Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Playing the harlot (Patricia Avis)

Why is it so much easier to read Viragos recently acquired than those which had been languishing in my posession for some time? (I may take a photo of those at some point soon so that you can all persuade me to read them!). Playing the harlot by Patricia Avis is another one from my recent tranch of VMC acquisitions. I originally read about this book here at Danielle's blog, but had long since forgotten that I wanted to read it. I guess I knew I'd get to it eventually, such is the nature of this project, but that didn't stop me being amused to reread my comment back in 2009. I was particularly pleased by the books alternative title: Mostly coffee which I liked very much and thought might actually have made a good proper title.

Apparently a "roman a clef" which is a sort of fictional memoir, it was far more enjoyable than the last roman a clef, a term which I had not previously encountered until I came across Bid me to live. As the back of the book states, it was originally rejected for publication by an eminent publisher because it slandered his friends. His friends including that well-known librarian, Phillip Larkin. Avis had an affair with Larkin in the 1950s. Avis did not have a very successful career as a novelist, although she had much poetry published, she had no success with her books, and in fact killed herself with an overdose after her second novel was turned down.

Playing the harlot is a lively novel centring around the lives of several women in the 1950s, all students when we first encounter them. I warmed to Mary, the principal character immediately, when we meet her writing to her parents, who live in another country, attempting to persuade them that she should move out of the convent accommodation where she at present lodges; her letters to them which recur in the book amused me immensely as she invariably writes to inform them of something that they might disapprove of/ask for money but couched in terms to elicit their approval.

Other characters include Theo, with whom she moves to share a flat, and Abigail, an art student. And of course there is a cast of men. Mary marries Pete, a medical student, but it is Rollo, the supposed Larkin character, with whom she has an affair. And the book follows them all as they leave college and move around the country, apparently drawing on Avis' experience of living in France and in the countryside and in London as well as in the provinical town where the book begins.

It's just been published once by Virago with the modern green cover.


  1. Don't feel bad--when I logged into Typepad and read your comment from the back end (rather than going directly to the post)I couldn't quite remember that Virago I had bought! I had to click out and read my description! I've yet to read it as well, but know how it goes about wanting to read new books rather than those that sit on your shelves...I was interested in this one as I had heard about the Angry Young Men, but wondered where the Angry Young Women were--here is one, I suspect. I'm hoping to read many more Viragos this year as I seem to accumulate them and only add them to my shelves! Glad you liked this one.

  2. It's the miasma of rejection a book acquires when you've looked at it and thought "nah" too many times.

  3. For me it's a mixture of saving books for the right moment thing, I'll leave a book I know I'll love because I'm afraid that nothing will ever be as good again (stupid hey?) and that feeling of the grass is always greener on the other side. Oh and stupid things like it's too long, hey we all have our reasons!

  4. Web - I am a bit worried about the amount of rejection some of the books have had in my pile.

    LE - too long and too small print are things that confine books to my TBR.

    Danielle - I'm looking forward to you readingmore Viragoes as sometimes it feels a bit lonely on this blog!

  5. An ereader is a wonderful antidote to the too long/small print problem! And there are many old Viragos in the public domain! I cleaned out a bunch of mine, albeit a little sadly because they're so pretty. (And they will pry the Virago edition of Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther out of my cold, dead hands.