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Book description
‘Whatever I am, I’m among the lost things—I do know that.’To enter the works of Anna Kavan is to enter a swirling, menacing reality where inexorable doom weighs heavy through each word. Each story in Julia and the Bazooka is comprised of a thinly-fictionalized version of Kavan’s own life and viewpoints, allowing it to convey to the reader her heavy burdens of existence in a world that she perceived as vile and threatening. Her prose elevates even the slightest of actions to tremendous pitches of trauma and disgust while maintaining a silky perfection that keeps the reader burning for more despite the gruesome scenes that come with it. Unveiling herself through her fiction, Kavan focuses on her hatred for life and the vices that fog her reality across fifteen gritty tales of anguish and addiction.It is nearly unbearable at times to endure Kavan’s impression of the world.’I know I’ve got a death-wish. I’ve never enjoyed my life, I’ve never liked people. I love the mountains because they are the negation of life, indestructible, inhuman, untouchable, indifferent, as I want to be. Human beings are hateful; I loathe their ugly faces and messy emotions. I’d like to destroy them all, People have always been horrible to me; they’ve always rejected me and betrayed me. Not one of them has ever been kind. Not one single person has even attempted to understand me, to see things from my point of view. They’ve all been against me, ever sine I can remember, even when I was six years old. What sort of human beings are these, who can be inhuman to a child of six? How can I help hating them all? Sometimes they disgust me so much that I feel I can’t go on living among them—that I must escape from the loathsome creatures swarming like maggots all over the earth’Certainly not a pleasant depiction of life. By stepping into her mind, Kavan manages to build an incredible empathy, aided of course by her irresistibly beautiful prose. The reader is told of her tragic childhood under an obdurate mother who despised her for not being born male, and, especially if the reader has read several of her other stories, begins to pity her for her victim status. While she evinces a clouded perception due the victimization, being embraced by hatred and coldness instead of love, that forged her in childhood, she is acutely aware of her slanted views and refuses to apologize for them. She hates everything around her, and the disgust that the world shows back at her only solidifies her perceptions. ‘And I thought, maladjusted to what, for heaven’s sake?’ she asks in Out and Away, a depiction of her time spent at a private school and of her early awareness to her damaged mental states, ‘To their stupid school? I certainly hope I am.’ She admits that she exists in a perception that she has created, and feels swallowed up and helpless within it.’Why am I locked in this nightmare of violence, isolation and cruelty? Since the universe only exists in my mind, I must have created the place, loathsome, foul as it is. I live alone in my mind, and alone I’m being crushed to suffocation, immured by the walls I have made. It’s unbearable. I can’t possibly live in this terrible, hideous, revolting creation of mine.’Society has created a life for her devoid of love and support. Years of abuse from family, lovers, institutions have created a frightening realm around her. What is especially heart-breaking is her admission that, despite her hatred for humanity, how being among these people that she depicts in extreme, revolting details, is preferable to the solitude of her inner world. ‘I sometimes wonder if,’ she writes in A Town Garden, ‘in the last resort, the parks with their swarming crowds may not be preferable to the silent emptiness of an enclosed garden, where no one, not even a ghost, ever speaks a word.’ How terrible she must have felt in every waking moment. To escape her horrors, Kavan turned to drugs and her heroin addiction pulses through the veins of each story, as inseparable from the action as it was from her own life. First introduced to drugs by her tennis instructor ‘to improve her game’, Kavan became firmly addicted to heroin while hanging about with a group of racecar drivers, the events of her happiness in their circle and her subsequent depression upon fading away from it are chronicled in the story World of Heroes, and relied on it as a crutch to escape a world that so repulsed her. Like when engulfed in fog, it helped her ‘by blurring the world…so that it looked vague and unreal,’ she writes in the story , a story about running down a young man in the street, happy that she can’t be repulsed by him as a human and seeing him in the fog as a mere dummy, then feeling detached from the later police questioning. She is shown as never without her syringe, which she refers to as her ‘bazooka’; ‘she knows all the sensational stories about drug addiction, but the word bazooka makes nonsense of them, makes the whole drug business seem not serious.’ Fast cars and heroin are the common motifs in each story, both used as an escape from the world and often used as a metaphor of one another. The blend of cars and heroin as a method of escape is at its most poignant in the story High In the Mountains, where every image carries a heavy weight as a metaphor for heroin. ‘How beautiful the snow is when it covers the ground, hiding all the mess and ugliness man has made under its calm austere white.’ Kavan openly admits her addiction to heroin and feels no shame in it. ‘A clean white powder is not repulsive; it looks pure, it glitters, ther pure white crystals sparkle like snow.’ Kavan’s relationship with Dr. Bluth, or M as he is called in this book, plays a critical role in many of the stories. As described in Virginia Ironside’s introduction, Dr. Bluth was a psychiatrist who ‘persuaded [Kavan] to register with the Home Office as a heroin addict so that he could supply her, legally, until his death.’ Stories such as Zebra-Struck and Mercedes focus on their intense, platonic relationship and how she saw him as the only bright light in her existence.’It was as if she’d always been lost and living in chaos, until this man had appeared like a magician and put everything right. The few brief flashes of happiness she had known before had always been against a permanent background of black isolation, a terrifying utter loneliness, the metaphysical horror of which she’d never been able to convey to any lover or psychiatrist. Now suddenly, miraculously, that terror had gone; she was no longer alone, and could only respond with boundless devotion to the miracle worker.’ However, as in Obsessional, Kavan became suicidal under the crushing depression that befell her after his death. ‘Since he’d gone, the world had become unnervingly strange. There was nothing she could do and nowhere she could go. She felt lost, lonely, dazed, deprived of everything, even of her identity, which was not strong enough to survive without his constant encouragement and reassurance.’ Having seen the hopeful transformation in Kavan with Bluth, despite the obsessive and portentous doom that comes with it, the sadness of the character in an event that may mirror his Bluths death is especially heart breaking. What hurts most is seeing the potential for strengths that lie inside of Kavan and watching her be robbed of them and cornered into the deep, dark depression that is always looming over her incredibly talented and brilliant mind. Kavan also offers extensive views on her failed second marriage with the alcoholic artist Stuart Edmonds, whom she refers to as Oblomov to emphasize his inability to take charge of his life, in the story Now and Then. She chronicles their downfall, blaming him for their problems as she watches him grow fat and cold towards her. ‘Outwardly, and in every other way, he’s become totally unlike the man I married.’These short stories give the reader a full view of Kavan’s tragic existence. We suffer through with her as she must interact with humanity, which she finds incredible abhorrent, and feel trapped in a nightmarish world along with her. Of particular interest are the first story, The Old Address, which give a blunt and violent view of Kavan’s mindset which towers over all the other stories with it’s surrealistic poetry and claustrophobic tones, and the title story which presents the entire life of Julia (or is it Kavan herself?) in a jarring montage of visceral imagery ranging from her as a young child loving flowers, to failed marriages and finally to her ashes resting in a tennis trophy for her cliffside burial beside her beloved syringe. This story would have been written not long before heroin claimed the life of Kavan. With it’s dark, almost pessimistic tones and gritty descriptions, this collection of short stories makes for an incredible window into the life and mind of a fantastic author. However, one look will haunt the reader forever. The prose remains consistently powerful across each story and contains the same lucid terrors found in Ice, as both works were written around the same time. Highly recommended for any fan of Anna Kavan.4/5 But nothing is left of Julia really, she is not there. The only occupant of the pigeon-hole is the silver cup, which can’t think or laugh or remember. There is no more Julia anywhere. Where she was there is only nothing.Self portraits by Anna Kavan
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