The underwater world of the psyche
The Dream Mistress by Jenny Diski Weidenfeld, pounds 15.99
Saturday 25 May 1996
In her seventh novel, Mimi (one of three interlinked and interchangeable characters whose names play on "me'', Mimi, Miriam and Mel) is a middle- aged woman who habitually avoids intimacy by falling asleep. When she decides on impulse to fetch help for a comatose female tramp in a car park, the derelict stranger turns out to be, or echo, Mimi's appalling mother, Leah. So far it might be a parable of the neglected child forced to mother the neglecting parent, forced to give what she has never received. But nothing is simple in this book. While unconscious, Leah is re-named 'Bella' by paramedics, and when Bella next appears, she is a much younger victim of a terrorist bomb, left faceless by the explosion, involved in a strange relationship with a man who only loves her when she is completely vulnerable. Yet another version of Bella/Leah is an ex-nun with a passion for solitude, like Mimi's. Sex, described with a lingering precision and intensity that Diski awards almost nothing else, periodically galvanises both Mimi's and Bella's lives, and they are linked too by a recurrent theme of leaving and being left.
The narrative is startlingly discontinuous; once you have accepted that, the novel becomes easier to navigate. In the end a mirrored structure emerges, hinted at by a passage where Mimi lies in bed (characteristically) trying to form figures with her legs; "Later, she thought, she would reverse the position of her legs, just for symmetry's sake, even if the 4 it made would be no more than a mirror image of the written sign...'' It's a novel that is very aware of its own structure, never swept from its moorings by the story.
She's not really interested in individual characters either. The underwater world of the psyche is what she dives for, the deep, oblique structures that make us what we are rather than what we seem to be, the repetitive patterns we cannot escape. The result for the reader is a mixture of excitement and frustration as one character fragments into another and the floor of the narrative world suddenly drops away beneath our feet.
The Dream Mistress is energised by erotic obsession but rarely warmed by love. In some passages I suspect Diski was bored, and the language becomes ponderous and strained. An editor should have cut by half sentences like "The unknown distances trod between the tramp's conclusion and her absent story gave Mimi a vertiginous sense that she might, for all Mimi could fathom, have been someone she had known.'' But Diski's dry, cool wit holds chaos at bay, and an unexpected unfolding into profound and magical lyricism in the last pages - Mimi's dream of a long sea-voyage - made me long for more.
Swedish stars ask fans for £195 pledges on crowd-funding website
voicesJust when you thought you could find a man, get married, and have a baby by the age of 35... it turns out you’re too late, says Grace Dent
sportNapoli 2 Arsenal 0: Gunners must now face either Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid or Barcelona in knock-out stages
musicAs Mariah Carey and Noddy Holder rake in the royalties from their classics, why there hasn't been a decent festive hit for 20 years?
theatreAuthor Daniel Rosenthal recalls the mishaps that almost brought the curtain down on the likes of John Gielgud and Diana Rigg
lifeFull of the joys and want to help your fellow man? December isn't the time to do it
lifeAs the Royal Mail plans to phase out deliveries on two wheels, it's no wonder posties are in a spin
techLuke Blackall reports on precision engineered prams and babygros that monitor your child 24-7
Life & Style blogs
- 1 Nelson Mandela memorial: ‘Bogus’ interpreter made mockery of Barack Obama’s tribute
- 2 It’s shameful that our universities have accepted gender segregation under pressure from the most oppressive religious fanatics
- 3 Kenyan politician Mike Sonko left red-faced after photoshopping himself next to Nelson Mandela
- 4 Exeter to Edinburgh and back in a day: How one fresher's lost bet left him facing a 900-mile round trip
- 5 Selfie at funeral: Cameron squeezes in on Obama snap at Mandela memorial
£77099.84 - £96375.26 per annum + Bonus + Benefits : Harrington Starr: My clie...
£45000 - £60000 per annum + Bonus and Package: Harrington Starr: Trading appli...
£35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Developer (Win...
£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: Senior QA Engineer Tes...