Books: Feasting on stale bread and blown roses

What Do Women Want? by Erica Jong Bloomsbury, pounds 14.99, 202pp; Women want more than this self-regarding froth, says Ann Treneman
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ERICA JONG'S collection of non-fiction essays has a subheading that seeks to answer the question in its title: "Power, Sex, Bread and Roses". Now this may be a bit hackneyed, but it could have worked. Naomi Wolf introduces Erica Jong as "one of the major American voices of the century" and the author says that she has been ruthless in editing her "non fiction meditations" for this book.

To which I can only answer: not ruthless enough. The publisher and Wolf should have known better, but Erica Jong cannot get off so lightly. She wrote this thing and should be embarrassed to have done so. She can be blamed.

Fear of Flying was a great book: funny, wild, sexy. Feminism can be so fusty. Here was a blast of fresh air. That was more than 20 years ago, however, and time has been pernicious for Erica Jong. She seems to have come to believe in herself in a thoroughly unhealthy way. She is the centre of her - and now our - universe.

The book begins with a look at the power-struggle between the sexes over the past 25 years. In fact, the essays on Hillary Clinton, Louise Woodward and so on are a toe-dip in this direction. They are patchy. Arguments mutate into observations, and vice versa.

The rest of the book is divided into sections on sex and "bread and roses". This latter contains her recipe "for remaining sane". The ingredients are Italy, poetry and her house.

Here the vertical pronoun and the ego become cloying to the point of stickiness. Take this passage from the "Books and Houses": "Fay Weldon was recently my houseguest for a weekend. Quite early Sunday morning, after a cup of tea, she vanished back to the guest room without saying a word...

```Shh,' I said to my husband. `Fay must be writing.'

```Shh,' Fay's friend said to me. `She's writing.' I puttered around the kitchen feeling a delicious sense of anticipation. It was almost as good as writing myself.

"It was as if the house were writing. Everyone felt the frisson of creativity."

The book has its moments. Some of her asides are very good and the essay on the perfect man is funny and perceptive. Her ideas on pornography are interesting but, even here, you end up cringing. The essay on Henry Miller starts off promisingly by describing his attachment to the word "shit". She then sentimentalises it, saying that in his mouth the word became clean. "He purified the excrement of life and made it roses."

The essay is not really about Miller at all. It seems that he was very taken with Fear of Flying. The result was "a torrent of applause, enthusiasm, and unpaid agentry". She was bowled over and looked him up when she went to California. His house became a refuge.

She was one of many visitors, some more nubile than others. "Now and then he copped a feel - though not of my breasts. I was not his physical type at all (he adored Asian women) or maybe he thought of me as too bookish, for he always made a great point of how literary I was." The essay ends with the message, a la Hallmark: "I hope you get your Nobel Prize in heaven, Henry, sent up on blasts of dynamite."

Egregious. What do women want? Not this.

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