour piercing bullets, the lifeless body was riddled with more shells of the type mentioned for another three or four minutes, till it resembled a refugee from a butcher’s shop rather than a dead human being. The question is, why did this 23-year-old man invite death and why did he decide to kill as many others as possible before he met what almost certainly was his inevitable fate? ‘Motiveless’ murder?

The Other Love

HERa novel by Anonymous. Calder & Boyars, £2.50.

I shouldn’t say it but at first I wasn’t especially attracted to this heterosexual pornographic novel, that is a best-seller in the States and written by a “world-famous” author into the bargain. In short, I expected the worst kind of sexist prose when starting to read Her, rather reluctantly.

But the atmosphere of the novel caught my attention from the very beginning and the very brilliant style encouraged me to carry on further than the third page.

The story begins (and ends, like all good cliches do) exactly like a Hollywood musical. Somewhat like the worst of Jacques Demy’s heart-breaking stories. The scenario is carefully undated because, I imagine, of the eternal language of love, and the social context — a small college town in the south of the United States. This places the intrigue on the right level. There is nothing extraordinary or unreal about the two heroes, both of them are middle-aged and free from any emotional ties. They try to forget the social frustrations they have in common by intense sexual activity.

Just a word about Anonymous, whoever he is. For there is never any doubt that the author is a man. And the story’s narrator, who is allegedly a fictional character, is a good old-fashioned male chauvinist all through the novel. Fortunately he is gifted with sensitivity, which allows me to feel some sympathy for him, as well as fascination. Of the female — sorry, the woman – we don’t know very much, except that she has “very good legs” and has a lot of trouble in reaching “real” orgasms. And as she’s forty-two, I found it surprising that she hadn’t tried it with a girl, but she definitely “loves” her lover’s penis, deliciously calling it “Irving”. Her own sex she simply calls “Matilda”.

Despite its limitations, the book is a very complete sexology manual and dictionary. The descriptions are numerous, precise and accurate. Anonymous allows himself several pleasant fantasies about sodomy, neatly packaged and not too kinky.

In fact there is nothing very disturbing in Her. It is only a few hours of pink-jacketed titillation, for everything is very conventional. It’s a lot better than David Reuben’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex and there is a good deal of celluloid romance too.

It Came From The Bog, Honest

THE WILD NIGHT COMPANY (Irish Tales of Terror) Edited by Peter Haining. Introduced by Ray Bradbury. Sphere, 40p.

This collection of horror/ghost stories certainly lives up to its description on the book’s cover.

And as the sub-title states, all the contents are set in, or connected to, Ireland. Also the contributors are either Irish or writers inspired by the supernatural in the ‘Emerald Isle’.

The tales range from traditional winter’s night ghost stories, through to macabre haunting terror produced by the pen of a writer such as H. P. Lovecraft. Magic, mystery and folklore also turn up amongst the 317 pages of the book.

In all there are 22 short stories. Amongst the writers contributing, apart from the one already mentioned, are Daniel Defoe, Sheridan Le Fanu, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, William Hope Hodgson, Lady Wilde. W. B. Yeats and Ray Bradbury.

The Wild Night Company is an extremely fine collection for the connoisseur of horror, fantasy and the supernatural.

My Book Of The Year

Food comes slightly after sex and just ahead of the music of Purcell in my list of favourite things. I read cookery books like novels and occasionally cook like a novelist. But I suppose I have always regarded food from a sensuous point of view, certainly not from a social, political or economic standpoint. Until that is, I read this book called Technological Eating, by Magnus Pyke. It was published in February, is slim (107pp) and quite expensive (£2.50). But it is truly mind-bending in that it bends the thought into all sorts of directions, not all intimately connected with food.

Dr Pyke is President of the Institute of Food Science and Technology of the United Kingdom, but before pelting him with slings of rehydrated potatoes and spun-protein steaks consider his thesis. His book is really about the way in which technology affects social behaviour and he believes (and most surely demonstrates) that by discussing oven-ready chickens and fish fingers we can learn more about what technology is doing than by thinking about communication satellites or nuclear power-stations. This is one reason why his book is so good, so readable, his examples and subject-matter are everyday things that we all have intimate experience of.

He is saying, quite simply, that the application of technology to food is breaking down all hitherto accepted social structures; food becomes increasingly distanced from man. The only possible provenance for a fish finger is a factory, so where do dietary laws come in? Technology is a divisive influence

in society and he compares the fragmentation of Western industrial communities with the coherence of the extended family system “in which claim to quite distant cousinship is a valid title to food, shelter and support”.

I recommend this book for its facts – did you know that a large American engineering firm had devised a lettuce harvesting machine that picks up four rows at once. It is so efficient that only 600 machines would be needed to harvest all the lettuces in the world. The engineering firm is reluctant to manufacture it.

I recommend this book for its ability to move thought from big, unmanageable concepts towards simple, everyday experience that has a greater effect.

I recommend this book for its humanity, wit, sense and eventual optimism, for its sharp criticism of our consumer-conscious society fixed on acquisition and money value.