Woman’s World ~ Graham Rawle

Ten years or so ago, Graham Rawle wrote a rough draft of this “collaged” novel. After that, he poured through women’s magazines from the 1960’s, snipping out anything from them that seemed to be relevant in any way to the draft he had written. Next, he replaced (where it seemed to fit), his own words with the snippets from the magazines. Here’s a specific example of the process:

“The line I had in mind ended with something like, ‘…;whose resemblance to Sylvia Syms was extremely remote.’ Having previously categorized my found material into specific subjects, I searched my ‘measuring and distance’ category for the word remote but instead found the phrase ‘…could be measured in nautical miles.’ Much better.”

Even the page numbering came into play: “It was fun trying to find a printed number for every page of the book. A bit of tinkering was often required. …the [pg #] 209 is intact as part of a telephone number.”   I said “seemed to fit” because throughout the novel there are sentences that are wildly incongruous at first glance (more on that below). And at second glance. But the result is one of the funniest books I have read in some years. There are just a few lulls, but I literally had a laugh out loud moment on nearly every page.

The book itself is a wonder to not only read, but to look at. The finished product comprises these cuttings as paste ups: varying types, fonts and placements, looking like a demented ransom note (all extremely creative). It’s 437 pages, but reads like a lot less. Believe me, you’ll be flipping those pages with abandon.

This is a tough review in the *spoiler alert* department. Although I finally decided that the initial spoilers were not really that {most reviews reveal a lot more than I do here), and would not take from the sheer enjoyment in the least, I opted to not make any revelations of that nature here.

The story opens with the question from the narrator Norma, “What is you idea of a perfect home?” Norma Fontaine gives us her answer. In fact Norma continues to revel us with her ideas on perfection: perfection of fashion, make-up, housekeeping. She lives with her brother Roy and her “housekeeper” Mary. Mary is actually her Mother, Mary Little. Roy is Roy Little. Norma is actually Norma Little. If “actually” has any real place in these events. Norma took the last name of Fontaine from one her idols, Joan. Besides, that name just seemed more “professional”.

In the very first chapter, while discoursing on mascara, lipstick, fashion wigs and the like she allows that

In the mirror my natural loveliness is quite breathtaking. But the mirror can never take the place of a real person.

This first chapter is peppered with clues and hints (the mirror motif portends the two major turning points in the novel) that all is not as straightforward as it seems. Pay attention! There’s a little story of a traffic accident in which a young boy and girl are fooling around near street traffic. There is a traffic accident and the young girl is hit. The story seems out-of-place. But then again, maybe it isn’t. Red herring? or a portent?

Brother Roy, who has been “away” for a while, rejoins the family and secures a job as a delivery van driver at White’s Dry Cleansers. There he meets Eve (who works across the street), and in a whirlwind romance they become engaged in only three weeks. They were made for each other. Meanwhile, Norma has run afoul of a photographer who plays to her vanity: Hans (wait, that’s Mr. Hands, in more ways than one). Rawle settled on the name Hands for this guy for two very good reasons: One utilitarian, and the other, in the Dickensian way – “because the word hands is easy to come by in adverts for nail polish, soap powders, and the like. The name also describes his licentious, groping nature.” There is a struggle. Hands is killed. Or is he? Is this confusing? It’s not, really. It’s just that nothing – and I mean nothing – can initially be taken at face value. Well, such is life.

Besides the story as seen through the eyes of Norma which will keep you on your toes, and besides the ‘look’ of the novel, there is the “writing” itself (really, ‘found’ writing) which is a howl. Some of it is eye-popping just for the sheer audacity of its incongruity. Just a small sampling:

  • The Postman’s  googling eyes were the deep blue of two enamel pans in the sink.
  • She observed me with semi-detached interest, faintly amused at how my unspoiled natural beauty contrasted delightfully with the old gas cooker that had been used to plug a hole in her garden hedge.
  • I was as nervous as an eighteen month-old baby meeting Marlon Brando for the first time, but I was determined not to show it.
  • His face wore the quizzical look of a monkey with a lemon squeezer
  • Her stare remained as cold and still as a deadman’s bathwater
  • and after a Brylcreem application: His hairline is so crisp and even that one would be forgiven for thinking that a long-playing record had melted on his head
  • his concentration  had drifted out to sea in a small dinghy
  • Life is a bowl of pickles, and here I was, a butterfly trapped in the stuff.
  • His words had flung open the french windows of my mind and forced me to step out on to the balcony of indiscretion
  • My brain had dislodged itself and become a slice of peach slithering about on a spoon.
  • The golden fork of opportunity had presented itself and he had stabbed himself in the foot with it.
  • all the acting skills of a Laurence Olivier or a Richard Chamberlain

There are even some little ‘Easter Eggs’ spread around. We know that finding the right words can be difficult in real life communication, but it takes on an additional meaning with Rawle, when Norma says to her mother

“I wanted to say I was sorry too, but couldn’t find the words”

It wasn’t until Chapter Six (of 24) that I began to suspect that all is not what it seems (in the Shakespearean sense), and began to assemble the puzzle. And it wasn’t until Chapter Fourteen that the author comes clean about the true identities of some players…and that’s how it all started (pg 267). The final Chapter (with the mirror motif again) is truly a wondrous piece of art.

Word is that this is being made into a motion picture, though how that is even conceivable, I can’t fathom, despite the fact that the novel was first intended to be told in pictures, as a more traditional graphic novel tale. This is one movie that couldn’t possibly catch the real flavor of the novel. A creative and wondrous achievement.



1 Comment

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One response to “Woman’s World ~ Graham Rawle

  1. Pingback: Year End Wrap: New Beginnings | Chazz W

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