Beautiful, bored and bourgeoise, Sabina leads a double life inspired by her relentless desire for brief encounters with near-strangers. Fired into faithlessness by a desperate longing for sexual fulfilment, she weaves a sensual web of deceit across New York. But when the secrecy of her affairs becomes too much to bear, Sabina makes a late night phone-call to a stranger from a bar, and begins a confession that captivates the unknown man and soon inspires him to seek her out . . .
[i] "The new self she offered him, created for him, appeared intensely innocent, newer than any young girl could have been, because it was like a pure abstraction of a woman, an idealized figure, not born of what she was, but of his wish and hers. She even altered her rhythm for him, surrendered her heavy restless gestures, her liking for large objects, large rooms, for timelessness, for caprice and sudden actions. Even her hands which were sturdy, for his sake rested more gently upon objects around her." [/i]
If this reads like a new-age romantic novel, you're probably right, it just might be that but the opening paragraph about surveillance and the desire of a criminal to be caught intrigued me.
A Spy is a constant reminder of a woman's "flirtation with justice," the ultimate neuroerotica tale for those of us who want absolute autonomy and don't understand sexual monotony. Or, as Nin would say, "a joyous, joyous, joyous, joyous impaling of a woman on man's sensual mast."
The short summary at the back cover seemed promising enough: a haunted woman, Sabina, who is unable to remain faithful to her husband Alan. She is helplessly attracted to total strangers and finally driven into fruitless affairs which leave her feeling restless, guilty and edgy. But at the same time, she can't live without these different kind of loves, she has multiple faces, she is specially transformed for each one of her lovers and she can't perform normally with her husband if she doesn't have the excitement of these other amorous adventures.
Don't know exactly why, but for me, it didn't work. There spell wasn't there. I thought the writer tried too hard, sometimes you got lost with her long descriptions of Sabina's red dresses or the feelings she shared with each of her lovers. She wandered too much, didn't focus enough and I felt like an outsider, a voyeur watching some kind of schizophrenic woman acting like a 17 year old. Then there was the repeating guilt and the references to Debussy and Mme Bovary all over the book. You got the point the first time, why did you have to read it all over and over again? I found it tiresome, thank God the book was only 120 pages long!
I will give it 2,5 stars though, because I sort of liked the last pages, where I could a find a bit of what I had expected of the whole book. There were some good sentences which gave a glimpse of what the book could have been like, if only the writer had been more humble in her writing and had brought the novel to a more "earthly level".
Some quotations I liked from the book (well, the last pages):
"Let us say I had perverted tendencies: I believed everything I read"
"But if I told the truth, I would be not only lonely but also alone, and I would cause each one great harm"
"The enemy of love is never outside, it's not a man or a woman, it's what we lack in ourselves."
Sabina has memories of past loves, past adventures, past meetings but so current feeling of who she is. She is a name. She has a husband who loves her dearly but she is constantly running from him looking for love among her artist friends. There is also clearly a strong note of autobiography in the last third of the book where Sabina meets up with the artist's enclave in New York and that gives this otherwise sensuous tale a note of sadness.
Sabina is married to Alan. She loves him and feels protected and loved in their relationship. She is, however, compelled to fall in love with strangers and has a series of affairs. In each one, she becomes a different person. She takes on roles to give her partners what they need or want from her. She lives with feelings of guilt and remains restless and unfulfilled.
The book explores Sabina's thoughts and feelings. It is sensuous, interesting and ultimately, sad. I subtracted half a star because the last paragraph didn't make sense to me.
While it may have been socially shocking at the time to write about women who have affairs and like sex, I found it neither shocking nor particularly sexually explicit.
It is the story of a woman searching for passion and acceptance - the trouble is she cannot seem to accept her own actions and is plagued by guilt for both the betrayal of her long term lover (husband?) and her inability to give her lovers the commitment or other emotional support they want.
The presence of the "Lie Detector" speaks about that guilt manifesting in a mental breakdown.
I found this story to be more about mental health than sexual licence.
The language used in the story created another barrier to understanding to me - there were so many references to poetry, musical styles and (what I am assuming were) 1950's/american cultural icons that I frequently had to re-read or stop and look up words / people/ places so I could understand how they related to what was going on.
I'm sure this will remain a literary classic for its poetic language and descriptive prowess( it seems to be just the hard to read nonsense the literati love, but I'm not sure it holds feminist and / or shock value in a post Sex and the City world.