14 October 2012

Laura Del-Rivo: The Furnished Room (1961; repr. 2011)

The Furnished Room was Laura Del-Rivo's first novel, and the back cover of the 2011 Five Leaves edition – in its 'Beats, Bums & Bohemians' series – states that her 'associate' (er, Colin Wilson) described it as 'one of the significant novels of the 1960s'. Certainly it is easy to see why, with its philosophical and theological concerns, this can be described as an 'existential novel'.
 
Escaping from the claustophobia of his mother's Catholicism, Joe Beckett (not the most subtle allusion in the world) goes to London, where he moves from a bedsit in Paddington to a bedsit in Notting Hill, W11. This is an England still socially governed by gossip, soul-destroying conventions, curtain twitchers, and nosey landladies. Having jettisoned God, Beckett sees most other people as dead and life as meaningless. Sex is an irritating itch to be scratched and would ideally come without emotional baggage, and unsurprisingly Beckett believes he's a spiritual leper. He also believes that murder will shake life into him, but the outcome is a little more ambiguous.
 
This highly readable novel – written on the cusp of the 'swinging sixties' – has a whiff of a number of other books, such as Sartre's La Nausée (above all), Gide's Les Caves du Vatican, Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, Hamilton's Hangover Square, and Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

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